FRELIMO—Chief Representative to Tanzania—Secretary of Security—Prime Minister in the Transitional Government of Mozambique—Minister of Foreign Affairs—President of Mozambique
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Maputo, 2 May 1996.
Tor Sellström: Swedish support to FRELIMO started in 1965 via the Mozambique Institute in Dar es Salaam. As FRELIMO’s representative in Tanzania, was this your first contact with the Nordic countries?
Joaquim Chissano: No, not at all. I left Portugal for France in 1961. As students, we tried to have as many contacts as possible to denounce Portuguese colonialism and spread information to the youth and students in all the countries about what was going on in Mozambique. At the time, we had formed an organization called UGEAN, the General Union of Students from Black Africa under Portuguese Colonial Domination. In the process, it happened that I represented Mozambique at the Afro-Scandinavian Youth Congress in Oslo in 1962. That is when I came to know the former Swedish Prime Minister, Ingvar Carlsson. When we later met, I reminded him of that. The late Oliver Tambo of ANC also participated in that congress.
Tor Sellström: How did you then see the Nordic engagement for Southern Africa?
Joaquim Chissano: Well, I could only see it from the point of view of the youth, which, however, was very strong. Actually, they were very alert and knew what was going on. Not so much in the Portuguese colonies, because they were mainly discussing matters related to apartheid and racialism in South Africa. There was a big discussion about whether to support an armed struggle, a violent revolution, or not. It was very interesting, because in Mozambique we were still trying to see if we could fight peacefully for independence, although we could already see that the armed struggle was an alternative. There was also the question whether a struggle for liberation in South Africa was viable without the independence of Mozambique. Some tended to say that Mozambique should be free first so that South Africa could carry out its own fight, while others tended to say the reverse.
We had very interesting discussions. Youth representatives from all the Nordic countries were present. It appeared to me that the Swedes already had a full vision about the whole issue, because Sweden did not belong to NATO. For Norway things were a bit different.
After that congress, I went all the way to Dar es Salaam for good. That was my last job to promote the liberation struggle in Europe.
Tor Sellström: From 1965, the Swedish government extended support to the Mozambique Institute. It later led to direct support to FRELIMO. How did you in the bipolar East-West situation look upon this support?
Joaquim Chissano: We very much welcomed the help of Sweden to proceed with the work of the Mozambique Institute. It came at a time when the Ford Foundation had desisted from supporting it. The whole plan was collapsing. Apparently, the point made by the Ford Foundation was that we were embarking on armed struggle for liberation, which they could not understand. Although Sweden was not in favour of support to the armed struggle, they did understand that the people of Mozambique were free to make their own choice regarding how to liberate themselves. However, Sweden chose to support what they called the humanitarian, or the non-military, side. So, the Mozambique Institute was built regardless of the bipolar divisions of the two camps. The fact that Sweden was in EFTA was irrelevant. The approach was humanitarian.
We did not have much to discuss with Sweden, but we had to try to dissuade Norway from giving help to Portugal through NATO for the wars. There was much discussion among the youth—even from the Scandinavian countries—about how to differentiate a gun used against the Mozambican people and the other colonies and a gun which was not. But, again, we thought that Norway could play an important role within NATO, trying to distance the NATO members from the posture of Portugal regarding the colonies. We tried to use the fact that Norway was a member to make our case from within NATO.
Tor Sellström: Was it not strange that the Nordic countries—who were not favourable to the Communist ideology—supported the very same movements that were assisted by the socialist bloc?
Joaquim Chissano: Well, I think that from China, the Soviet Union and the others there was not a single question about Sweden. The participation of Sweden was welcomed by them. They viewed it positively. For us, it was very much in our interest to have Swedish support. It proved our policy in terms of relationships. It was also our intention to get support from the United States of America through various organizations or the government directly, but we wanted to be as independent as possible. Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries helped us to achieve that goal, which later developed with the participation of Finland and Holland and—when it comes to the general public—of other countries in the West, such as Italy, Britain and even the United States.
