Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. The volume does not cover all countries in the region, but focuses on the countries where U.S. interests and concerns were greatest. Although the administration developed policies that were discrete to the region, those policies often impacted other countries on the continent. To better understand the administration’s overall policy toward Africa, this volume should be read in conjunction with Foreign Relations, volume XVII, Parts 1 and 2, for documentation on U.S. policy toward the Horn of Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa respectively.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVI

South Africa posed a unique challenge for the Carter administration. Acutely aware of South Africa’s central role in the region, both as a bulwark against communism in Southern Africa and an important partner in the independence negotiations, the administration would not ignore the plight of black South Africans in exchange for their participation in the talks. They viewed the apartheid regime as a major contributor to violence in the region and incongruent with the administration’s commitment to human rights. The growing unrest in South Africa was a topic of national and international concern, leading the Carter administration to criticize the government over their treatment of black South Africans and to reassess U.S. policy. Concern about reports that South Africa had exploded a nuclear device resulted in a robust diplomatic effort which led to talks on nuclear issues in 1978.

South Africa was one of several seemingly intractable problems in Southern Africa. Like their predecessors, the administration viewed the violence and instability in the region as a potential inroad for communist expansion. The presence of Cuban troops in Angola, supporting the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and Angolan President Agostinho Neto, complicated efforts by the MPLA and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) to end the civil war in the country. Their presence also created concerns that Cuban troops would be introduced into the conflicts in Namibia and Rhodesia.

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While policy toward Southern Africa was developed by the National Security Council, the Department of State, and, in some instances, the Central Intelligence Agency, Carter was directly involved as well. In early 1977, Carter instructed Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to explore ways to improve relations with Angola. The issue of Cuban troops and the need to decrease their presence dominated the discussions. The administration decided upon a two-pronged approach: direct talks with the Angolans to convince them to tell the Cubans to leave and a covert propaganda operation highlighting the negative impact of Cuban presence on both Cuban and Angolan societies. While some in the administration hoped to rekindle support for Jonas Savimbi and UNITA, congressional legislation passed in 1976 precluded that as an option.

In February 1977, the administration sought to reinvigorate negotiations, started during the Ford administration, for peaceful settlements to the conflicts in both Namibia and Rhodesia. While Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was the driving force behind the earlier effort, Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale, Vance, and others were directly involved in the new effort. Meetings were held regularly with the British, South Africans, and Front Line Presidents, but discussions were expanded to include leaders of the black Nationalist insurgencies to secure their buy-in. These intensive efforts proved successful in Rhodesia, culminating in the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement in December 1979, which ended the civil war. Robert Mugabe was elected Prime Minister in the months following the agreement, and Zimbabwe’s independence from the United Kingdom was officially recognized in April 1980.

Negotiations over Namibian independence were less successful. Dozens of meetings among the Contact Group, the South Africans, leaders of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), and U.N. officials leading up to the 1979 New York Proximity Talks, failed to resolve some of the more contentious issues. South African concerns over Cubans at the border between Angola and Namibia, the decision over who would control Walvis Bay, and a host of other concerns involving administration of the country led to an impasse. Additionally, the South African Government began to chafe over U.S. insistence that the apartheid regime address its racial problems. While incremental progress was made, Carter left office with no resolution to the conflict in Namibia.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Library, especially Betty Egwenike, Ceri McCarron, and James Yancey. Thanks are due to Nancy Smith, former Director of the Presidential Materials Staff at the National Archives and Records Ad [Page IX] ministration, and to the Central Intelligence Agency for arranging access to the Carter Library materials scanned for the Remote Archive Capture project. The Historical Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency were accommodating in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency. The editor also thanks the staff at the National Security Council for providing access to the NSC Intelligence files, Sandy Meagher for her assistance with Department of Defense materials, and the staff at the National Archives and Records Administration facility in College Park, Maryland for their assistance with Department of State material.

The editor collected and selected documentation and edited the volume under the supervision of M. Todd Bennett, Chief of the Asia and Africa Division and Adam M. Howard, then Chief of the Middle East and Africa Division, and currently General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. David Nickles and Adam M. Howard reviewed the volume. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Stephanie Eckroth did the copy and technical editing. Do Mi Stauber prepared the index.

Myra F. Burton