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Alex Callinicos

Angola: A New Congo?

(November 1975)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.83, November 1975, pp.23-28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Angola is a country of some 5.6 million inhabitants stretching over 482,351 square miles of West African coast. The four main tribal groups are, in order of size, the Ovimbundu (in the south around Nova Lisboa), the Kimbundu (in the centre around Luanda, urbanised), the Bakongo (in the north), and the Chokwe-Lunda (in the north-east).



Colonised in a long and bloody process stretching from the fifteenth to the early twentieth century, Angola until the nineteen-sixties remained a classic Portuguese colony based upon a system of forced labour to provide her rulers in Lisbon with the returns from her fantastic wealth in raw materials, primarily coffee, diamonds and iron ore. This situation was altered by the discovery of oil in Cabinda by Gulf Oil Corporation of the United States in 1966. Cabinda, an enclave cut off from the rest of Angola by the river Congo, and surrounded on the land side by Zaire and Congo-Brazzaville, became a Portuguese protectorate in 1885. Today it is the second biggest producer of oil in black Africa turning out 7.5 million tons of crude a year and bringing in to the government revenues of 350-400 million dollars per annum in royalties. Angola’s oil wealth, combined with her other natural resources (her exports went up in value 37 per cent in 1973), make Angola a rich prize. Added to this, Angola has enjoyed an industrial boom since the mid-sixties, manufacturing output growing at the rate of 18 per cent per annum between 1965 and 1972, and shooting up by 26 per cent in 1973.

This economic growth brought social changes in its wake. Luanda, the capital, is now a city of 500,000, with a sizeable and militant working-class. Although the white settler community got the lion’s share of whatever Lisbon and the multinationals left of the cake, there were some scraps for the blacks – a black and mestico (mixed race) middle class emerged in Luanda, Nova Lisboa and Silva-Porto. At the same time, Angola’s wealth attracted the attention of Western multinationals, which today are concentrated in key areas of the economy: apart from Gulf Oil at Cabinda, British, American, Belgian and South African capital is involved in the diamond industry, Portuguese and German in iron mining, and Portuguese, Belgian, South African, French and American in the petroleum industry. South Africa is also heavily involved in the Cunene river dam project in Southern Angola, as well as in numerous other joint projects with the Portuguese.

Thus the first major difference between Angola and Portugal’s other two former colonies of any note, Mozambique and Guiné-Bissau, is her wealth. Guiné-Bissau was of little economic importance to Portugal, and Mozambique had become increasingly economically integrated with South Africa, providing harbour facilities at Lourenço Marques (now Cam Phumo) and a huge amount of cheap labour for the gold mines of the Rand. Angola’s natural resources and her industrial development make her, by contrast, potentially one of the richest countries in Africa.

The Liberation Movements

The second major difference is the fact that in Mozambique and Guiné-Bissau there is one dominant liberation movement, respectively FRELIMO and PAIGC. In Angola there are three rival movements, none dominant, none weak enough to be ignored – MPLA, FNLA and UNITA.

Firstly, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). In 1955 members of the Portuguese Communist Party, mainly white civil servants in Luanda, founded the Angolan Communist Party. Primarily composed of mestico and assimilado (members of the tiny minority of blacks given ‘white’ status by the Portuguese) urban intellectuals, the PCA merged with other groups to form the MPLA in December 1956. In its early years, MPLA’s orientation centred on the black working class of Luanda and other centres, developing roots among the urban masses that were to survive underground until the end of the colonial war. On 4 February 1961, in response to increasing Portuguese repression, MPLA attacked Sao Paolo prison in Luanda. In retaliation, police and armed settlers ran amuck in the muceques (shanty towns) of Luanda, killing hundreds of blacks.

A new leadership, centred around Agostino Neto, rebuilt the MPLA organisation shattered by the urban massacres. After being prevented from operating from Congo-Kinshasa (now Zaire), then as now backing FNLA, MPLA moved to Congo-Brazzaville, from where it launched an offensive, ultimately bogged down, in Cabinda. This was followed by a more successful eastern front along the Zambian border from 1966. In these operations, MPLA depended heavily on support from Russia and other Eastern bloc countries, although it also enjoyed excellent relations with the Scandinavian social-democratic parties. But, on Neto’s own admission [1], at the time of Caetano’s fall, MPLA was in serious difficulties. It was under very heavy attack from the Portuguese, who were using napalm and defoliants, and was forced back towards the border. Moreover, it was faced with a serious internal split. Daniel Chipenda, a key military leader, led a faction that took the vital eastern front out of Neto’s control – the so called ‘Eastern Revolt’. Moreover, shortly after the Lisbon coup, in May 1974, various founder members and military leaders of MPLA, headed by the brothers Mario and Pinto de Andrade, issued an attack on Neto’s ‘absolutist presidentialism’. Although this faction, dismissed by Neto’s supporters as a bunch of mestico intellectuals cut off from the armed struggle [2], proved to be a much less serious threat to Neto, MPLA faced the new situation created by the April coup split three ways.

