A Bio-Sketch of Dr. Jonas Malheiro Savimbi

from National Union for the Total Independence of Angola
Published on 03 Sep 1997

Dr. Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, the founder and President of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola UNITA), was born in Munhango, Moxico Province in eastern Angola on August 3, 1934. He is the son of Loth Malheiro Savimbi, a stationmnaster on the Benguela railroad and prominent Protestant layman, and Helena Mbundu Savimbi.

Dr. Savimbi's primary education took place at mission schools in central Angola. His secondary school studies were began in Angola and concluded after his arrival in Portugal in 1958. He began his university studies in Medicine in Lisbon, but they were interrupted by police harassment as a consequence of his nationalist political activities.

He secretly left Portugal for Switzerland to escape political persecution. Savimbi resumed his medical studies at Friebourg University for a period of two years. However, he made the fateful decision to leave the study of medicine, because he considered the freeing of Angolans from the yoke of Portugal colonialism his country's most important priority. He then transferred to the University of Lausanne to study Political Science and Law and graduated with honors in July 1965.

Dr. Savimbi did not lead the typical fife of university student. He alternated his time in the class room with active participation in movement to free Angola from 500 years of colonialism. In February 1961, the young student interrupted his studies to take the post of Secretary General of the Union of the People of Angola (UPA). He than negotiated a merger with the Angola Democratic Party which resulted creation of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola FNLA), than the leading organization opposing the Portuguese fascist regime. This step was taken with the active encouragement of Jomo Kenyatta, who would later become the first President of an independent Kenya.

This began Dr. Savimbi's organized political activities, which has lasted for more than 35 years. It has three main phases- the ending of Portuguese colonialism, the removal of the one-party regime imposed by the Russo-Cuban occupation army and the establishment of a multiparty democracy practicing national reconciliation.

FNLA took up arms to overthrow colonialism and an uprising swept northern Angola beginning on March 15, 1961. It followed closely on the heels of an attack on the Sao Paulo Prison in Luanda on February 4 in a failed attempt to free nationalist political prisoners. During, this period, Dr. Savimbi played an important role rallying diplomatic support for the anti-colonial uprising, particularly in the African states.

By 1964, the anti-colonial war had been seized by a malaise, which severely impeded its progress. This was a result of two factors. First, there was a divorce between the political leadership, who were safely and comfortably ensconced in African capitals, while the peasant population inside Angola and the fighting men were subjected to repression and hardship. In addition, the two nationalist forces were divided.

Dr. Savimbi left the FNLA when he failed to either win its closed leadership to the need to move inside the country and share weal and woe with fighters and population or convince it of the necessity of unity with the NWLA, the other main nationalist force. He than took steps to prepare himself to join the struggle inside the country. The young patriot made arrangements for himself and some of his closest associated to receive training in guerilla warfare in the People's Republic of China. He also pursued unity with both the FNLA, using Zambia's first President, Kenneth Kaunda, as an intermediary, and the MPLA. Both sides rejected the unity overtures.

It was now time for Dr. Savimbi to put his ideas into practice. On March 13, 1966, UNITA was formed inside Angola at the village of Mungai, Moxico Province following a period of intense political mobilization. More political preparation preceded the initiation of the armed struggle by UNITA with an attack on a Portuguese post at Cangamba in Moxico Province. Dr. Savimbi personally led the first attack.

Dr. Savimbi spend most of the next eight years inside Angola leading his forces. UNITA carved out a liberated area in eastern Angola where it established primary schools, agricultural cooperatives, and clinics under his direction, It kept military pressure on the Portuguese colonial army which contributed to it turning its guns on the fascist regime with the April 25, 1995 military uprising. This opened the door for the independence of Portugal's African colonies- Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea -Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe.

The UNITA President played an indispensable role in the period between April 25, 1974 and Portugal agreeing to independence for Angola. He signed agreements with both the leadership of both MPLA and FNLA, Then, Dr. Savimbi persuaded the two sides to accept the need for joint negotiations with Portugal on the modalities for independence.

