Pieter Lessing: Substitute for an Introduction


O jornalista sul-africano Pieter Lessing escreve, na Foreword de Africa’s Red Harvest, que o primeiro capítulo fora para ser uma introdução, mas que ficara demasiado longo. E que é aquela a única instância, no livro, em que detalhadamente lida com os acontecimentos de um país, referindo-se a Portugal. Os acontecimentos foram os que desencadearam a última guerra travada por Portugal, e ocorreram no território da então província ultramarina de Angola. Serve agora o mesmo propósito, relatando o início da guerra do Ultramar.

Africa's Red Harvest - An account of Communism in AfricaMarcello CaetanoMichael Joseph, 1962capítulo I


On March 10th 1961 a movement called the União das Populações de Angola (U.P.A.) issued, from its headquarters at 78 rue Dodoma, Leopoldville, a call for a general strike in Northern Angola, to take place five days later on March 15th. On the night of the 15th the Security Council in New York was due to vote on a resolution condemning Portugal for her African policy. The strike was to coincide with that.

In a few areas near the Congo frontier the strike did take place, but did not get the expected publicity, largely because of the inadequacy of news communications in Angola. Twenty-four hours later it had been overshadowed by a far more serious event: at about the time the vote was taken in the Security Council, a terrorist army had swept across the frontier from the Congo into Angola in a 50-prong attack along a 400-mile front, killing Africans and Portuguese, men, women and children, indiscriminately.

During the previous days this army had moved from Thysville in the Congo, about sixty miles north of the frontier (and about an equal distance south of Leopoldville), where it had been undergoing training of sorts for about six months. It was at the time of the invasion not well equipped, but owing to the element of surprise it was able within a matter of days to overrun an impressively large area, and it was to continue sustained operations which were still in progress by the end of the year.

Since the night of March 15th 1961, the rights and wrongs of this army’s activities have been debated in every corner of the world, as have been the accounts of atrocities and counter atrocities.

I should state quite clearly that I am not taking part in that controversy. I am prepared to accept that there was brutality on both sides. Neither is this an attempt to discuss Portuguese rule in Angola. I propose to deal with only one aspect of the bloodshed: was this a spontaneous uprising or was it engineered by interests outside Angola?

The rebel story, as told by their military commander, Holden Roberto, who is the leader of the U.P.A. and the self-styled Commander-in-Chief of the ‘Army of Liberation’, is that the strike ordered for March 15th was totally effective. According to him the Portuguese authorities tried to break it with what he calls their customary brutality. After a number of strikers had been shot, the brow-beaten Africans at last turned and hit back in self-defence. The help that came from outside was a desperate rescue operation, the story continues. Roberto also denies most emphatically that any link exists between his movement and any Communist body.

But on December 7th 1960, three months before the uprising, the People’s Daily, the official Chinese organ published in Peking, commenting on the Communist Summit which had ended in Moscow on December 1st, stated that the next phase in the ‘liberation’ of Africa had been considered at the Moscow meeting. It added that the next task to be undertaken was the liberation of Angola, to be followed by a fight for independence in Portuguese Guinea, and that the call had gone out to ‘rise and fight.’

Two days after the end of the Moscow summit a call had in fact been issued by the U.P.A. from Leopoldville. Dated December 3rd 1960, it read in part:

‘Long live U.P.A. Long live Nikita Khrushchev. Long live Angola… Prepare your arms. We are about to open fire. We have no fear. Russia will provide weapons and Lumumba will help us. Let us kill the whites. Lumumba has given the authority.’

Inflammatory Communist radio propaganda beamed to the Portuguese territories of Africa began six months before the uprising. That it was the beginning of a systematic campaign to prepare for the coming upheaval has since become clear, but at that time it seemed puzzling that precious radio time was being devoted to relatively quiet Mozambique and Angola at the expense of propaganda to the Congo, for instance, or to Cameroun, East Africa or Somalia.

In any event the broadcasts in Portuguese started in September 1960. China was first in the field and by the middle of 1961 was devoting seven hours a week to broadcasts beamed to Angola. In Europe, Russia at first left it to Czechoslovakia and Rumania to carry on the radio campaign, with Radio Prague and Radio Bucharest each devoting three and a half hours a week to it.