The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) has very different origins. In 1954 a group of Protestant BaKongo exiles in the Belgian Congo (now Zaire), disgruntled at the Portuguese imposition of a Catholic as King of the Kongo in northern Angola, set up the UPNA (Union of the Peoples of Northern Angola). Their aim was the restoration of the old Kongo Kingdom, which they claimed was ‘historically and legally ... a territory separate from Angola’. [3] Under pressure from Pan-Africanist sentiment, the new party’s leader, Holden Roberto, changed its name to UPA (Union of the Peoples of Angola) in 1958. On 15 March 1961 under the leadership of the UPA the BaKongo rose against the Portuguese. Roberto took up headquarters at Kinshasa in what was to become Zaire and amassed a considerable fortune there. In 1962 UPA changed its name to FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola). Its support lies mainly among the BaKongo of the north of whom, between 500,000 and 1½ million (estimates vary), fled to Zaire from the Portuguese terror. Hostility between FNLA and MPLA has been bitter ever since an MPLA detachment was wiped out by the UPA in Northern Angola in November 1961. Through its links with the Kinshasa regime (Roberto is President Mobutu’s brother-in-law and they are close friends), FNLA has been able to prevent MPLA from operating in Zaire. In return, MPLA has accused FNLA of not fighting the Portuguese.

FNLA’s chief backer is Zaire. Traditionally the Mobutu regime has been one of the US’s best friends in Africa. American corporations are heavily involved in Zaire, and there are 5000 US government personnel, both civil and military, in the country. Involvement by the US government in Zaire dates back to 1960, when the country became independent of Belgium: the CIA intervened in strength to stabilise the situation for foreign capital, organising the overthrow and assassination of the radical nationalist premier, Patrice Lumumba. [4] Since 1973, when Mobutu broke off relations with Israel and ‘Zairianised’ a number of foreign companies, diplomatic relations between Zaire and the US have deteriorated. In June 1975 the US ambassador was expelled after the CIA had been accused of backing an abortive coup against Mobutu. Nonetheless, US government support for the regime remains considerable, and American commercial interests have not suffered.

Relations between Zaire and China, on the other hand, have been on the upturn, despite the brutality and corruption of the Mobutu regime. In December 1974, on his return from a visit to China and North Korea, Mobutu announced the ‘radicalisation of our authentic revolution’ and nationalised those foreign companies that had already been ‘Zairianised’. However, US big capital in Zaire was untouched, and the measures have been interpreted as a demagogic attempt to counter disaffection over inflation and corruption. China’s friendship extends to FNLA. In May 1974 200 Chinese instructors arrived in Zaire to start training FNLA guerrillas. According to Roberto [5], all FNLA troops are now trained by the Chinese. China’s motive in backing FNLA seems to be primarily a desire to eliminate Russian influence in Angola, which the MPLA is seen to represent. This has not prevented her from attempting to cultivate friendly relations with MPLA as well: in 1971 Neto visited Peking, and a MPLA delegation was received there as recently as June 1975, when the Chinese told them that they did not want special relations with any one movement. [6]

The third movement, UNITA (the Union for the Total Independence of Angola), was founded in 1966 as the result of a split in the FNLA. Jonas Savimbi, its leader, resigned from Roberto’s government in exile, of which he had been the foreign minister, in 1964, accusing FNLA of being under the control of American agents, as well as ‘flagrantly tribalist’. [7] UNITA itself drew its main support from the Ovimbundu of the south. UNITA also seems to have enjoyed friendly relations with Peking and its propaganda took on a heavily Maoist tone. The MPLA accuse UNITA of conducting no operations against the Portuguese, while UNITA responds by claiming to have been the only liberation movement to have operated entirely within Angola, unlike MPLA with its bases in Zambia and Congo-Brazzaville and FNLA with its headquarters in Kinshasa.

A Neo-Colonial Solution?

