Located 250 kilometers from Angola’s southern international border, in the area of Cassinga, a refugee camp was established to receive those fleeing the South African occupation of neighboring Namibia.
On the morning of May 4, 1978, the daily activities of the 3,000 refugees were interrupted by an unexpected storm of cluster bombs and machine gun fire.
Witnesses relate how South African planes bombed and shot civilians without mercy, preparing the scene for the arrival of 500 troops parachuted in aboard U.S. made Hercules C-130.
The first commandos on the ground blocked all entrances and exits from
Cassinga, while the rest of the troops stalked survivors, killing unarmed mothers with babies in arm, pregnant women, children, and elders, in cold blood.
The racist aggressors reduced to ashes the school, shelters, the food warehouse, and clinic, where practically all medical staff and hospitalized patients met their deaths.
During the action, Pretoria’s forces used poison gases that attack the nervous system, violating international prohibitions on such weapons.
Upon learning of the aggression, Cuban troops camped in Tchamutete, 15 kilometers to the south, headed toward the attack. On the march they faced heavy fire from enemy aircraft, as well as land mines, and suffered several casualties. But summoning all their courage and tenacity, the Cuban troops were able to reach the camp and force the racists to retreat.
Apartheid South Africa attempted to justify the brutal crime alleging the existence of a guerilla camp in Cassinga, but this assertion was refuted by a United Nations delegation that traveled to the site and interviewed the few survivors. A UNESCO mission had visited the camp just days before the attack, and testified to the civilian nature of the refugee camp.
Cuba’s efforts in Cassinga, another chapter in the history of the country’s heroism and solidarity in Africa, contributed to saving the lives of wounded refugees and many survivors hiding in surrounding woods.
The majority of children who escaped death, and hundreds more youth living in southern Angola, were brought to Cuba, to become students at the first Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) school on the Isle of Youth.