Only in August 1961 did Moscow Radio itself begin transmissions in Portuguese beamed to Angola, giving them for a short period of seven hours a week. The service has since been cut to three and a half hours a week, the rest of the time being added to an Amharic service beamed to Ethiopia.

The preparations

The story of the uprising in Angola appears to have started nearly one year earlier, with the arrival of Daniel Semenovich Solod in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, as Soviet Ambassador. Solod is one of the Soviet Union’s most able diplomats. In the immediate post-war years he served in Syria and Lebanon as head of the Soviet Mission. In 1950 he became Deputy Head of the Near and Middle East Department of the Soviet Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a position he retained after his appointment in 1954 as Ambassador to Egypt.

Under Solod the Soviet Embassy in Cairo became the centre for Russian agitation in the Middle East and North Africa. Solod was in fact in control of Russian relations with Ethiopia. the Sudan. Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. His success in spreading Soviet influence throughout the Middle East and North Africa has never been disputed.

In 1956 he returned to Moscow to become Acting Head of the Near and Middle East Department of the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

A brilliant organiser, Solod is recognised as an expert in infiltration and subversion. Significantly, on his appointment to Conakry he did not relinquish his previous position in the Soviet Foreign Ministry. (That he subsequently quarrelled with President Sekou Touré of Guinea and was expelled has no relevance in this context.)

Until Solod’s arrival in Conakry there was no evidence of a concerted Soviet drive in West Africa. Although close relations had been established with Guinea, although contact between Ghana and Russia was increasing and although there were isolated attempts to establish bridgeheads, such as in the Cameroun Republic, it was not a co-ordinated operation. The year 1960 was to change that, and Solod’s arrival in Conakry marked the beginning of the change. He immediately took control of Soviet operations along Africa’s Atlantic coast.

Among the countries earmarked for attention was Angola. Russian thinking was possibly influenced by an assumption that strong Soviet representation in the Congo, whose independence was approaching, would give easy access to Angola.

Soon after his arrival in Conakry, Solod established contact with a number of Angola Africans living outside Angola. The three most important are:

Mário Pinto de Andrade

Born in Cuanza Norte, Angola, in 1928, de Andrade was already well known in Communist circles. He was educated mainly in Portugal where he graduated at the Faculdade de Letras in Lisbon before studying sociology in Paris and Frankfurt. While a student in Lisbon he joined the underground Portuguese Communist Party and later became a member of the French Communist Party. In 1955 he left France to continue his studies first in Warsaw and then in Moscow. After that trace was lost of him until 1958 when he was a delegate to the Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference which Russia had convened at Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, Soviet Asia.

That same year he was in slight trouble with the French police who found on him documents which established that he had been in close touch with Peking for some time. He has since been a contributor to Pravda and other Communist publications.

There is no evidence that de Andrade at any time returned to Angola. From 1959 he had been resident in Conakry where he became the head of a movement called the Movimento Popular para a Libertação de Angola (M.P.L.A.). It appears that he was on terms of friendship with President Sekou Touré by the time Solod arrived.

Holden Roberto

Also know as José Gilmore, Ruy Ventura, Robert Haldane and Onofre, Holden Roberto is his real name. Born in São Salvador, Northern Angola, in 1923, the son of a Christian African peasant, he was named after an American Protestant missionary, a Dr. Holden. Educated at a mission school in what was then the Belgian Congo, his association with Belgian Communists is believed to have started soon after he left school. In subsequent years in France he became closely identified with the French Communist Party. Roberto also spent a short time in Britain and in fact married an English girl, Susan Milton.

In 1954 he returned to Leopoldville and shortly afterwards formed the U.P.A., at that time a small movement, which gained the support of members of the short-lived Angola Communist Party after the latter has disbanded for tactical reasons. Roberto’s main function in Leopoldville was to organise the distribution of Communist propaganda in the Portuguese territories. He subsequently won the interest and sympathy of President Nkrumah and President Sekou Touré.

Viriato Francisco Clemente da Cruz

Born in Angola in 1928, da Cruz studied in Paris where he joined the French Communist Party. In 1952, when he became the organiser of a group known as the ‘New Intellectuals of Angola,’ he described himself as being ‘absolutely possessed by a Communist mentality.’ He has often visited London where he has many connections. Conakry has been his home since 1959.