As the new regime took power in Lisbon, it was clear that, although the colonial wars might soon be at an end, Angola was wide open to a neo-colonial solution. The liberation movements were deeply divided along ideological lines between MPLA, an orthodox-Moscow-line movement, and FNLA, a right-wing tribalist movement backed by the US, Zaire and China. The balance of forces was more favourable within the territory than in any other Portuguese colony. The 500,000-strong white community would provide formidable support for a neo-colonial settlement. Militarily, with an army of 55,000 in the field, Portugal was in a much stronger position than in Mozambique and Guiné-Bissau, where it faced united liberation movements.

And there was the prize of Cabinda’s oil. Control over Cabinda was too rich a prize for foreign interests to ignore. According to MPLA, there exists a study prepared by the futurologist Herman Kahn for the US Department of State arguing that it is imperative for the US to preserve control over the natural resources of Angola and Zaire. [8] There was also rumoured to exist a several year-old agreement between Zaire, FNLA and Gulf Oil under which Roberto’s forces would steer clear of Cabinda. It is certainly true that the only attacks in Cabinda came from MPLA based to the north-east in Congo-Brazzaville, rather than from the FNLA from Zaire in the south. Clearly the oil company’s worst nightmare would be realised if Angola, and with it Cabinda, fell under the control of MPLA, which had only the previous February announced that it would expel the oil companies and nationalise their assets.

One way of avoiding this outcome would be for Cabinda to secede from Angola. FLEC (the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda) was set up in 1963. Its aim is independence from both Portugal and Angola, FLEC never took up arms against the Portuguese, preferring to concentrate on correspondence with the Portuguese overseas ministry, the UN and the OAU. This has not prevented Cabinda’s neighbours, Zaire and Congo-Brazzaville, from recognising Cabinda’s right to self-determination and giving FLEC their backing. Both these states, despite their support for FNLA and MPLA respectively, each of which claims that Cabinda is an integral part of Angola, back different FLEC factions, with the co-operation of rival oil companies. One faction, headed by Lui Ranque-Franque, is based in Kinshasa, and enjoys excellent relations with Gulf Oil. The other, based in Congo-Brazzaville, was headed by Auguste Tchioufou, deputy general president of Elf-Congo, a Franco-Congolese oil company. In March 1975 Tchioufou was replaced by Alfred Raol, former Prime Minister of Congo-Brazzaville. The French secret service, which under the Gaullist security chief, Jacques Foccart, was heavily involved in the Katangese and Biafran secessions, is actively courting the Congolese wing of FLEC. [9] It is interesting to note that both the anti-Neto factions within MPLA were in favour of autonomy for Cabinda.

The regime that came to power in Lisbon in April 1974 was unabashed in stating its neo-colonial ambitions. Spinola’s book, Portugal and the Future, was clear in projecting a Lusitanian federation in which the colonies would enjoy self-government under Portuguese auspices. On taking power, Spinola was careful to distinguish between ‘self-determination’ (which he supported for the colonies) and ‘independence’ (which he didn’t, since there had been ‘insufficient preparation’ for the peoples of the overseas territories ‘to be able, at present, to decide for themselves about their future’). [10]

In Angola all the liberation movements rejected the idea of a federal solution and called for the granting of immediate independence. FNLA, on Mobutu’s advice, launched a new offensive against the Portuguese. In its tentative contacts with the nationalists, the new regime set out to exploit their divisions. The aim was to isolate MPLA, in any case militarily weak and politically divided. Contacts were initiated with Savimbi, who seemed to be falling in with Spinola’s strategy when he declared that ‘the people of Angola are not ready for independence’. [11] On 18 June Portugal announced a ceasefire with UNITA. FLEC were permitted to open offices in Luanda.

Luanda was traditionally the centre of MPLA’s support. Despite savage repression in the city since 1959, MPLA had been able to preserve a cell organisation that, although it was unable to initiate anything during the years of war, had deep roots spreading from the black working-class of Luanda to the black and mestico petite-bourgeoisie and to white students and intellectuals. The April coup was followed by a wave of strikes involving, for example, bankworkers, and public transport and sugar refinery workers. This increased tension among a white community with a tradition of pogroms in the black muceques from which MPLA draws its support. Despite attempts by the nationalists to allay settler fears – Neto even promised that their economic interests would not suffer, [12] racist hysteria among a community where dreams of a Rhodesian UDI had spread like wildfire since April reached a pitch of violence in July 1974. 43 people were killed in settler attacks on blacks, leading to an MPLA-called general strike in the city. [13]

From Jmy 1974, then, the issue shifted from independence versus a federal state, to what sort of independence Angola was to win. This struggle was pursued both in Lisbon and in Angola.

