The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

South Africa and Angola and Mozambique:
Truce or Agreement?

May 31, 1984

In February, Angola pledged to prevent the military forces of SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) from crossing its borders or moving into Angolan areas vacated by South Africa in exchange for South Africa’s pledge to withdraw its invasion force from Angola. If sustained, the agreement cuts a measure of aid from SWAPO in its war against South African rule over Namibia (South West Africa).

One month later, Mozambique signed a non-aggression pact with South Africa, both pledging to prevent their territory, waters, or air space from being “used as a base, thoroughfare or in any other way by another state, government, foreign military forces, organizations or individuals which plan or prepare acts of violence, terrorism or aggression” against each other. The practical implication of this accord was that Mozambique would no longer permit its territory to be used by militants of the ANC (African National Congress) fighting the apartheid regime.

The two pacts, coming at practically the same time, seem in a way to mark the end of an era. In both Angola and Mozambique, national liberation wars against Portuguese colonialism had lasted more than a decade, from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. The militancy and determination of the Angolan and Mozambican peoples to free themselves was evident in the protracted wars. The leadership of these movements, the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique), were among the more radical African nationalist tendencies, characterizing themselves as Marxist-Leninist.

They also at times presented their struggle as being part of the struggle of all the African countries against imperialism, and especially of the countries of southern Africa. The MPLA’s “Minimum Program” included as a goal: “To create an alliance with all the progressive forces in the world....” For years, SWAPO utilized Angolan territory in the course of the Namibian liberation struggle. Likewise, a FRELIMO statement in 1970 declared: “We mean by freedom the right to live, to work, to think, to speak, and above all the right to choose the way in which we want to live, to choose our friends and to be part of Africa and of the whole world.” And for years the ANC used Mozambique as a base.

Does the signing of these accords mean that the MPLA and FRELIMO have reversed their policy, becoming the enemies of struggles they had previously supported in South Africa and Namibia against the apartheid regime? In the first place, that support was not as freely given as it might have seemed. SWAPO and the ANC probably, at least partly, used Angolan and Mozambican territory without permission from the two regimes, and they could continue to do so. Furthermore, it remains to be seen to what extent the Angolan and Mozambican nationalists today want to implement accords, even if they could, accords which have been signed at gunpoint in order to gain a brief respite from war.

But, shortly after making the agreement, the FRELIMO regime arrested several ANC militants in Mozambique, and Angolan troops began border patrols, apparently against SWAPO activity. The nationalist regimes of Mozambique and Angola apparently are ready to use their own forces against the nationalist movements in South Africa and Namibia.

The Nationalist Policy

These agreements, which seem to mark a change in Angolan and Mozambican policy, in fact reflect the basic aspect of the policy that both regimes have always carried out. For those who once saw them as anti-imperialist fighters, it can be surprising that they show so little concern today for their African neighbors who are carrying on a struggle similar to the one they had to make themselves against Portuguese colonialism. But, in fact, they have always been nationalist organizations. They may sometimes have presented themselves as part of a broader African movement, but their policy has been limited to trying to develop their own independent states within their own borders. This could be seen clearly, for example, in the 1975 program of the MPLA. It called for (in the “Maximum Program”):

“– The total liquidation of Portuguese colonial domination.

– Suppression of all privileges enjoyed by Portuguese and other foreigners under the colonial regime.

– Creation of a united nation.

– Creation of a democratic regime....”

And under “Economic Reconstruction and Development,” it proposed:

“– Creation of state-owned and controlled commercial and industrial enterprises.

– Exploitation by the state of all energy resources.

– Restoration and development of African traditional industries.

– Suppression of all privileges enjoyed by Portuguese and other foreign enterprises under the colonial regime.

– Development of the means of transportation and communication.

– Protection of private industry and business.

– To encourage private industry and business that are of interest to the state.

– Protection of economic enterprises exploited by foreigners which are needed for the life, the progress and the real independence of the Angolan people.

– Abolition of the colonial fiscal system.”

Such a program defines carefully, and in details, an approach to building a national state and a national economy inside the borders of their own country. It is exactly here where they place the limits. There is no indication in their program that the MPLA sees that Angola has a common interest with the other African peoples of the region, no indication that the MPLA sees the necessity for being in solidarity with them.

To make the agreements with South Africa reflects no change in the nature of these regimes. At times it was in the immediate interests of the Angolan and Mozambican states for the MPLA and FRELIMO to support the fight of SWAPO and the ANC against the apartheid regime. But, at a time like today, in order to protect the immediate interests of these states, the MPLA and FRELIMO look for an accommodation with South Africa at the expense of SWAPO and the ANC.

