Angola woke up to the horrors of the war on the morning of February 4, 1961 when in Luanda the MPLA attacked the prisons and attempted to release what they considered political prisoners. In March the UPA, later called FNLA, started a bloody war in the north of the country. I was then a young boy, 12 years of age and living in Nova Lisboa. I distinctly remember one Sunday going to visit the Zoo and noticing that my parents were very somber. When I asked them what was the problem they told me that the war had started in the north of the country. One of our uncles, on my mother's side and Chefe de Posto ( government officer) at Mucaba was surrounded in the church by terroristas as we called the guerrilla forces then.
The European population of Angola panicked remembering the not so distant events in the Belgian Congo (then Zaire and now Congo again ) when it became independent. The government propaganda machine made no attempts to calm things down. Horrible photos appeared in every newspaper, magazine and books showing the barbaric way the hordes of drugged UPA members slaughtered the fazendeiros (coffee farmers). The army in Angola at that time was small, poorly equipped and not trained to face a war of that nature. However, civilians and the army combined forces and stabilised the situation until fresh troops arrived from Portugal.
I still remember going to school in the morning and seeing the black African workers being stopped at check points everywhere. The violence of the UPA attacks in the north of the country triggered an even more violent response from the Army and the population, mainly from the Europeans. Some horrible stories circulated at the time about the "heroic" slaughter of the enemy. Soon the ordinary Angolan male realised they were facing the prospects of going to war and this became an obsession and the center of every conversation. As soon as you were 18 you were drafted into the armed forces. From an initial 18 months, the National Service was extended a further 30 months to ensure the availability of the necessary bodies for the war furnace.
How to "ride and survive" the four years of National Service become the main obsession of any Angolan/Portuguese male. The army established a very tight control system, almost impenetrable to the common "mild corruption" system of using cunhas (influences) to get what you wanted. To be placed in a non combatant arm of the army was practically impossible and therefore we all accepted it as consummated fact.
Portuguese people, as good Latin stock, are very passionate and the government machine managed to galvanise the masses to confront the "just war" we were facing in the colonies. Soon after Angola the war started in two other fronts, Guinea and Mozambique. In India the Indian army invaded and took over Goa, Damão e Diu. Songs like Angola é Nossa (Angola is Ours) played in every official function, side by side with the national anthem. Someone started a fund raising operation to buy an aircraft carrier to re-take the Indian colonies (?!).
At that time my father worked for the Caminhos de Ferro de Benguela (Benguela Railways) and almost all our family lived in the center of the country and therefore we were not directly affected by the war. The war was something distant that one read in the newspapers and heard on the radio. The real situation with the war was not known by the ordinary person on the streets. The news were carefully filtered and the PIDE (political police) worked well in the background to squash any subversive movements. I grew up under Salazar, the dictator that ruled Portugal for 45 years. Salazar took control of Portugal between the two World Wars, when the economy was in chaos. The initial policies and the strict discipline imposed by the Salazar regimen worked wonders in Portugal.
Salazar policy was simple and very clear : "leave the politics to me". The people should play football and sing Fado. If you stayed clear of politics you had nothing to fear from the PIDE otherwise they did not muck around. Being a communist or being seen as one was very dangerous in those days and like me, the majority of the my generation grew up not even wasting our time thinking about politics. The world was "black and white" for us; there were no shades of gray. We paid dearly our naivety when after the revolution our generation had to make political decisions that affected the country for ever and were not prepared.
I never question the correctness of the war. I loved my country and there was a war that was challenging my believes. There was never doubt in my mind, when my time came I responded to the call as thousands upon thousands of Angolans of all colours and creeds did.
In the next pages I will tell some of my recollections of the war the way I saw and lived it. War is a tragedy and no one better than our generation of Angolans know how wrong it is. I feel sorry for the thousands that paid the ultimate price for ... what? Probably nothing. Only time will tell.
I was sent by my country to fight the enemy of the nation and I am very proud of what I did. I faced fear and death. I witnessed the best and the worse in the human kind and I believe I came out a better person. I do not waste my time analysing the events of the past using today's morals. What we did was the right thing at the time and pacifists and "do gooders" should not even waste their time debating me on this matter.
EAMA - Juramento de Bandeira (swearing the allegiance to the flag)
Rewards for being a good soldier
As an Instructor - 1973 Officers Course
Patalão and I - full steam ahead is the way
Dima - Making the best of a bad situation
Rebuilding the Lomba river bridge destroid during the war
EAMA - Swearing the allegiance to the flag