The stake was MPLA’s involvement in Angola’s independence. Portuguese and Western capital would prefer to see in power an independent black government that excluded MPLA, with its base in the black workers of Luanda and its threats to seize foreign companies. Apart from FNLA, an obvious candidate for participating in such a government was UNITA. Since 25 April UNITA had gone out of its way to reassure Portuguese interests that they would not be harmed under a UNITA government. As a result settlers flocked to Savimbi’s banner. At least 20 people were killed in Luanda in early August 1974 after an anti-MPLA pro-UNITA demonstration by both blacks and whites rampaged into the muceques. MPLA’s divisions strengthened Spinola’s hand. Chipenda’s faction, the only one of real significance since it commanded the support of 3,000 guerrillas in eastern Angola, supported Cabindan self-determination and argued for the dissolution of MPLA and a common front with FNLA after independence. The first MPLA congress since 1962 met in August 1974 leading to the announcement of a reconciliation of the three factions. This reconciliation, which seems largely the result of pressure from the Presidents of Zaire, Zambia, Tanzania and Congo-Brazzaville, was to be a dead letter, but Neto appeared to be in severe difficulties, with even Tanzania and Zambia, previously his firmest supporters, appearing to abandon him.

It was in these circumstances that Spinola initiated contacts with Mobutu. Towards the end of August, Dias de Lima, his aide-de-camp visited Kinshasa. Then in September, Spinola and Mobutu met secretly on Sal in the Cape Verde islands. It seems that what they agreed on was the idea of a coalition government headed by Roberto, Savimbi and Chipenda, thus excluding MPLA. Mobutu at the end of the talks said,

‘If it only depended on General Spinola, the decolonisation of Angola would go much more quickly.’ [14]

Angola had already been shoved to the centre of Portuguese politics when on 15 August the Security Police (PSP) opened fire on a pro-MPLA demonstration in Lisbon, killing a demonstrator. In his speech of 10 September appealing to the ‘silent majority’ of Portuguese, Spinola warned of ‘abandoning the African populations (of the colonies) to the domination of new dictatorships’. [15] Soon after the Sal meeting it was announced that Spinola would personally supervise the negotiations over Angolan independence. The stage was set for a neo-colonial settlement sponsored by Spinola and Mobutu under which the MPLA would be crushed and Angola made safe for Western imperialism under an amenable black government. Undoubtedly this is what would have happened had Spinola succeeded in crushing the Portuguese left as he hoped. The failure of the 28 September 1974 ‘silent majority’ demonstration forced him from power.

MPLA’s Comeback

After Spinola’s fall the policy pursued by Coutinho who had been appointed High Commissioner in Luanda, represented a major shift in MPLA’s favour. The aim of Portuguese policy became the establishment of a nationalist coalition government that would guide Angola to independence. Coutinho refused to negotiate with any MPLA tendency other than Neto’s, thus killing the Spinola-Mobutu plan of a Roberto-Savimbi-Chipenda coalition. Cease-fires were signed with FNLA and MPLA in the course of October. The liberation movements were allowed to open offices in Luanda, in a tense atmosphere created by a dockers’ strike. The effects of the new policy were seen in Cabinda. Part of the Spinola-Mobutu agreement was the opening of negotiations with Ranque-Pranque, leader of the pro-Kinshasa wing of FLEC. Coutinho, however, dismissed FLEC as not a liberation movement but ‘a political current that is both very divided and subject to diverse pressures’. [16] In early November, 700 MPLA troops seized control of Cabinda’s airport, radio station and main administrative buildings, with Portuguese army backing. Pro-FLEC forces, mainly former Portuguese special anti-guerrilla forces, under the leadership of a French mercenary, Jean Kay, were driven across the border to Congo-Brazzaville.

The return of the liberation movements to Luanda led to renewed fighting. There were clashes between MPLA and UNITA supporters (many of them white). Men With MPLA insignia rampaged looting and killing. Some sources suggest that these were criminals whom FNLA, backed by white businessmen, had encouraged to escape from gaol and go on the rampage. [17] After these incidents, in which 100 people were killed, all the three movements began to recruit and arm their supporters as quickly as possible. FNLA relied on the BaKongo peasantry, especially those who had fled from the Portuguese to Zaire, for recruits. MPLA turned to its traditional base among the black masses of Luanda, where its supporters had organised a popular militia which was to prove its decisive advantage in the later fighting. The battle lines began to crystallise. On 25 November FNLA and UNITA signed an agreement to cooperate politically and militarily on a broad front. On 15 December MPLA expelled Chipenda, who was accused of having attempted to have Neto assassinated twice, in 1972 and 1973. It is an index of the extent to which MPLA had recovered from its earlier difficulties that the final break with Chipenda did not cause serious internal problems.

