The international connections of the Cold War period left traces in the forms of objects that were exchanged: not only weaponry and uniforms, but smaller and more personal items not usually visible in the photographs that survive from the period. All these provide evidence of the human element beneath the better known narratives of international alliances.

Items from the Russian Museum of the Angolan Civil War

The items presented in this section are displayed in the museum organised by the Russian Union of Angola war veterans in Moscow in 2010. Some objects that were photographed during the research visit to the Museum will be published here with the permission of the the Veterans Union.

MPLA and FAPLA medallions (picture 1) of different kinds are displayed in the museum. 

The ID documents issued in Angola to Soviet advisors (picture 2),  either as a simple card or a driving licence, were the only legal documents that the Soviet soldiers had during their service.  The cards had a name of a serviceman and a title “Assessor Soviêtico”  without mentioning the military rank of the ID holder. In Angola the “Assessor Soviêtico” nickname was used widely with reference to all Soviets, and became part of the lexicon of the FAPLA soldiers of that time. 

After the arrival back home some of the Soviet soldiers were honoured with internationalist medals (picture 3 in this gallery), but very many remained unrecognised due to complex bureaucratic procedures of proving one’s presence in Angola.

The soldiers’ mannequin installation located in the central part of the Russian Veterans of the Angolan War Museum (picture  4) symbolise the interaction of different soldiers who participated in the Angolan Civil War, as seen by the Russian veterans.

Items from SOMAFCO

The National Liberation Archive at the University of Fort Hare includes artefacts from Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO), established in Tanzania in 1978 to educate the thousands of young people who were leaving South Africa with the hope of joining the struggle against apartheid.

The photo on the left shows an educational toy sent from the Soviet Union to teach students about atoms and molecular structure.

The other photos are of pin badges that visitors to SOMAFCO brought as keepsakes. The collection includes badges issued by southern African liberation movements and governments, Eastern Bloc communist parties, and left-wing solidarity movements in Western countries.

The pins are also kept by individuals in their personal collections. They represent important memorabilia for our respondents, a proof of personal commitment to the liberation struggles.

Tambo memorabilia

On the left, a diary that ANC President Oliver Tambo brought home as a souvenir of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the October Revolution in the Soviet Union in 1977. (South African Liberation Archive, University of Fort Hare.)

In the centre, Tambo's pass for the Sixth Summit of the Non Aligned Movement in Havana in 1979 – an event that Cuba used to draw attention to its support for the independent governments and liberation movements in southern Africa. (South African Liberation Archive, University of Fort Hare.)

On the right, the name Oliver Tambo is written in Cyrillic script on this entry pass for the seventieth anniversary celebrations of the October Revolution in Moscow’s Red Square in 1987. (South African Liberation Archive, University of Fort Hare.)


ZPRA veterans’ memorabilia – Charles Makhuya’s personal collection

For ZPRA veterans, saving memorabilia from their time as liberation fighters posed a huge challenge, because in the context of ZANU(PF) government violence against ZAPU and ZPRA in the 1980s, these items were grounds for their persecution. Few managed to keep the souvenirs they had treasured and saved from their time in exile and destroyed them after independence to preserve their own and their families’ lives. Charles Makhuya’s personal collection of materials is thus particularly valuable and remarkable; Charles trained under Cuban instructors and Soviet advisors in Boma, Angola. He then went briefly to Caculama after the camp was bombed, before being based in Luanda in a medical and logistics role, where he was in close contact with the other liberation movements. He donated his collection to Brighton Museum, and the objects were loaned for display as part of a ZAPU exhibition in the Bulawayo Gallery in December 2020.

The images in the gallery are: 1) a photo of Charles (left) and his fellow comrade Snowman Moyo, taken in Luanda, 1979; 2) pin badges of liberation movements and from the Soviet Union; 3) Charles holding his ‘Cuban’ T-shirt, issued as part of the Boma rations and which he personalised by tie-dying, creating the dye by boiling his blanket; 4) an image of Charles’ blanket and Cuban spoon from Boma (on display in the Bulawayo Gallery); 5) Charles’ reading material in the form of Soviet books that were distributed to ZAPU camps (from the Bulawayo Gallery display).