The lengthy novel focuses on the U.S. deployment of force, and gives an excellent sense of the problems and limits of power projection in an underdeveloped theater, a type of setting Americans are likely encounter in such deployments, writes a critic. The US clearly needed an extremist right-wing excuse to launch the exercise which the novel provides in the guise of Afrikaners.
In a South Africa set in the early 1990s, the apartheid government of State President Frederick Haymans and the ruling National Party seek to negotiate democratic reforms with the African National Congress (ANC). However, the talks have bogged down because the ANC refuses to properly disarm and cease planning terrorist operations. Most of the white politicians are not too keen on the idea of allowing blacks a wider role in national politics.
South African paratroopers raid an African National Congress base in Zimbabwe. The raiders uncover plans for “Broken Covenant,” an ANC plot to assassinate the government as they travel back to Pretoria from Cape Town aboard the Blue Train for the legislature’s summer recess. The raid comes at a time when the government’s talks with the ANC are approaching a major breakthrough; the ANC decides to abort Broken Covenant, not knowing that the South Africans already have information on the plan. Seeing an opportunity to take power with the leadership eliminated, Internal Security Minister Karl Vorster deliberately excuses himself from the trip. A courier assigned to transmit the abort signal to the ambush team is also killed in a hit-and-run.
With Haymans and his Cabinet killed in the attack, Vorster assumes the presidency and declares martial law with backing from diehard apartheid supporters as a major Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) member. The security forces begin brutal crackdowns on anti-apartheid organizations, and those suspected of having ties to ANC affiliates are executed or moved to isolated internment camps. The South African Defence Force is ordered to invade newly independent South-West Africa (Namibia) under the guise of destroying ANC base camps. Cuban Army units in Angola answer the Namibian government’s call for help and deploy combat forces to stop the South Africans short of Windhoek; they also conquer Walvis Bay to bring in reinforcements.
Conditions at home begin to worsen. Armed police massacre white students protesting conscription at the University of the Witwatersrand, while certain Afrikaners disgusted at Vorster’s abuse of power launch secessionist movements in the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The regime is also confronted with tribal insurgencies after a Zulu chieftain is denaturalized for condemning apartheid. Attempts to brutally stamp dissent leads to greater unrest, such as a violent uprising by Durban’s Indian population. An SADF garrison in Cape Town rebels against the leadership and intervene to protect civilians.
Loyalist SADF troops in Namibia rebuild their strength for a major counteroffensive as the Cubans run a public relations campaign about their forces raring to fight a Marxist-Leninist “war of liberation.” The media mileage is actually part of a bigger plan: Supported by the USSR and certain African countries, the Cubans invade South Africa using three brigade tactical groups from out of staging areas in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique. The invasion catches South African intelligence by surprise, having concentrated on the Namibian front and even dismissing reports by black spies in the three countries.
The Cubans sweep aside token resistance by reservists and local Afrikaner militias, with Vorster ordering the deployment of South Africa’s nuclear arsenal. One Mirage F1-CZ drops a nuclear device on the brigade tactical group pushing on Johannesburg from the west. Cuba launches Sarin gas on SADF defenders at the mining town of Potgietersrus; appalled by the carnage affecting innocent civilians, the ANC elements in the invasion force try to desert but are taken into custody. Havana authorizes the use of civilians as human shields against more South African nuclear strikes.
The situation in South Africa triggers much higher prices of precious metals; international support for the country evaporates when the truth about Broken Covenant makes global headlines. Realizing the war’s long-term effects on the global economy, the United States and Britain authorize direct military intervention in South Africa. The operation, codenamed Brave Fortune, kicks off with a Ranger commando assault on the South African nuclear facilities at Pelindaba, with the intent of capturing all remaining South African nuclear weapons. With the nuclear threat eliminated, American and British forces land in Cape Town and Durban, then gradually push north. The allied forces get wind of Vorster’s last-ditch plan to irradiate the Witwatersrand diamond mines with exploded uranium stockpiles. A team of US, British, and rebel South African troops assault the State Council offices in Pretoria and capture the entire Cabinet before the order can be given. Other South African Army units arrest all AWB members.
The remaining Cuban formations are pounded by American airstrikes as they inch closer to Pretoria and are later forced to withdraw from the country. Because the Cubans sold them on a communist victory in South Africa, a humiliated Soviet leadership vows never to be involved in the continent again. Apartheid is formally abolished in the months after the fall of Vorster’s government and a conglomerate of various political parties are brought to the table for establishing a second, multiracial, republic with Johannesburg as the capital. Vorster himself is later meted life imprisonment for his crimes.