Meanwhile the MFA in Lisbon, crucially Coutinho and Melo Antunes, the minister responsible for negotiating independence, were, through various contacts with black African leaders like Kaunda, Mobutu, and Nyerere, pressing FNLA to accept the principle of a coalition with MPLA. At least some elements within the MFA saw Savimbi, thanks to his public relations campaign aimed at the whites and foreign capital, as an arbiter. Coutinho and others were more worried about the oil companies’ intrigues and the threat of a civil war between FNLA and MPLA. Although their sympathies lay with MPLA, they believed that Roberto could be ignored only at the risk of a possible partition of the country, with the old Congo Kingdom being revived in the north (Roberto is the heir to the BaKongo throne) under Zaire’s auspices. Therefore their objective was a coalition between FNLA, MPLA and UNITA, leading up to general elections.

The objective of Portuguese policy was a coalition between FNLA, MPLA and UNITA, leading up to general elections. Portuguese diplomacy came to fruition in January 1975, when a summit between Roberto, Neto and Savimbi in Mombasa, Kenya, agreed on a joint negotiating platform. This was followed by the Alvor agreement of 15 January between Portugal and the three movements. Angola was to become self-governing on 31 January, leading to independence on 11 November, when a constituent assembly was to be elected. In the meantime, power was handed over to a coalition government consisting of a presidential council of three (one from each movement) and a council of ministers of 12 (three from each movement and three for the Portuguese). A unified army was to be set up by the end of September, consisting of 24,000 Portuguese troops, and 8,000 from each of the movements. A national council of defence, headed by the Portuguese service chiefs and one delegate from each movement, was to be responsible for national security and defence. The withdrawal of Portuguese troops was not to be completed until 29 February 1976, after independence and the general elections.

The extent to which any of the parties thought this elaborate agreement would be observed is unclear. Even under its terms, the movements were allowed to preserve their own separate armed wings. There were also differences about the elections – Neto supported a joint nationalist slate for them, while Savimbi advocated separate slates. FNLA insisted that Coutinho, who they regarded as too pro-MPLA (he reciprocated by calling them ‘black fascists’), should not be the High Commissioner under the agreement, and Silva Cardoso, who proved to be far more sympathetic, replaced him. The agreement said nothing of foreign companies, which Neto explained as a compromise that he had been forced to accept in order to secure a joint front with the other groups. [18] But of one thing there could be no doubt – MPLA’s popular support in Luanda. When Neto returned to Luanda on 4 February 1975, the fourteenth anniversary of the uprising against the Portuguese, there were nearly 400,000 people waiting to meet him.

The Drift Towards Civil War

For over two months after the Alvor agreement, clashes between the different movements were comparatively minor. On 13 February 20 people were killed when MPLA troops destroyed the offices of the Chipenda faction in Luanda and Luso.

Shortly afterwards Chipenda announced the integration of his forces with those of FNLA. Both sides were, however, arming and recruiting, with UNITA increasingly siding with FNLA. Neto accused Zaire of organising a ‘silent invasion’ of Angola, as FNLA troops trained in Zaire by the Chinese, and often recruited there among BaKongo refugees, crossed the border. MPLA continued to arm young blacks in the muceques. At the same time, the Peoples Power movement (Poder Popular) with its factory and neighbourhood committees, was gaining strength. Under the influence of the MPLA the Poder Popular had developed effective popular militias.

Towards the end of March, during the week before Easter, FNLA launched a savage attack on MPLA. In part these seem to have been provoked by the nationalisation of the banks ordered by the Portuguese Revolutionary Council in the wake of the abortive Spinola coup of 11 March 1975. FNLA denounced these nationalisations as ‘neo-colonialist’. Also the development of the people’s committees and popular militia by MPLA undoubtedly alarmed FNLA. Perhaps as many as 1,000 people were killed in the Holy Week fighting, which began when FNLA massacred 100 young MPLA recruits. Portugal, in line with her policy of ‘active neutrality’, intervened to persuade the movements to sign a ceasefire. Nonetheless MPLA thereafter threw all its efforts into reinforcing her troops and arming the people of the muceques.

Fighting was renewed in late April. On 30 April FNLA sacked the Angolan trade union organisation, UNTA. They seized trade union records and office equipment, killed at least 28 people and forced the cancellation of the May Day celebrations. At the beginning of May FNLA were estimated to have 20,000 troops and MPLA 15,000. In this period, to the middle of May, 700 people were killed and 1,000 wounded in Luanda, largely as a result of another attempt by FNLA to dislodge MPLA from the muceques.