Tor Sellström: At the diplomatic level—in international fora like the United Nations—do you think that the Nordic countries opened up space for you?
Joaquim Chissano: Yes. Our struggle was an armed struggle. What used to be the first emphasis from 1962 to 1964, that is, the use of international institutions and of the public opinion in Europe, became in 1964 a second emphasis. We had, however, to have friends to push resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council and we were sure that the Scandinavian countries were on our side together with most of the African countries. We used to consult with them and they took positions on our behalf. It was a big support.
Tor Sellström: Although the Nordic countries could not vote for resolutions that contained references to the armed struggle?
Joaquim Chissano: Yes, but we understood that, although we tried to use the influence of the public opinion to change the position. In our view, the humanitarian position of Sweden should be expanded to include an understanding of the nature of our struggle, which was in defence against aggression and violations of human rights by Portuguese colonialism. We tried to influence this, but we also understood that Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries could not just change the opinion without going through a democratic process. They faced a public opinion which should be convinced. They had parliaments and many political parties. They were not obliged to have the same understanding of the situation in Mozambique as we had.
Even among the African countries there were many who did not understand our situation. If you told them about the situation in Mozambique, they would immediately say: ‘It is the same as with us. In our country this also happened’, but as you talked with them, they became astonished. They started to see the difference. They could not understand, for instance, that we were speaking about a country which was under colonialism and fascism at the same time. They could not understand that we were talking about a country where the indigenous population was almost 100 per cent illiterate. They were speaking about a different situation. The Swedes often had a better understanding of our situation.
Tor Sellström: When it comes to the question of the armed struggle, the stand of the Nordic countries did not really change until you had built a strong solidarity movement?
Joaquim Chissano: Yes.
Tor Sellström: The new generation of leaders—such as Olof Palme—would also understand this much better?
Joaquim Chissano: Yes. Olof Palme was one of our staunch supporters. Also my friend Pierre Schori. He was very close to us and visited Dar es Salaam several times. Later, different Swedish delegations and representatives of the press started to visit the interior of Mozambique. All this contributed to the understanding. Anders Johansson, for example, visited the liberated areas with President Mondlane in 1968. I remember many of these visitors. For example, Lennart Malmer from the Swedish television who visited in 1971.
Tor Sellström: You also visited Sweden and the other Nordic countries in November 1970. Was it to explain the context of the Portuguese operation ‘Gordian Knot’ and the military situation?
Joaquim Chissano: There were two issues. One was that of the ‘Gordian Knot’. The other was to explain the aftermath of the death of President Mondlane. He died in 1969 and the world wanted to know what the situation was regarding the FRELIMO leadership.
Tor Sellström: You also visited the Swedish solidarity movement?
Joaquim Chissano: Yes, we had a big meeting. I worked particularly with Emmaus Björkå, I remember, and with Afrikagrupperna. Besides that big meeting, we also had separate meetings.
Tor Sellström: These groups were very critical towards the Swedish government, wanting it to give unconditional support to FRELIMO. Was that difficult for you?
Joaquim Chissano: Well, we knew how to position ourselves. Imagine that we—throughout the struggle until independence—were able to work with the two arch-enemies of China and the Soviet Union! In addition, on the one side we had China and the Soviet Union and on the other the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Although we did not get any formal recognition from the United States, we kept on pushing for support. We also received support from different groups, going from the African-American Institute to the black communities, which were rather extremist in their posture against the government. We knew how to work with them without creating big problems, taking their points of view but making our own approach.
We were in favour of the approach by the Swedish solidarity groups that the help should be unconditional. The only condition was to assist the struggle against Portuguese colonialism. This was particularly problematic when it came to a definition applied by the Scandinavian governments regarding the use of medicines. They gave us medicines to treat civilians, but we said that humanitarianism means that a man with a gun also has a right to life and to be treated when he is wounded. A wounded civilian could come to the hospital for treatment, but a soldier could not be treated with the same medicine. This was shocking to us and on that point we had to be sharp.
