Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 5. 3rd April 1974
Children of the struggle
Children of the struggle
In New Zealand, 12-year-old boys, go to school, join the Boy Scouts, build tree huts and play cops and robbers. In Angola, ten thousand miles away on the southwest coast of the African continent, Angolan children do the things that New Zealand children play at.
They join the Young Pioneers, the Youth Branch of the MPLA the liberation movement in Angola struggling to free their country from oppressive Portuguese rule.
If they are lucky, they will go to a Movement Populaire de Liberation d'Angola (MPLA) School. The only tree huts that they know are those that are used by their' parents to spot the enemy Portuguese troops. The game of cops and robbers is real in Angola. What Boy Scouts in New Zealand learn for fun, Young Pioneers need to know to survive.
I discussed the work of the Young Pioneers with Paolo Jorge, the MPLA Secretary for information, in his offices at the Liberation Centre on the outskirts of Lusaka—a building provided free of charge by the Zambian Government for the liberation movements' offices.
Paolo Jorge is a slight, sensitive, middle-aged Angolan coloured. His capacity for hard work over an extended period of time is phenomenal. He speaks about the work of the Young Pioneers with obvious pride.
I asked him how committed the Young Pioneers were. For a man whose natural tendency is not to exaggerate but rather to play down, the example he gave is something I shall find hard ever to forget. What follows is the story of Pioneer Augusto Ngangula as told by Paolo Jorge.
"The Centre of Revolutionary Instruction (CIR) schools in the Third Politico-Military region were about to resume classes for the pioneers. Like all others, Pioneer Augusto Ngangula set out from his village to return to his school which was in one of the zones of the third region.
"The Portuguese colonialist troops were using all possible means to discover the where about of the MPLA schools and bases, trying to take them by surprise, capture or kill the Pioneers, their teachers and the freedom fighters. But their attempts to get this information had failed.
"On December 1, 1968, Augusto Ngangula, carrying his books, was cautiously covering the ten or so kilometers to his school. He was pleased to be returning to the MPLA school, where he had learned to read, know his country etc.
"However, heliported troops had just landed in the area of the school Augusto was attending and they saw him making his way to school. Taken by surprise by the hidden enemy, he was unable to escape from the Portuguese, and he was captured.
"They immediately started to interrogate him, asking him under threat of death to reveal the whereabouts of the CIR schools and the MPLA bases, but he refused to give any of the information demanded.
"His attitudes exasperated the Portuguese, who began to heat him brutally. Then the Young Pioneer tried to throw the enemy off the track and led them towards some cultivated plots in the hope of meeting up with one of the MPLA detachments.
"Later realising that they had been tricked, the Portuguese soldiers murdered Augusto with axe blows. Augusto was only twelve years old."
Paolo Jorge has heard of and has seen the barbarity of the Portuguese soldiers in Angola. The reports earlier this year of the massacres in Mozambique by Portuguese soldiers at Wirixamu surprises no one in the liberation movements. They have seen evidence of it for years. At the refugee settlement at Nyimba, ten miles from the Mozambique border, we met refugees who had escaped to safety in Zambia—refugees who had been maimed by the Portuguese and who had all the visible scars and signs to show it.
Paolo Jorge says that it is not only people that are massacred—recently the Portuguese have adopted a policy of trying to starve the freedom fighters out of the jungle and the local population into submission. They have napalmed and burnt hundreds of thousands of acres of cultivated land.
Why is Portugal so keen to hold on to Angola? And how is a country so poor and so underdeveloped able to fight colonial wars on three fronts (in Mozambique against Frelimo and in Guinea Bissau against Paigc as well as in Angola)
Undoubtedly the reason for wishing to hold on to Angola is to be found under Angola's soil—in the diamonds and oil which the country has in abundance. No doubt reasons of glory and power are also important.
The cost of retaining her overseas 'provinces' is phenomenal to Portugal. Over half the Portuguese state budget is allocated to the armed forces. But even this is not enough. Portugal also gets aid from the United States and from NATO. Paolo Jorge produced photos of weapons captured by the MPLA from Portuguese soldiers. These include US helmets and parachutes, Belgian machine guns and British mortars.
In the months and years ahead, crucial to Portugal will be the amount of military aid she receives from the United States. Up until the present most of the aid has come from the US via NATO, but there are signs that NATO will not tolerate this for much longer—the Governments of several NATO powers, including those of Holland and Norway have long opposed Portugal's colonial wars, and it is thought likely that they will be able to force the issue within NATO and cut off the supply to Portugal.
That leaves the US in a position to help Portugal on a direct bi-lateral basis—and there is every indication that that type of assistance will be forthcoming. Already the two countries have come to a deal. In exchange for US rights to use the Azores as a military base, Portugal has been promised a supply of military hardware by the US.
The extent of US involvement could well determine the immediate future of the Portuguese colonies.
The MPLA has been waging armed struggle against the Portuguese for almost 14 years. But MPLA is more than an organisation which fights. In the words of Paolo Jorge:
"A revolution is a complex process involving two basic factors—destruction and construction. While on the one hand the colonial enemy and his economy must be defeated and the latter destroyed, on the other hand a start must be made on building a new life. Along side guerrilla activity—which was forced upon us by the complete absence of any genuine desire to give Angola her independence—there are three major tasks demanding the attention and efforts of nationalists: agriculture and handicraft productions, medical care, and the training of cadres.
"The National Union of Angolan Workers and the Organisation of Angolan Women and the political activists help action committees mobilise the people for production. Medical care and hygiene are the responsibility of the Medical Assistance Service, which already has doctors, nurses and nurses' assistants in the country working with the people. Finally, the Or trains militants politically and militarily, and gives guidance to the primary schools. Textbooks have been prepared with a view to launching an assault on illiteracy.
"Vast regions where a doctor or a teacher have never been seen after five centuries of colonialism can now see the extent of the efforts made by the MPLA."
Of the future Paolo Jorge says simply "We will keep on struggling until victory is ours and the people are free. That victory will come, it is just a question of time."
For the Portuguese in Africa, time is running out.