By the middle of 1960 Roberto’s U.P.A. was put on a new footing. With the help of advisers from Conakry the cell system was introduced, with members knowing the identity of two or three other members. Cell leaders received their training in the Congo, and a substantial membership was recruited from Angola Africans living there. Many of them had been away from Angola for many years, some since childhood, but now they returned as recruiting agents for their respective cells.

Meanwhile the movement which de Andrade had founded in Conakry, the M.P.L.A., also began to flourish. This was, however, a political rather than a military organisation and its function was to establish liaison with Communist movements and front organisations in other parts of the world.

While Roberto was engaged during 1960 in building up his ‘Army of Liberation,’ de Andrade and da Cruz spent much of their time in Russia and other Iron Curtain countries. There is evidence that arrangements were made by them for arms to be supplied to Roberto from the Lenin work at Pilsen (the former Sköda works). There was, however, a hitch in the delivery of these arms at a crucial moment which caused much friction between de Andrade and Roberto. Jealousy was also to develop between the two.

‘The Devil will help’

The American Committee for Africa and the British Movement for the Freedom of the Peoples in the Portuguese Colonies have both tried to present the friction between Roberto and de Andrade as a result of ideological differences. Roberto is projected in the West as anti-Communist but this is disproved by an Order-of-the-Day he issued on the eve of the terrorist outbreak. I have a photostat copy of it.

Marked ‘Strictly Secret’ and addressed to ‘Dear Compatriots of Angola,’ it is, significantly, in French. The Angola Africans who are said to have risen spontaneously cannot speak or understand French; an army moving from Thysville in the Congo, on the other hand, would be able to understand it.

After the usual exhortations to fight well and after hailing the martyred Lumumba, the Order goes on:

‘Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Touré are at our side. Five million have been delivered to get the necessary means to conquer and liberate Angola.’

Then, after warning against ‘tribalists’ who are not in the fight, Roberto goes on: ‘Here, in a few words, is our plan for the future. Sekou Touré will reign over the northern part of (West) Africa, Comrade Nkrumah will rule the centre and your servant Holden Roberto the south. We hope that our eminent comrade “THE DEVIL” will help us to realise our destiny.’

‘The future is being forged. You must not believe those who spread nonsense. Communism is not bad. When we stayed in Moscow we were able to see for ourselves many wonderful things which the West will never have.’

The Order concludes: ‘Our comrade THE DEVIL is standing by with a watchful eye. LONG LIVE COMMUNISM. DOWN WITH CONCENTRIC TRIBALISM.’

The reference to ‘five million’ is assumed to refer to money. ‘The Devil’ is a code name and possibly refers to Russia.

Nevertheless friction did develop between him and de Andrade. This became evident when, in 1960, the Front Révolutionnaire Africain Pour l’Indépendence Nationale des Colonies Portugaises (F.R.A.I.N.) was created at the instigation of Solod, with headquarters in Conakry.

Ostensibly representing all movements in Portuguese Africa striving for independence, the two key persons in it were de Andrade and a self-confessed Communist from Portuguese Guinea, Amílcar Lopes Cabral, who had shortly returned from Moscow. On de Andrade’s insistence Roberto was given no representation on this co-ordinating body, de Andrade’s assumption being that Roberto was his junior and had to take orders from him.

This was de Andrade’s attitude as late as May 1961 when, addressing a rally on a visit to Peking, he claimed that Roberto (to whom he referred as Gilmore) acted only on his instructions and had no independent command.

Buying Arms

De Andrade’s position had, however, been weakened since the beginning of the uprising. This was because of bitter complaints from Roberto that the arms which had been promised, and whose distribution was the immediate responsibility of de Andrade, were not reaching him in sufficient quantities although adequate deliveries had arrived in Guinea and Ghana.

Roberto’s complaints were justified. The terrorist army that invaded Angola on March 15th was badly equipped - with old, often home-made, rifles and machetes. What modern rifles it had Roberto had himself obtained from the Congolese Army and in some cases from United Nations troops. It is not suggested that the U.N. in New York knew about this but there were many instances of United Nations troops selling their rifles and ammunition.

