S. Africa savors news of Russian involvement in Angola

The South African government is doling out tidbits about the extent of alleged Russian involvement in Angola with telling effect. The first news, last weekend, indicated that the South African Defence Force had collected piles of Russian propaganda during its raid into Angola, and that a group of Russian "advisers" had barely escaped captured by fleeing from the town of Xangongo, the site of a major South-West African People's Organization [SWAPO] base.

Then, too late for South Africa's main afternoon newspapers, but in good time for peak time radio and TV broadcast Tuesday afternoon, the Defense Force announced that Russians had actually been involved in the Angolan fighting, that several had been killed and -- the cherry on the top -- that one Russian warrnt officer had even been captured.

The result was saturation coverage in South African morning newspapers Wednesday, not to mention splash headlines round the world [although not, according to accounts, in Moscow].

Banner headlines in South African papers read, in English and Afrikaans, the country's two main languages: "South Africa shot Russians dead, captured one in Angola," "Russian soldier held in SA raid," and, "South Africa catches, shoots Russians."

But the Defense Force was not finished yet.

In time to make more headlines in the mass circulation English-language afternoon newspapers round the country Wednesday, a further announcement was made that two of the Russians killed had been as highly ranked as lieutenant-colonels. And the captured man's name was also released: he is Sgt. Maj. Nicolai Feodorovich Pestretsov.

Further installments are already hinted at. For example, as soon as the material captured at Xangongo has been "processed" by military intelligence officers, some will be released for the edification of newspapers and television.

All this appears to be specifically calculated in part to convince South Africans, and as many other people as possible elsewhere, that South Africa's troubles are due not so much to its own internal policies, but to the devilish machinations of Russia and international communism.

Many white South Africans already do believe this kind and fully concur with the sentiments expressed this week by the Minister of Defence, Gen. Magnus Malan.

He told a formal dinner of Armscor -- South Africa's major arms producer -- in Johannesburg, South Africa's biggest city, that "it is time the West and Africa realize what the real issues are in this [southern Africa] subcontinent. They have nothing to do with liberation but involve Soviet imperialism."

He added that he hoped the Western world would take cognizance that the Defense Force had found evidence that "proves" that Russians, as well as Cuban advisers, were active at SWAPO headquarters, as well as the headquarters of Angolan government forces.

One spinoff the capture of Sergeant Major Pestretsov may have is the ultimate release of the sole South African Defense Force prisoner of war presently held in Angola.

He is Sapper Johan van der Mescht, who was captured during action on the Namibian border, allegedly by SWAPO, more than three years ago.

In a letter to his parents earlier this year, he wrote that "exchanges between Angola and Russia may take place" that might affect his own future. No further explanation has been forthcoming.

However, SWAPO has formally said that they would not release Sapper van der Mescht until the whole Namibian independence issue has been resolved.

The South African capture of the Russian sergeant major may change this, however.

Eight South African prisoners held in Angola were exchanged in 1978 for three Cuban soldiers captured by South Africa. They had been held for more than two years.

The South Africans also claim at present to be holding a Russian spy allegedly arrested while entering this country to make contact with banned black political movements.

He was named in Parliament with showmanly flourish by Prime Minister Pieter Botha as Major Alexei Kozlov. In August there were reports that some deal might be made with Russia to release him.

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