The Circumstances Facing Angola and Mozambique

The pressures on Angola and Mozambique today are indeed formidable, and the resources they have on their own are quite limited. They are among the poorest nations in the world. In Angola in 1980, the GNP per capita was $902 and life expectancy at birth was 41 years. In Mozambique, GNP per capita was $394 and life expectancy was 46 years.

Moreover, the war being waged by the apartheid regime of South Africa against Angola and Mozambique, using both its own forces and those of opposition organizations – UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) and the MNR (Mozambique National Resistance) – is bleeding both these countries dry. South Africa has invaded and bombed Angola numerous times since Portugal gave up its colonial rule in 1975. Vast areas of southern Angola and parts of the central highlands have suffered devastating attacks. South African air strikes have destroyed dams, roads, bridges, refineries, and factories. UNITA, a nationalist grouping which lost the fight for power to the MPLA following independence, has received support from South Africa and U.S. imperialism. UNITA raids, along with the South African bombing, have disrupted food supplies to the cities. Last August, when UNITA troops failed to capture the town of Cangamba, South African jets bombed it with napalm and phosphorous bombs, leveling the town. According to a U.N. report, up to 1982 the war had directly taken 10,000 Angolan lives. Economic damage from the war is estimated at ten billion dollars since 1975; this is approximately twice Angola’s annual gross national product. Perhaps 160,000 Angolans have been forced to abandon their homes. Probably close to 60 per cent of Angolan government spending goes to the military. In particular, Angola has been paying out from 750 million dollars to 1.5 billion dollars a year in hard currency to Cuba, Russia and East Germany to maintain about 25,000 Cuban troops, as well as thousands of military advisers and other personnel.

In recent years, not only has the military pressure on Angola been intense, but so has that of the world economic crisis and the severe drought. For awhile, Angola had been able to get international loans relatively easily because of its considerable oil reserves. And it kept its ratio of debt burden to foreign exchange down around 15 per cent, unusually low among underdeveloped countries.

But in the last two years, the drop in world oil prices combined with the uncertainty imposed by the intensification of South Africa’s attacks has led to the international bankers virtually turning their backs on Angola. The combination of the weakened oil market with the tight money has combined to wreck what existed of an Angolan economy, as Angola imports about 90 per cent of its food needs, a fact which reflects the distortions in Angola’s productive system, long dominated by the interests of imperialism, rather than the needs of the population.

In this situation, we can understand why Angola was looking for an agreement and felt forced to accept the proposals made by South Africa.

The situation is similar in Mozambique. There has been less direct intervention by the South African military. But the MNR is an opposition guerrilla force which today is financed by South Africa, and apparently draws upon some hostility in the peasantry to FRELIMO’s attempts to organize agricultural cooperatives. Through 1983 the MNR had carried out guerrilla warfare and terror in all but one of Mozambique’s provinces. It has attacked roads, railroads, oil pipelines and storage tanks, farmland, schools, and medical facilities, disrupting the economy and terrorizing the population. In addition, South Africa has launched air raids against Mozambique, including attacks on the capital city, Maputo, allegedly against ANC targets.

Mozambique has been in an even weaker economic position than Angola. It does not have the mineral resources of Angola: its leading export is cashews. In 1981, the value of its imports was almost double its exports. Earlier this year, Mozambique asked its reluctant creditors for re-negotiation of its 1.4 billion dollar foreign debt because of the strain imposed by the war with the MNR and South Africa. FRELIMO estimates it has lost revenues of 5.5 billion dollars since independence because of the conflict.

And Mozambique’s economy is tremendously dependent on South Africa. Prior to independence from Portugal, over 100,000 Mozambican workers labored in South Africa’s gold mines almost as slaves. A portion of the miners’ wages was paid not to them but to the Portuguese rulers of Mozambique. This provided Mozambique with its leading source of hard currency. After FRELIMO came to power, a similar arrangement continued, but South Africa cut the work force down to 30,000. South Africa also had previously utilized the port of Maputo for a substantial export trade, which it then shifted to other ports outside Mozambique.

In addition, the recent catastrophic drought has decimated the peoples of much of southern Africa. Mozambique has been particularly hard hit. Even in better times, agriculture there has been dominated by export crops, including cashews, cotton and sugar. Now the relatively limited consumable food crops are strangled by drought. Tens of thousands of Mozambicans have already starved. At least a third of the population is directly threatened.

All of this explains why Mozambique also was looking for an agreement with South Africa.

