Friday, May 24, 2013
Mario de Queiroz
- The government of Angola is confident that it will “make rapid steps towards peace,” following the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, said Angolan President José Edoardo dos Santos in the Portuguese capital Monday.
Dos Santos, on a 24-hour visit to Portugal, the colonial power that held Angola for 500 years – until 1975 -, met with head of state Jorge Sampaio. Next, he heads to the United States, invited by President George W. Bush.
The combat death of Savimbi, who since 1975 had engaged in armed resistance to the Angolan government, was confirmed over the weekend by shocking television images that showed his body riddled by 15 high-calibre bullets.
Dos Santos acknowledged in Lisbon that the leader of the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) “fought until the last consequences for his ideals.”
Surrounded by government troops and abandoned by his former allies, Savimbi refused to surrender.
Dos Santos had predicted this outcome in December when he suggested three possible scenarios for Savimbi: capture, surrender or death in combat.
The third option was verified Saturday evening when Savimbi’s body was shown to the press by the army commando operating in Moxico province, bordering Zambia, the last hideout of the persistent and determined rebel leader, who was as idolised by his followers as he was hated by his enemies.
Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, son of an evangelist pastor who worked as a railroad employee, was born in 1934 in Bie province, on Angola’s central high plains. At the time, Angola was Portugal’s largest colony at 1.4 million square km.
Savimbi grew up in the southern high plains among the Ovimbundus, the largest ethnic group in Angola, claiming 40 percent of the country’s 11 million inhabitants. As a result of his excellent performance as a student, he won a scholarship for university study in Lisbon in 1960.
But in Portugal he was arrested three times by the State Security Police (PIDE), the secret service of the fascist regime that was installed in 1926 by dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.
Upon release from the third arrest, Savimbi fled to Switzerland, where he received a degree in political science at the University of Lausanne in 1965, four years after the anti- colonialist war against Portugal was launched by the Marxist- inspired People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
Savimbi and a group of followers received political and military training in Mao Zedong’s China in 1965 and 1966.
He returned to Angola to found UNITA, a movement that rapidly reached an agreement with Portugal’s PIDE under which the colonial army would not harass the rebels in exchange for information on the movements of the MPLA.
In April 1974, leftist captains of the Portuguese army organised in the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) overthrew Marcello Caetano, Salazar’s successor, restoring democracy and putting an end to war in Africa as they dismantled the archaic Portuguese empire throughout Africa and Asia.
In Angola, the MFA clearly sided with the MPLA and named Antonio de Alva Rosa Coutinho as political leader for the transition to independence. Rosa Coutinho had been known as “the red admiral” for his support for then-prime minister, the communist Gen. Vasco Gonçalves.
On Nov 11, 1975, the same day Rosa Coutinho handed over the keys of the former colony to the MPLA, Savimbi withdrew into the jungle to launch the bloodiest and longest war Africa has seen in its history of independence.
A half million people are believed to have died in the fighting during the last quarter century, and the violence has forced approximately a third of the population from their homes.
Sustained by the United States and apartheid South Africa, Savimbi renounced Maoism and fought the MPLA on all fronts, turning the central provinces of Huambo, Bie, Moxico, Malangue and Huila into bastions untouchable by the government and the 50,000 Cuban soldiers who supported it.
The fighting continued for more than 15 years until the international community forced UNITA and the MPLA to sit down at the negotiating table, hammer out a ceasefire, and confront each other peacefully at the ballot box.
The MPLA soundly defeated UNITA in the October 1992 elections. Savimbi refused to recognise the results and launched a second civil war, interrupted for a few brief months in 1994 when the Lusaka peace accords were signed, but which the guerrillas ultimately ignored.
Savimbi became a fugitive, condemned by the United Nations and the United States, and he was abandoned by his most faithful allies, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, and Morocco, and even by his comrades in arms, who left found the more centrist UNITA-Renovada in Luanda.
The guerrilla leader fought for nearly a decade more, able to equip his troops with weapons purchased from arms traffickers, funded by sales to the European Union of diamonds extracted in the provinces under his control.
On Feb 22 came the epilogue of a resentful, trapped and isolated Savimbi, who according to Angolan writer Eduardo Agualusa was “the most extraordinary man who existed in Angola, and also the worst.”
A man who lived a life with rage and who had to go out with a roar, fulfilling the old Ovimbundu proverb: “a dagger of war dies in war.”
Savimbi, added Agualusa, “had a nearly magical strength that emanated from him like a light. He could have used that incredible energy to turn himself into a second Nelson Mandela, but he preferred to be Attila.”