Meanwhile, Le Monde reported that some MFA leaders were in favour of revising their ‘ambiguous and false’ policy of strict neutrality in Angola, since in the present situation it favoured FNLA’s attempts to eliminate MPLA. They argued that ‘internal and external enemies’ were attempting to destroy MPLA before independence, and they criticised Neto’s complacency. [19]

Zaire’s activities were not confined to backing up FNLA against MPLA. The Alvor agreement had declared that ‘Cabinda is an integral and unalienable part of the territory of Angola’, at the insistence of the Portuguese and the MPLA. Ranque-Franque’s simultaneous call for a general mobilisation of Cabindans ‘ready to die for their country’ had no immediate impact.

However, FLEC’s backers, Zaire and Congo-Brazzaville, declared their support for Cabindan self-determination and called for a referendum to decide Cabinda’s future. Both FNLA and MPLA were embarrassed by their patrons’ support for Cabindan separation, which found little echo in the rest of Africa, where the memory of the bloodshed caused by the Katangese and Biafran secessions is only too fresh. UNITA, however, provided refuge for Cabindans who fled when MPLA seized control, and two of its leaders, Nzau Puna and Jose Ndele, are members of the Cabindan aristocracy.

The situation in Luanda continued to deteriorate. On 22 May the city was paralysed by a general strike called by MPLA and UNTA. One of the main demands of the strikers was the recall to Portugal of Silva Cardoso, who MPLA described as reactionary. This demand reflected discontent with the role of the Portuguese army, who, MPLA claimed, had allowed FNLA to bring men and material across the Zaire border, while preventing MPLA from bringing supplies into Luanda. Moreover, withdrawing Portuguese troops had permitted FNLA to take over their installations in the north.

A new round of fighting at the beginning of June left hundreds more dead in Luanda. At the insistence of FNLA and UNITA, a summit of the leaders of the three movements, without the Portuguese government, whom Roberto accused of ‘colonialism’ in backing MPLA, was held in Nakuru, in Kenya. The result was an agreement signed on 21 June, which among other things provided for the disarming of civilians and Constituent Assembly elections in October. The sixth cease-fire between MPLA and FNLA that year was signed. No-one expected the agreement to last; Neto had only gone to Nakuru reluctantly.

MPLA Counterattacks

During the early stages the fighting seems to have been initiated mainly by FNLA with the aim of wiping out MPLA before the general elections. The effect was to force MPLA to reconsider whether the policy implicit in the Alvor agreement of peaceful competition with FNLA and UNITA within the framework of a coalition government (which MPLA wished to continue after independence) was workable. The decision seems to have been reached to launch a counter-offensive that would put MPLA in a sufficiently strong position militarily to impose its terms on the other movements. The battles of May and June had given MPLA control of the two main approach roads to Luanda from the north. This enabled MPLA to cut the FNLA troops in Luanda off from their northern bases.

MPLA’s offensive was launched in mid-July. Within a matter of days, except for some pockets of resistance, FNLA forces in Luanda were crushed by MPLA troops using tanks, mortars and recoilless rifles supplied by Russia. Although FNLA’s army is, thanks to its Chinese training, probably the most disciplined military force in Angola, it was unable to counterbalance MPLA’s immense popular support in Luanda. The fighting spread to the rest of the country. In the north the FNLA succeeded in driving MPLA out of a number of key towns, taking Caxito, an MPLA stronghold 50 kilometres to the north of the capital.

Strong resistance was encountered at Malanje, which now barely exists, before it was taken by the MPLA. At the time of writing, MPLA were able to control the road and railway to the east from Luanda. However, the ruins of Caxito and its strategic road junction, are now reported to be in FNLA hands having changed hands frequently. FNLA’s reaction to the offensive was to declare ‘total war’ on MPLA, whom they accused of’socialist imperialism’. Johnny Eduardo, FNLA member of the defunct presidential council, has declared: ‘we will return to Luanda and there will be carnage’. [20] Roberto has finally quit his customary haunts in Kinshasa to take over personal command of the FNLA forces.