The Common Interest of the Peoples of Southern Africa

Perhaps the MPLA and FRELIMO believe that their pacts with South Africa can be a respite from war and its burden on their economies. That may in fact be the case, at least temporarily. But in no way will these regimes be able to develop a country, even with such an agreement with South Africa. They will not escape from underdevelopment; the plight of the Angolan and Mozambican populations will not be improved, because Angola and Mozambique, which have been plundered and exploited for centuries by colonialism and imperialism, have no prospect by themselves, within the limited framework of their current borders in a world still dominated by imperialism.

The poverty of the people of Angola and Mozambique is the legacy of nearly 500 years of colonial rule by Portugal and the continued domination by the imperialist powers today.

Portugal, as the other colonialist powers, used force of arms to turn the areas of Angola and Mozambique into colonies, dividing the people from each other, dividing the territory in ways which made no sense from the standpoint of the economic development of southern Africa. The wealth was drained out of this part of Africa: Portugal administered the colonies and took some of that wealth through trade regulations and export duties; capital from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, the U.S. and South Africa, all reaped the fruits of the Africans’ labor in barbaric conditions in the mines, on the plantations, on the railroads, and in manufacturing. Agriculture was turned away from subsistence farming to cash crops for export. The peoples of Angola and Mozambique were uprooted and set to work in the mines and industries of the Union of South Africa, or on the plantations in Angola and Mozambique.

Today, Angola and Mozambique suffer from this legacy which has impoverished their countries and their peoples, giving them no basis for industrialization: a legacy which has imprisoned them within narrow borders which prevent any real economic development. Their monocrop agriculture and their production of minerals makes them dependent on the unequal exchanges of the world market and on imperialist capital.

Angola and Mozambique cannot have any serious prospect for the economic development and independence that the nationalists aspire to, so long as the peoples of southern Africa remain imprisoned within the narrow framework of these small national states.

Angola and Mozambique are not the only countries to have this history. All of southern Africa, even all of Africa itself was plundered by the imperialist powers, and by South Africa, which is developed and industrialized today because it is a kind of outpost for imperialism set up over southern Africa.

The real way for Africa, as for all the underdeveloped world, to be developed will be when the riches of the imperialist countries are put at the disposal of all the peoples of the world. To fight to do that would be no more than just since those riches were produced by the work of all the peoples in the world. But to do that will be possible only when the international working class takes power in the world.

But today, even within the framework of southern Africa alone, there could be a real change in the political and economic situation if the peoples of southern Africa acted together. This does not mean that a development of the region to the level of the imperialist countries is possible. But the plight of the African peoples could be alleviated if all the resources of the region were used in common, that is, if the divisions set up by imperialism and colonialism were overcome.

The southern part of Africa is rich in oil, diamonds, gold, iron and other mineral resources. It has a huge agricultural potential. And, inside South Africa itself, there is a substantial industrial base. The people of the region, acting in concert, could organize and use these resources. To do this is a prerequisite for any real change.

But, to do that, they will have to deal with the apartheid regime of South Africa. It has consistently used the most brutal methods to attack, divide, and subjugate the people of southern Africa, not only the population of South Africa itself, but of all the surrounding nations as well. The people of Angola, Mozambique and the other front line states have an interest to fight against the apartheid regime, and not only because it directly has drained and continues to drain wealth from their countries. Its assaults on them also help to impose a control for the American and European imperialists whose investments in the region rob all of southern Africa of its wealth.

The interests of all the peoples of southern Africa are the same. And the struggle of any one of them against imperialism or colonialism or against imperialism’s outpost, South Africa, is the struggle of all the others.

Of course, a struggle has ups and downs. Sometimes compromises and truces are necessary, and even agreements with the enemy which are imposed by the situation and by the current relationship of forces.

But the nationalists of the MPLA and FRELIMO oppose the interests of the peoples of the region, including the peoples of Angola and Mozambique themselves, not only because of the pacts signed with South Africa, but above all because of the nature of their nationalist policy. In proposing to construct only an Angolan or Mozambican state and economy, they turn their backs on the common interest of all the peoples of southern Africa, dividing them, disarming them and imprisoning them within small nation states.

To have a policy which bypasses the narrow interests of the individual states of the region, that is to see that the interests of all the oppressed people of the region are one single interest, means to have not a nationalist policy, but an internationalist one.

Such a policy cannot come from the political leaders representing the bourgeois interests of each individual state. It’s a policy which can only be that of the impoverished masses led by the working class. In each country, they face the same enemy in imperialism which dominates their lives. They have the potential to make a common fight which could begin to improve the prospects of their lives, a fight which the policy of the nationalists only obstructs.