João Paulo Monteiro jpmonteiro at SPAMmail.telepac.pt
Mon Dec 27 16:26:31 MST 1999

michael at ecst.csuchico.edu wrote:

> >From what I understand from George Wright, who has written an excellent
> book on Angola, Savimbi began as a Maoist, but he was an opportunist, who
> jumped at the opportunity for S. African support.

Jonas Malheiro Savimbi has always been a very special and idiosyncratic case
in the angolan
nationalist movement. He is, in every way, an extremely talented politician:
intelligent, with strong leadership qualities, a magnetic appeal in the
masses of his Ovimbundu tribe-land, cunning, ruthless and absolutely devoid
of scrupples. The land thus blessed with such a power of nature (an
insurmountable political blockbuster) has lost the better part of the last 25
years paying tribute to him, in blood, sweat and tears. For every single cell
in the body of this man tells him he has to be president of Angola, and he
just won't have it any other way.

Jonas was born in 1934, the son of Lott Savimbi, a railway employee, later
teacher in north-american protestant missions. His family background and
early education were very religious. He came to Lisboa in 1958 to procede his
studies (on which he was a complete failure) and apparently it was here he
got involved in angolan nationalist politics. But it was also here,
apparently, that he established a durable relationship with the fascist
portuguese political police (PIDE) and the CIA. He adhered to UPA (the
bakongo-based nationalist movement of Holden Roberto, a tool of Mobutu's
designs for Angola), but kept tight and frequent contacts with the MPLA (the
radical nationalist movement, inspired by marxism-leninism).

He moved to Switzerland in 1961. That year he was nominated representant of
UPA for Europe. In July, he wrote to Luis de Almeida, of MPLA, proposing a
plan for this movement to "annex" UPA, by first joining it and then
conquering it from whithin (?!...) The letter has this interesting paragraph:
"We must show ourselves hypocrytes and christian, which for me is very
painful for christianism repugns me". In 1962, he was already foreign
minister of UPA's "government in exile". He travelled extensively - Uganda,
Belgrade, Tunes, New Dehli, Leopoldville, etc. - and the reports of the PIDE
are very detailed about his moves. He has also wrote letters to portuguese
enterpreneur friends of his in Angola, full of praise of the role of Portugal
in Africa and advocating its perennial presence in Angola.

Savimbi's official biography says he got a degree on Political Sciences in
Switzerland but not a trace of it can be found. Though very intermitently, he
did however live in Switzerland for some years, where he married the daughter
of a rich german-swiss owner of lands and mines in southern Angola. During
1963, he was instrumental in a number a great diplomatic successes of the
FNLA (successor of the UPA) over the MPLA on the Organization of African
States. By 1964, he already had built a powerful political constituency
whithin the movement and was mounting a challenge for its top post as leader
of "the pro-american tendency" (repport from PIDE). Alas, he got kicked out
by Roberto instead, in an anticipation move. He then applied for acceptance
in the MPLA, issuing long manifestos full of marxist rethoric and
anti-imperialist intrasigence. He found no takers.

In 1965, he managed to take hold of some resources and militants of UPA in
Lusaka where he built a power base. It was here he got in contact with the PR
of China. Some of his closest friends got military training there and he
visited China himself (seeing the "pope", naturally). He may have played for
a time with maoist clothes and concepts (even now,1999, he talks of his last
war as one of "generalized popular resistance"). But the chinese were not
very demanding politically, anyway. Some time later they were also supporting
the FNLA, which made no secret of its staunch anti-communism. In 1969, the II
Congress of UNITA saluted the PR of China, "center of world revolution", Mao
Zedong and his "cultural proletarian revolution". But the maoist outlook was
nothing but a cover for the very real anti-communist, pro-imperialist and
even pro-colonialist activity.

1965 was also the year Savimbi first visited the USA, where he stayed for a
month and came back with military plans and support. In March 1966, Savimbi
founded UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), based on
his own political constituency which was overwhelmingly dominated by members
of the Ovimbundu tribe, located on the angolan central plateau. UNITA has
only three small armed actions against the portuguese army in its curriculum
prior to 1974. In fact, Savimbi has had lots of very warm correspondence with
the colonialist authorities, culminating in a formal peace signed with them
in 1971. From then on UNITA has functioned as a shield against the incursions
of the MPLA from the East. This was first denounced by Aquino Bragança in
1974 and is now a well documented and clearly established historical fact.

>From 1975 on, UNITA has counted on the support of the USA, racist South
Africa, Mobutu's Zaire and, latelly, Chiluba's Zambia. In periods of more
acute diplomatic isolation, it has managed to survive by taking hold of rich
diamond mines, selling its product for de Beers and buying sophisticated
weaponry on the free market. It has thus kept a strong military presence in
some municipalities of the central plateau (Bailundo and Andulo), refusing to
cede control of it for the state administration, as precribed by the Lusaka
peace accords.

The war the angolan government is presently waging on the armed bands of
Savimbi is not to be judged on the ideological motifs each side presently
cherishes and/or proclaims. These are not political parties in armed contest
(anyway, UNITA has an elected group in the angolan parliament, which is not
supporting Savimbi's military adventures). The conflict is much more
elemental and primordial. It has to do with the viability of the angolan
state. On wether there will be an effective angolan republic or the country
will definitively plunge in chaotic ingovernability. Savimbi cannot rule over
Angola, for non-Ovimbundu peoples have an absolute revulsion for him. So
success for him would be a protracted war of attriction and a de facto
partition of the country. Success for the angolan government would be
extending the authority of the state to the whole country, imposing modern
republican values and a non-tribal administration. The situation could be
compared with the vendayen rebellion against the french republic (though the
government in Luanda these days is certainly very far from jacobin virtue).

The latest news I have is that government troops have just taken the mythical
UNITA stronghold of Jamba, in the south-eastern end. If true, Savimbi doesn't
have a place to rest anymore. To keep resistance alive, he will now have move
along permanently with small guerrilla units on the jungles. Very tiresome
and very risky. If he choses to move abroad, the movement will probably die
away, due to lack of leadership and morale.

João Paulo Monteiro

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