UNITA initially attempted to steer clear of military conflict, preferring to stand on the sidelines ready to pick up the pieces, whilst appearing to the western world as peace-loving, ‘moderate’ statesmen. However, Savimbi could not remain ‘neutral’. In the Council of Ministers and elsewhere UNITA tended to support FNLA. Savimbi made his attitude to the Poder Popular clear: He denounced it as ‘MPLA’s street Soviets’, and declared that he would not tolerate it in his territory. [21] And in August, Savimbi eventually declared war on MPLA – a decision he may now regret. After heavy fighting for Lobito, which MPLA took at the end of August, UNITA-held towns fell rapidly – Benguela, Mocomades, Pierra d’Ecc, Sa da Bandeiro and eventually Luso (although UNITA claim to have recaptured the latter [22]). The result of this has been to isolate UNITA (whose ‘territory’ centres on Nova Lisboa and Silva Porto) from the coast (which MPLA controls from the Namibian frontier to north of Luanda) and from other sources of supplies to the east in Zambia. While UNITA seems to be airlifting arms and munitions from Zambia and Zaire, shortages of other commodities, particularly oil and salt (which comes from Lobito) may prove critical.

Chipenda’s force, at first fighting in the north around Carmona, and then in the south-east, with UNITA, now seems to have disintegrated.

The role of the Portuguese army has been ambiguous. FNLA continually accuses the Portuguese of having sided with MPLA during the fighting in Luanda. The Portuguese government replied to FNLA’s threats of a march on Luanda with the warning that their troops would defend Luanda. Yet relations between the army and MPLA deteriorated severely after Portuguese troops killed 20 MPLA supporters including some of Neto’s best militants, outside their headquarters in Luanda. Neto’s response was to demand the complete withdrawal of Portuguese troops and the recall of Cardoso, who is regarded as anti-MPLA. Cardoso was recalled, for ‘consultations’, in early August, despite the protests of FNLA and UNITA. Nonetheless, widespread sympathy for FNLA and UNITA was reported among the troops. A new conflict between the Portuguese and MPLA arose when the acting high commissioner, Macedo, thought to be more sympathetic to MPLA, declared on 14 August that the transitional government had collapsed and that he was resuming full control of the country.

A New Congo?

Angola today is in grave danger of being partitioned by rival interests. Zaire has stepped up its support for FNLA, since MPLA’s offensive. On 16 July Mobutu warned that he might revise his policy of ‘neutrality’ in Angola in the light of Portugal’s support for MPLA. This cynical comment means that Mobutu will increase Zaire’s massive support for FNLA. An MPLA victory would threaten Mobutu’s own survival in Zaire, which is already showing signs of being shaky. It is clear that Zairean regular troops as well as ordinary Zairean nationals are fighting with FNLA, and their number is likely to increase. The BaKongo of northern Angola are ethnically linked to the tribes across the border in Zaire and there seems a definite possibility of the annexation of northern Angola by Zaire, or at least a BaKongo secessionist state under Mobutu’s protection, if MPLA succeeds in holding Luanda. Then there is Cabinda. On 25 July Nzita Henrique Tiago of FLEC proclaimed the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Cabinda (GRPC) in Paris. This move – denounced by Ranque-Franque in Kinshasa – seems to be the result of the activities of the French secret service in alliance with French oil interests. On 13 August Mobutu riposted: Ranque-Franque announced in Kinshasa the formation of another Cabindan government in exile.

China’s role in all this is interesting. Despite the fact the FNLA troops are trained by Chinese instructors, Chinese representatives at the OAU conference in Kampala had denounced a Tass claim that they were supporting FNLA as ‘pure calumny’. Yet while the fighting was raging in Luanda, an FNLA delegation headed by Hendrik Vaal Neto arrived in Peking, where it denounced Russian interference in Angola and was received by the deputy prime minister, Teng Hsia-ping. Then New China on 26 July accused the USSR of provoking civil war in Angola and accused the Portuguese of a ‘second colonial occupation’, echoing exactly the propaganda put out by FNLA. MPLA have reported capturing new Chinese arms, as late as June this year, after Chinese denials of support for FNLA. [23]

Most of western imperialism is now ranged behind the FNLA. American aid comes both direct and via Mobutu. MPLA claim that there is a CIA presence in Luanda, centred on the American consulate and the Zairean embassy. [24] France has diverted Mirage jets from South Africa to the FNLA, where the need is more immediate, in return for a promise of a large oil concession. [25] MPLA also claim to have uncovered evidence of Belgian, Tunisian and Israeli support for FNLA.

And what of South Africa? A column of 800 South African troops recently advanced to north of Sada Bandeira but have since retreated. South African troops now occupy the Southern frontier zone – up to 30 miles deep according to one report. [26] Vorster’s strategy is twofold. Firstly, he is supporting UNITA, hoping that they would provide yet another compliant, black buffer-state to hinder the prospects for revolution in South Africa, supply cheap labour and buy South African goods. It is possible that a supply line to UNITA has been established following the invasion. [27] (Savimbi has for some time received a good press in South Africa, making statements in support of apartheid.) But, failing this Vorster must secure the frontier – both as a block against external SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) incursions, and to protect electricity supplies from the important Cunene River scheme (the Cabora Bassa of southern Angola).

