Marcelino dos Santos

Nationalist insurgent, statesman, and intellectual, Marcelino dos Santos (born 1929) was instrumental in coordinating the Mozambican nationalist groups into the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo). The party fought a ten year war which culminated in independence in 1975.

Marcelino dos Santos was born in 1929, son of Firmindo dos Santos and Teresa Sabina dos Santos, and was raised in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique. When he left Mozambique in 1947 to continue his education at the Industrial Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, he already showed himself ready to carry a torch held by his father's generation. Firmindo dos Santos, a member of the African Association of Mozambique, had urged revitalization and unity among Mozambicans in their pursuit of justice and social equality. Young dos Santos, in a 1949 letter to the association from Lisbon, similarly urged members to put aside individual considerations and stand united. At the House for Students of the Empire in Lisbon, where colonial youths studying in Lisbon gathered in the late 1940s, dos Santos and others increasingly articulated their Africanist and nationalist sentiments through poetry and prose. Here dos Santos discreetly shared his ideals and aspirations with Amilcar Cabral, Agostinho Neto, and Eduardo Mondlane—men destined to become nationalist leaders in Guinea Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique, respectively. By 1950, however, the political atmosphere in Lisbon was tense. Neto was arrested, Mondlane moved to study in the United States, and dos Santos and others relocated in Paris.


Activist in Exile

In Paris dos Santos lived among leftist African writers and artists affiliated with the literary journal Presence Africaine. He published poetry under several pen names— Kalungano in Portuguese language publications and Lilinho Micaia in the collection of his poetry published in the Soviet Union. In the 1950s his skill as a nationalist strategist and mediator sharpened as he urged Portuguese political exiles in Paris to broaden their opposition to the Salazar regime in Portugal and embrace the nationalist cause. The Anti-colonial Movement (MAC), formed in Paris in 1957, was in part a result of dos Santos' work among this exile community. At the All-African Peoples Congress at Tunis in 1960 a broader alliance emerged incorporating the nationalist movements of Angola and Portuguese Guinea.

By 1961 nationalist groups proliferated, and all were galvanized by the outbreak of violence in Angola. Dos Santos had joined the Paris branch of the National Democratic Union of Mozambique (UDENAMO), the first nationalist party formed largely among Mozambicans living in exile, but he continued to actively pursue solidarity at the international level. At a meeting in Casablanca in April 1961 the Conference of Nationalist Organizations of the Portuguese Colonies (CONCOP) was formed. Dos Santos was elected permanent secretary charged with coordinating nationalist activity in an effort to force an immediate end to colonial rule. From CONCOP's headquarters in Rabat dos Santos assumed his role of explaining the nationalist struggle to an international audience.


Party Spokesman Waged Battle for Legitimacy

In 1962 Eduardo Mondlane assembled representatives of Mozambican nationalist groups in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to attempt to forge a united front to undertake the struggle for independence, and dos Santos lent his support. The result was the foundation of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo). Frelimo, the party which undertook and waged the war for independence from Portugal, held its first congress in Tanzania in September 1962. While continuing with CONCOP dos Santos increasingly turned his organizational and expository skills to sculpting Frelimo's political and military goals. By 1964, with the outbreak of the hostilities in northern Mozambique, dos Santos, as Frelimo's secretary for external affairs, became one of the movement's principal spokesmen. His powerful presentations before the Organization for African Unity, the Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference, and the United Nations helped win international recognition of the legitimacy of Frelimo's petitions for political, military, and financial support.

With the tragic murder of Frelimo's president, Eduardo Mondlane, dos Santos was elected to Frelimo's temporary ruling triumvirate (dos Santos, Uria Simango, and Samora Moises Machel). In 1970 he became vice president under Samora Machel—a position he held throughout the war for independence. Working at Frelimo headquarters in Dar es Salaam and in the war zones, dos Santos focused on the key political aspects of the armed struggle. Using the bonds of friendship and the political skills he developed in the 1950s, he helped cement links of political cooperation throughout the war, during the difficult negotiations leading to the independence of Mozambique, and ultimately into the Herculean task of constituting a viable new nation.


Architect of Independence Sought Internal Stability

When the Council of Ministers of the People's Republic of Mozambique was sworn to office on July 1, 1975, dos Santos assumed the key positions of vice president of Frelimo and minister for development and economic planning. After independence he held a number of important positions within the government and remained active as a member of Frelimo's Central Committee charged with political strategy. The challenge during the late 1970s and 1980s was to rebuild the country while defending Frelimo and the government from an armed takeover by the opposition group Renamo.

From 1981 to 1983 dos Santos left government office to concentrate on strengthening the party. He returned to office in 1983 as governor of the province of Sofala in central Mozambique, and in 1989 served as president of the People's Assembly. During this time, he worked diligently to establish internal stability; some progress was finally achieved in October 1992 when a peace agreement was signed by Frelimo and Renamo.

Through the mid-1990s he continued as theoretician within Frelimo's Central Committee, working to reform the country's economic and political structures from within. The long war against Renamo had left the former Portuguese colony bankrupt, earning it the dubious distinction of the world's poorest nation. Dos Santos often led delegations representing Mozambique at important international conferences, such as the Southern Africa-Cuba Solidarity Conference in May 1995.

His essential contributions were in the area of international relations, deftly aiding Mozambique in its determined posture of non-alignment, and in the development of Frelimo policy designed to develop socialist programs to serve Mozambique's majority population.


Further Reading on Marcelino dos Santos

There are no detailed biographies of Marcelino dos Santos, but some of his best speeches and poems are available in English. His "Address to the Sixth Pan-African Congress" in Africa Review (1974) and "The Voice of the Awakened Continent" in World Marxist Review (Prague, 1964) are exemplary. Lotus: Afro-Asian Writings has two articles which focus on Marcelino dos Santos as a poet and on his work in the context of nationalist poetry in Mozambique: Luis Bernardo Honwana, "The Role of Poetry in the Mozambican Revolution," volume 8 (Cairo, 1971) and "Marcelino dos Santos," volume 18 (Cairo, 1973). He is listed in Africa South of the Sahara (11th and 12th editions. London: Europa Publications, 1981, 1982. Biographies in " Who's Who in Africa South of the Sahara" section.) Periodicals and journals with additional information include: Africa Report (May-June 1989); African Communist (Third quarter 1995); and Current History (May 1993).

Three general works provide the necessary context to understand the historical contribution of Marcelino dos Santos. Allen and Barbara Isaacman's book Mozambique: From Colonialism to Revolution, 1900-1982 considers both the role of protest poetry and Marcelino dos Santos' contribution as poet and politician (1983). Eduardo Mondlane's The Struggle for Mozambique, republished with an introduction by John Saul and a biographical sketch by Herbert Shore (London, 1983), is the classic work on the period. Finally, Barbara Cornwall's The Bush Rebels: A Personal Account of Black Revolt in Africa (1972) adds a personal glimpse of dos Santos the man.