Angola Basin and Walvis Ridge records of past sea surface temperatures (SST) derived from the alkenone Uk37 index are used to reconstruct the surface circulation in the east equatorial South Atlantic for the last 200,000 years. Comparison of SST estimates from surface sediments between 5° and 20°S with modern SST data suggests that the alkenone temperatures represent annual mean values of the surface mixed layer. Alkenone-derived temperatures for the warm climatic maxima of the Holocene and the penultimate interglacial are 1 to 4°C higher than latest Holocene values. All records show glacial to interglacial differences of about 3.5°C in annual mean SST, which is about 1.5°C greater than the difference estimated by CLIMAP (1981) for the eastern Angola Basin. At the Walvis Ridge, significant SST variance is observed at all of the Earth's orbital periodicities. SST records from the Angola Basin vary predominantly at 23- and 100-kyr periodicities. For the precessional cycle, SST changes at the Walvis Ridge correspond to variations of boreal summer insolation over Africa and lead ice volume changes, suggesting that the east equatorial South Atlantic is sensitive to African monsoon intensity via trade-wind zonality. Angola Basin SST records lag those from the Walvis Ridge and the equatorial Atlantic by about 3 kyr. The comparison of Angola Basin and Walvis Ridge SST records implies that the Angola-Benguela Front (ABF) (currently at about 14–16°S) has remained fairly stationary between 12° and 20°S (the limits of our cores) during the last two glacial-interglacial cycles. The temperature contrast associated with the ABF exhibits a periodic 23-kyr variability which is coherent with changes in boreal summer insolation over Africa. These observations suggest that surface waters north of the present ABF have not directly responded to monsoon-modulated changes in the trade-wind vector, that the central field of zonally directed trades in the southern hemisphere was not shifted or extended northward by several degrees of latitude during glacials, and that a cyclonic gyre circulation has existed in the east equatorial South Atlantic over the last 200,000 years. This scenario contradicts former assumptions of glacial intensification of the Benguela Current into the eastern Angola Basin and increased coastal upwelling off Angola.