Tor Sellström: Was it not difficult to control if you supplied medicines to the soldiers in the liberated areas?
Joaquim Chissano: Well, we used to receive the medicines and we tried to do our best until we could convince the Swedes that this was impossible, particularly in the clinics in Dar es Salaam and at our hospital in Mtwara. The Swedes would visit and say that ‘these are medicines from Sweden. They cannot go to that patient, because he is a military’. That was very powerful! It was impossible! We have a soldier, a military, who is fighting. His child is in the Tunduru camp, receiving medicines and clothing from Sweden. When his father comes, he cannot be clothed or fed with assistance from Sweden. It was so strange! The mother and the child could, but not the father!
We tried to say to Sweden that they were supporting a struggle for liberation, but they chose to support just one aspect of it. We could not separate the diplomatic, social or military areas. It was impossible.
Tor Sellström: Do you then feel that there were ideological conditions attached to the support from the Nordic countries?
Joaquim Chissano: No, I do not think that there was any ideological pressure on us. Actually, even ideologically we were close to Sweden. The support constituted a balance to the tendencies of copying what one could see in countries where there had been revolutions, like in the Soviet Union or China. We found a middle point in Sweden which we could refer to.
Tor Sellström: One contentious issue between Sweden and FRELIMO in the late 1960s was, of course, the involvement of ASEA in the Cabora Bassa project. FRELIMO was very outspoken against the project and ASEA finally withdrew. Do you think that the Cabora Bassa debate influenced your relations with the Nordic countries?
Joaquim Chissano: That discussion was very good and interesting. It brought the attention of the world to the immoral side of the Cabora Bassa project. Per se it seemed a very peaceful and progressive project, but there were many bad sides to it which could not have been understood if we had not discussed them with companies like ASEA and the Swedish government, stressing the sacrifices that countries should make for the liberation of the peoples of the world.
If you give support when things are easy, it does not show real commitment. Support when things are easy has no meaning. But the fact that Sweden took the decision to withdraw, losing some income for its economy, was a big contribution to the liberation struggle in Mozambique. We think that some of these issues have to be made public so our people will know that we should value the support we got from different countries.
Tor Sellström: After the independence of Mozambique, there was a lot of Nordic humanitarian support to ZANU of Zimbabwe in your country.
Did the Swedish and the Nordic governments consult with you in this regard?
Joaquim Chissano: Oh, yes!
Tor Sellström: You did not see the support as interference in your own process?
Joaquim Chissano: No, we helped ZANU and ZAPU—all the movements which were here—in their bid to get support. We had refugees, as was our case in Tanzania. We had to take care of both refugees and freedom fighters for a long period until the UN High Commission for Refugees assisted. So, we participated in seeking support for the liberation movements hosted here.
In our case, it was a continuation of a common struggle. From 1972 to 1974, we were fighting together with ZANU, utilizing the same training camps and the same transit points from Tanzania to Zambia and from there to the interior of Mozambique. We helped the Zimbabweans to their border. After independence, it was just a continuation, especially when we had to take the decision to close the border in compliance with the UN mandatory sanctions against Rhodesia. It was a contribution to the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe.
Tor Sellström: There were close relations between Sweden and ZANU. Herbert Chitepo came to Sweden in October 1972, explaining to SIDA that ‘we are going to launch the armed struggle from the north-eastern parts of the country, the result of which will be refugees into Zambia, so, can you buy us a farm?’ He actually came to a Western country, giving away the military plans and asking for support.
Joaquim Chissano: Yes, ZANU started in 1972. They were then utilizing our farm in Zambia, but they were looking for another farm as a transit camp. We knew about that. I was then in charge of the military contacts between ZANU and FRELIMO together with Samora Machel.
We tried to do exactly the same with ANC, but in their case it was more complicated. Their borders were far away. As a matter of fact, it started with ZAPU, but they did not like to go through this side of the border. They wanted to go from the Wankie side, which we had nothing to do with.