Members of the Congolese Army were and still are notorious for the ease with which they can be persuaded to sell their weapons. Roberto was a ready buyer. But his complaints to Solod in Conakry did not fall on deaf ears and for a short, crucial period advisers from Solod’s Embassy personally supervised deliveries and distribution. Soviet trawlers in fact carried arms from Conakry direct to the Angola coast. This was, however, a practice too dangerous to continue for long and was undertaken only as an emergency operation until better supply lines could be organised through Ghana.

By early May large-scale gun-running through Ghana was working satisfactorily, with Soviet and Polish ships bringing supplies direct to the Ghanaian port of Takoradi. From May. therefore, Roberto’s forces were equipped with modern Czech automatic weapons and two-way radio communications.

Attempts to Create a United Front

Solod appears also to have become dissatisfied with the relatively unimportant status de Andrade had given Roberto. He therefore urged the setting up of a new, truly representative resistance front. The first steps to create this were taken at a meeting which took place in Casablanca from April 18th to 20th, 1961. Called the ‘Conference of Nationalist Movements of the Portuguese Colonies,’ it was attended by both a Russian and a Chinese delegation and by observers from Ghana, Guinea, Morocco and Egypt.

The outcome was a permanent secretariat from all resistance movements, based on Conakry, and a consultative council on which all resistance leaders have a vote. De Andrade was appointed secretary-general, but he did not retain the power to act as overlord. He became merely a co-ordinator.

Another result of the conference was the creation of the Frente Comum dos Partidos Angolanos em Leopoldville (Common Front of Angola Parties in Leopoldville). Predominant among the member organisations of this front is Roberto’s U.P.A. De Andrade has, however, brought his original movement, the M.P.L.A., into this common front which now also includes three other small movements, the Association des Ressortissants de l’Enclave de Cabinda (A.R.E.C.), which seeks independence for the small Portuguese enclave at the mouth of the Congo or its affiliation with the Congo, the Ngwiza Kongo (N.G.W.I.Z.A.C.O.), which wants the reunification of all territories at the mouth of the Congo, and the Aliança dos Naturais de Maquela do Zombo (A.L.I.A.Z.O.), which demands the return of the Angola province of Bazombo to its ’ ethnic origin,’ presumably the Congo.

The effect of the reorganisation has been that Roberto is recognised as fully in charge of military operations in Angola and not subservient to de Andrade. Moreover, it has been accepted that Roberto’s fight (and his needs) should take precedence over those of resistance movements in other parts of Portuguese Africa.

Confirmation of this came in an intercepted letter from the Soviet Committee of Afro-Asian Solidarity addressed to the ‘Permanent Secretariat of the Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies.’

Signed by Lev Souhanov on behalf of the Soviet Committee, the letter reads in part (it is in French): ‘Dear friends, We herewith inform you that we have received the resolution of the discussions (…) of the Casablanca meeting of 18th to 20th April 1961. We are using all these documents as well as others which are at our disposal (…) We are accordingly sending you herewith the resolution concerning Angola adopted by the Presidium of our committee on May 8th. This resolution has been published in various Soviet newspapers and transmitted by radio to Africa (…) We also wish to inform you that our committee has started a large organisation in the U.S.S.R. to support the fighting Angola people and all peoples under Portuguese domination…’

The resolution which was enclosed greeted ‘the courageous patriots of Angola’ on behalf of 220 million people in the Soviet Union, demanded the immediate independence of Angola and appealed ‘to all people of goodwill in the entire world to offer all help within their means to the fighting people of Angola.’

Further confirmation came from Mr. Khrushchev himself. The delegates meeting in Casablanca had sent Khrushchev a message asking for his support for the peoples in the Portuguese territories in Africa. His reply (dated June 19th - nearly two months later) reads in part: ‘The Soviet Government and the Soviet people (…) are ready to render utmost aid and support in this just struggle of the people of Angola (…) The patriots of Angola can rest assured that (…) the Soviet Union is promoting an extensive drive to expose the criminal actions of the Portuguese colonialists in Angola and to increase support for the struggling people of Angola.’

Khrushchev made no reference to the other Portuguese territories.

