JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The South African defense headquarters announced Monday that 150 Namibian rebels and 11 of its own soldiers were killed during fighting Saturday in southern Angola.
South Africa said the battle was a "preemptive strike" against a base of the South-West Africa People's Organization, or SWAPO, "north of Owamboland." Owambo is the northernmost region of Namibia and borders southern Angola.
The South African casualties, which included troops from both the South African Defense Force and the Pretoria-controlled South-West Africa Territory Forces, were the highest reported in a single day of fighting since at least 1984.
SWAPO guerrillas have been fighting since 1966 for the independence of Namibia, or South-West Africa. South African forces have killed about 800 SWAPO insurgents in fighting this year, according to South African figures. SWAPO's current troop strength is estimated at fewer than 9,000.
The rebel movement operates from bases in southern Angola, and in recent weeks its forces have been preparing for what has become an annual infiltration into Namibia during the spring rainy season, according to the South African military command in Pretoria.
The struggle for Namibia, a mineral-rich, mostly arid land twice the size of California on the southwest coast of Africa, is a problem left from the continent's colonial history. A German colony for 30 years, the territory was taken over by South Africa during World War I and promised independence, first by the League of Nations and later by the United Nations.
But the independence movement has been hampered by Namibia's own complex politics and South Africa's fears of a black revolution.
Pretoria apparently fears that an independent government in Namibia, where whites number 100,000 out of a population of 2 million, would heighten demands among South African blacks for majority rule here.