But the South Africans are not alone in supporting UNITA’s version of the neo-colonial sell-out. Kaunda, not content with working against the interests of the Zimbabwean masses, not satisfied with weakening SWAPO by expelling them from Zambia, is now working hand in glove with Vorster over Angola. Kaunda of course has his own internal problems, with a militant working class, regional disaffection and ruling-class intrigue. He needs the Benguela railway to be in ‘safe’ hands, to export the copper to keep the Zambian economy on a slightly more even keel, and maintain his own fragile position.

UNITA is a second string to the imperialist fiddle; to be played when a more ‘moderate’ note is preferred. The USA, France and sections of the Portuguese all support UNITA. It has also been suggested that the British government is also aiding Savimbi’s men. [28]

MPLA has undoubtedly strengthened its military and political position immensely by its July offensive. However, it is nowhere near controlling the country as a whole. Its popular support in Luanda and the surrounding Kinbundu people, is counterbalanced by the strength of FNLA among the BaKongo of the north, and of UNITA among the Ovimbundu of the centre and south. Angola could easily, like the Belgian Congo after independence, dissolve in a tribal patchwork manipulated by foreign predators like Zaire and South Africa. Balkanisation is clearly a possibility.

There can be no doubt about the duty of socialists in this situation. MPLA is not a revolutionary workers’ party, despite the working-class support it enjoys. It is a nationalist movement wedded to the traditional Stalinist ideology of a national liberation struggle somehow separated by a Chinese wall from the struggle for workers’ power. The fact that it has been forced to contradict this policy in practice by mobilising the working class of Luanda in strikes, people’s committees and popular militias, does not alter this. However, it is the only movement in Angola prepared to fight for a unified Angola independent of foreign control. FNLA remains firmly under the thumb of Mobutu and the unholy alliance of People’s China and the US behind him. UNITA’s Maoist rhetoric has been forgotten in its efforts to win the support of Portuguese and South African interests unhappy at the prospect of either an MPLA or FNLA victory. FLEC is little but the pawn for rival interests, Zaire, Congo-Brazzaville, Gulf Oil, France, interested in a Cabindan secession that so far has won little or no support in Cabinda itself. The situation commands our unconditional support for MPLA.

For Portugal, the issue is simply another nail in the coffin of a deeply divided MFA. The different lines pursued by Coutinho and Cardoso, the conflicts within the army in Angola, reveal that, despite Spinola’s fall, the choice between a neo-colonial settlement and a real independence for Angola has not been finally settled. In any case, the war in Angola promises a bitter harvest for Portugal. The settlers are fleeing from Angola. 300,000 were expected to return to Portugal between 1 August and 31 October. There they will join the dole queues and the right-wing mobs in the north, to provide a formidable support for the counter-revolutionary attacks that are still to come.


1. Interview in Le Monde, 5 February 1975.

2. See Le Monde, 7 June 1974.

3. Quoted in B. Davidson, In the Eye of the Storm, London 1972, p.199.

4. See, for example, V. Marchetti and J. Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, New York, 1975.

5. Interview in Le Monde, 6 June 1975.

6. Interview with Lucio Lara, member of MPLA political bureau, in Le Monde, 11 June 1975.

7. See Davidson, op. cit., pp.229-30.

8. See Le Monde, 7 June 1974.

9. Le Monde, 15 May 1975.

10. Le Monde, 2 May 1974.

11. Le Monde, 7-8 June 1974.

12. Le Monde, 5-6 May 1974.

13. Le Monde, 20 July 1974.

14. Le Monde, 17 September 1974.

15. Le Monde, 12 September 1974.

16. Le Monde, 31 December 1974.

17. Financial Times, 12 December 1974.

18. Interview with Le Monde, 5 February 1975.

19. Le Monde, 3 May 1975.

20. Interview with Lucio Lara, Le Monde, 11 June 1975.

21. MPLA for Angola, Angola Solidarity Committee News, No.1, August 1975.

22. Financial Times, 9 September 1975.

23. Joao Filipe, MPLA European Representative, Press Conference, London, 22 September 1975.

24. Ibid.

25. Socialist Worker, 20 September 1975.

26. Financial Times, 27 September 1975.

27. Ibid.

28. Note 28 is missing in the printed text. – ETOL

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