Finding the Money

Since the Casablanca meeting Roberto has left no doubt that he regards himself as the supreme leader so far as Angola is concerned, and has threatened to set up an Angola Government-in-exile in Leopoldville. Whether this threat has caused any misgivings on the part of de Andrade is not known but since it was first made de Andrade has unexpectedly moved his headquarters from Conakry to Leopoldville, leaving da Cruz in Guinea to maintain the necessary liaison. Roberto’s financial position also underwent a welcome change after the Casablanca meeting. Immediately before the uprising and for some time afterwards he was hard pressed for funds. His needs were great and urgent - the purchase of rifles and ammunition from Congolese soldiers and, to a lesser extent, from United Nations troops was costly. The French and Belgian Communist parties had given him money but this was soon exhausted when the expected arms from de Andrade did not arrive in time. Appeals to Solod for more money produced unspecified amounts from Moscow, East Germany, Ghana and Guinea, but it was obviously a haphazard way of operating.

After Casablanca it became possible for Roberto to draw on the Afro-Asian Solidarity Fund which had been established in February 1961 at a meeting in Conakry attended by, among others, Solod and Professor B. G. Gafurov, a member of the Presidium of the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee and head of the Soviet Commission for Cultural Co-operation.

The fund is administered by a board of which a brother of Sekou Touré, Ismail Touré, is chairman. Board members include Professor Gafurov and a representative of Communist China, Chu Tzu-chi. The fund’s charter specifies that it is for the purpose of ‘rendering material and financial assistance to any organisation participating in the struggle for national independence, equality, freedom of the peoples, democracy and peace and against imperialism and colonialism.’

Although an appeal was made to all member States of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Council for generous contributions to the fund, little more than token payments have been received from most Afro-Asian States. It has been left to Russia and China to finance the fund and the money drawn by Roberto for his day-to-day operational needs (which still include purchases in the Congo) therefore mainly comes from them. He claims also to have received financial help from Britain and the United States.

Roberto has influential friends in the West and he boasts openly of his links with the American Committee for Africa. His contact with the United Nations hierarchy in the Congo is close - so close that during August 1961 he was able to fly unmolested to Europe in a United Nations aircraft. He was on his way to attend the Belgrade meeting of neutralist States, but also took the opportunity to visit London for talks with a few leading personalities in Britain’s political world. Both he and de Andrade have since visited the United States.

Moscow Has Second Thoughts

At the beginning of 1962 a change in the Soviet attitude became noticeable. While continuing to laud the ‘freedom fighters’ in Angola, there were signs that Russia was making efforts to extricate herself from any obvious participation in the Angola bloodshed. Moscow had apparently not foreseen determined Portuguese military action and had also miscalculated the reaction of the Africans in Angola.

The two points go together. Solod had accepted assurances from Roberto and de Andrade that with their first offensive move a general conflagration would sweep through Angola. An uprising on a scale which would leave the Portuguese helpless was predicted and it was taken for granted that negotiations between Roberto and de Andrade on one side and Portugal on the other would follow the pattern that had been set in British, French and Belgian territories.

The fact that by far the majority of Angola Africans refused to join the uprising and instead flocked to the Portuguese for protection, thereby eventually confining the area of revolt to one fairly small region near the Congo border, upset the prepared plans. This gave the Portuguese authorities a breathing space and the encouragement to meet the uprising with vigour and, as became clear after nine months, considerable preliminary success. According to the Portuguese fewer than one per cent of the African in the affected area joined the uprising.

Russia was not prepared for a protracted military commitment in Angola, especially when the outcome in any case began to seem uncertain. Some fresh preparatory work would certainly be needed before there could be a new offensive, and that would take time.

How much breathing space Portugal will now be given is a matter for conjecture. It seems likely that it will be no more than a breathing space because, although Russia withdrew from active participation in the insurrection, there are no signs that Soviet long-term interest in the Portuguese territories is declining.

I have discussed briefly some aspects of the uprising in Angola. I do not return to the subject in the pages that follow. But the above is relevant to the rest of the book because it poses one important question:

How was it that Russia, who until 1958 had no standing or foothold anywhere in Africa south of the Sahara, has in so short time attained a position in which she can exert so much influence in a corner as remote as Angola?

How in fact has the Soviet Union, starting almost from scratch four years ago, become a dominant factor in day-to-day affairs in every part of emerging Africa?

This book is an attempt to give some explanation.

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