The three movements then went to Portugal in January 1975 where they were recognized as the sole legitimate representatives of the Angolan people. Following a short period of negotiations, they signed the Algarve agreement. It provided for a quadripartite transitional Government made up of the thee Angolan parties and Portugal and Angola
becoming an independent nation on November I 1, 1975.

The investiture of the transitional government on January 31, 1975 was almost unanimously and enthusiastically welcomed by Angolans. However, the transitional process, that was supposed to lead to peace, slid toward the abyss of war. By March, the MPLA and the FNLA were having artillery duels in the streets of the capital. As the MPLA gained the upper hand, UNITA remained aloof from the fighting. Nevertheless, in July, the MPLA began unprovoked attacks on UNITA that led to its withdrawal from the capital.

Dr. Savimbi had appealed for peace when the fighting started months March. When, it appeared that a civil war was unavoidable in June, he asked President Jomo Kenyatta to summon the three Angolan movements to Kenya in a last ditch effort to avoid a devastating war. They met in Nakuru and signed an agreement of the same name pledging peace. However, the war came because the MPLA was confident of victory because of Soviet arms and the presence of Cuban
combat troops. November 11, 1975, Angolan independence day, witnessed the country at war, divided and with foreign troops on Angola's soil.

UNITA, abandoned by its wavering allies, made a strategic withdrawal from the cities in February 1976, under Dr. Savimbi's direction, to avoid a devastating defeat. It sought refuge in the liberated areas established during the anti-colonial war. The UNITA President convened the Cuanza River Conference, which issued a manifesto that pledged to drive the Russo-Cuban occupation army from Angolan soil.

The world listened to the Cuanza River Manifesto with amusement. It was considered braggadocio. UNITA and its President were written off.

Sixteen years after the Cuanza River Manifesto was issued, the last Cuban combat troops left the nations. On May 31, 1991, the Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Dr. Savimbi signed the Bicesse Accords. They provided for the end of the one-party state and the holding of multi-party elections on September 29-30, 1992. Peace now reigned in Angola.

The elections ignited a crisis. The presidential election was inconclusive. UNITA and eight other opposition political parties considered them "rife with fraud and irregularities". Nevertheless, on October 17, Dr. Savimbi informed the United Nations that UNITA was accepting the results "in the interest of preserving peace". A high ranking UNITA delegation., led by the party Vice President Jeremias Chitunda, was sent to Luanda to negotiate the modalities for the presidential runoff. While they were there, coordinated attacks were launched against UNITA facilities, officials and sympathizers beginning on October 31 as an agreement was concluded and ready to be signed.

Although the UNITA officials, including the Vice President, Secretary General and liaison to the United Nations, 20, 000 party sympathizers were massacred in Luanda, Dr. Savimbi refrained from going on the offensive. Negotiations and diplomatic efforts continued. It wasn't until the Government launched attacks during the week of January 2-9, 1993 on UNITA in urban areas, including Lobito, Lubango, Cuito, N@be and Huambo, that the country was plunged back into war.

Dr. Savimbi supported negotiating efforts to end the fighting which took place in Addis Ababa, Abidjan and the Lusaka. They culminated in the signing of the Lusaka Protocol on November 20, 1994. It provides for the merger of the two armies and the formation of a Government of Unity and Reconciliation.

Further process toward establishing a durable peace and national reconciliation has been made as a result of a series of meetings between President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Lusaka, Libreville and Franceville. They have contributed to agreements to form a new Government with UNITA participation and armed forces with 26,000 former UNITA soldiers and 18 Generals next month. These agreements have been made possible by the flexibility and statesmanship of Dr. Savimbi, who put the solution of the Angola crisis in an African context by consulting with several African Presidents from King Hassan 11 of Morocco in the north to President Mandela of South Africa in the south.