New article co-authored by Jocelyn Alexander explores training of Southern African liberation movements

30 July, 2020

A new article co-authored by Jocelyn Alexander draws on oral histories to explore the impact of training provided by Cold War-era allies to Southern African liberation movements in the shaping of specific 'military imaginaries'.

The article, in Comparative Studies in Society and History, was co-authored with Joann McGregor of Sussex University. 

Studies of southern Africa's liberation movements have turned attention to the great importance of their transnational lives, but have rarely focused on the effects of the military training Cold War-era allies provided in sites across the globe. This is a significant omission in the history of these movements: training turns civilians into soldiers and creates armies with not only military but also social and political effects, as scholarship on conventional militaries has long emphasized.

Liberation movement armies were however different in that they were not subordinated to a single state, instead receiving training under the flexible rubric of international solidarity in a host of foreign sites and in interaction with a great variety of military traditions. The training provided in this context produced multiple 'military imaginaries' within liberation movement armies, at once creating deep tensions and enabling innovation.

The article is based on oral histories of Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) veterans trained by Cuban and Soviet instructors in Angola in the late 1970s. These soldiers emerged from the Angolan camps with a military imaginary they summed up in the Cuban exhortation 'Adelante!' (Forward!).

Forty years later, they stressed how different their training had made them from other ZIPRA cadres, in terms of their military strategy, mastery of advanced Soviet weaponry, and aggressive disposition, as well as their 'revolutionary' performance of politics and masculinity in modes of address, salute, and drill. Such military imaginaries powerfully shaped the southern African battlefield. They offer novel insight into the distinctive institutions, identities, and memories forged through Cold War-era military exchanges.

Jocelyn Alexander and Joann McGregor (2020) ‘Adelante! Military Imaginaries, the Cold War, and Southern Africa's Liberation Armies’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 62 (3): 619-50, DOI: 10.1017/S0010417520000195