Marcelino dos Santos
FRELIMO—Secretary General of CONCP—FRELIMO Secretary of External Affairs and Vice-President Former Minister of Development and Economic Planning, and President of the National Assembly
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Maputo, 3 May 1996.
Tor Sellström: When did the contacts between FRELIMO and the Nordic countries begin?
Marcelino dos Santos: First of all, I would like to welcome the initiative by the Nordic Africa Institute, because we believe that it will be a good contribution for us too. We have taken a firm decision to write the history of FRELIMO, which is also the history of Mozambique and partly the history of Southern Africa. We all need to know our history and the history of the relations between FRELIMO, Sweden and the other Nordic countries. It is quite a positive history, which should certainly be recorded. We are proud of having been able to build the cooperation with Sweden and the other Nordic countries, because—especially now —we can see the great political and moral dimension that these relations had.
My memory is too poor to recall when we made the first contacts. I know that we were always interested in Sweden and that it was in Sweden that the Socialist International held a meeting in 1966, in which Eduardo Mondlane participated. At that time, some of us did not have a clear idea about the Socialist International. If I remember correctly, it was at that meeting that the relations with Sweden were initiated.
For me—and maybe for many others among us—there was one aspect that impressed us strongly. It was that the Minister of Education, Olof Palme, participated in a street rally for the people of Vietnam against the war of the Americans. We said: ‘That is a person who we have to respect. A minister of a government which maintains diplomatic relations with the United States of America, but shows that it is also his right as a citizen to be present at such a demonstration. That impressed us profoundly and made us feel deep respect for Olof Palme. Later, I had many meetings with him. We often discussed and I could see with my own eyes what he stood for, both during the liberation struggle and after independence. These were crucial times in the relationship between FRELIMO and the Swedish government.
Tor Sellström: Sweden and Finland were members of EFTA and Denmark and Norway were also members of NATO. How could the Nordic countries have relations with FRELIMO and at the same time be members of those Western organizations to which Portugal belonged?
Marcelino dos Santos: That question was very important to us. We tried to find its deeper meaning. The way we interpreted it was that each country had its own reasons to establish agreements, links and political relations, but that these political relations could never be allowed to condone crime. Denmark said: ‘We are members of NATO, but because of that we cannot stop condemning a member state that is colonialist’. This moral value was very important. That was our conclusion about the stand of the Nordic countries.
This understanding of the Nordic countries made us speak to the world on many occasions, especially to West Germany, telling them that we were in opposition: ‘We believe that it is a country’s sovereign right to establish relations with whoever they want. But we also believe that you can never accept that someone embellishes or tries to embellish crime’. We denounced the attitude of the countries that, because they were members of NATO, never condemned Portugal. During a visit to West Germany, the Social Democratic Party offered us a million German Marks for medicines, but we said that we thought that it was immoral. We would rather see them give the medicines to the Portuguese and instead give us the weapons that they gave to Portugal. They never did. They never accepted our proposal, but the media made a big deal out of it.
The moral value dignified the Nordic countries and that is something we greatly appreciate. Because of that, we never questioned if they were or were not members of EFTA or NATO. We questioned NATO’s role in supporting Portuguese colonialism. We did not think that it was necessary.
Tor Sellström: The conservatives in Sweden saw the official assistance to the national liberation movements in Southern Africa as support for Communism while the left said that it was to guarantee capitalism. How did you see the interests behind the support?
Marcelino dos Santos: We believed, and we still believe, that the stand by different states could never call into question the fundamental principle of freedom. If I want to fight for a socialist state, should I not have that right? I have the right to do what I want, and not what foreign countries want. This right to freedom is inherent. What is essential is that it is us who want it. That there is consensus among the Mozambican people. We therefore always believed that support extended on condition that the recipients took a certain course was unacceptable. If you have feelings of solidarity for someone, you want him to be free to have the right to become whatever he wants to become, not what you think that he should become.
Tor Sellström: Did you in FRELIMO notice any ideological or political conditions attached to the Nordic assistance?
Marcelino dos Santos: No. We never thought that about the Nordic countries. However, we always said that we did not agree with the Swedish position of being in support of peace, and therefore not being able to help us to wage war. We said: ‘The war which we are waging, is it not for peace? ‘But we also said: ‘Sweden is a great country. It has the right to do whatever it wants. If it feels that it should not give us weapons, then it should give us other items instead’. We never questioned Sweden’s right to state that ‘since we are in favour of peace, we cannot give you arms’. We never said to Sweden: ‘Change your beliefs’. We used to say: ‘Look, we have an idea about what a freedom struggle is. It is obviously and necessarily also a struggle for peace’. We had a clear conscience about this, which was different from the Swedish way of thinking. Fortunately, during the liberation struggle, we never had to buy weapons, and with the support given by Sweden, the other Nordic countries and also by Holland we were able to develop education, health services and production. It was necessary to have machetes, axes, hoes, all that we needed. We received these items from many countries and we always tried to balance support from one side with assistance from another in order to be able to solve all our problems. I would like to underline that we always said that the principal form of struggle that history imposed on Mozambique was the armed struggle. If we had not waged an armed struggle we would never have come to power. Humanitarian assistance alone was not sufficient to assume real power. We wanted to explain this to various governments, including Sweden. If the principal form of struggle imposed by history on a people is determined and you refuse to recognize that, you will not succeed. Now, if our friends had understood this question, then Sweden—in our point of view—would also have given us arms. They should have understood that humanitarian aid alone would never bring us to real power. This was our basic position. A policy which was the outcome of a sound and clear scientific analysis.
Tor Sellström: Something that seems contradictory in this context is that Sweden and the other Nordic countries supported the so-called ‘authentic’ liberation movements, which also were assisted by the Soviet Union. How would you explain that?
Marcelino dos Santos: I think that we in FRELIMO were able to understand the motives of each country. We always made an effort to organize the cooperation with different states based on a clear understanding of the internal reality of each country. In the case of Mozambique, this meant that we had to demonstrate that FRELIMO was, in fact, the only force that existed.
It is not because a group exists in exile that it is worth something. In the case of Angola, it was obvious that an organization like FNLA through the way it appeared, its methodology and its political ideas was very much turned towards the outside world. That was the main reason why it was never possible to make an alliance with FNLA. If you are a tool of foreign countries you will never succeed, because they have their own politics. Today, I could say the same thing about RENAMO in Mozambique.
Tor Sellström: Would that also be the case of UNITA in Angola?
Marcelino dos Santos: We all know very well that UNITA disappeared from the map after 1966-67. When OAU met in Rabat in 1972—where the reconciliation between MPLA and FNLA took place—no one worried about UNITA’s absence. UNITA only reappeared after the coup d’état in Portugal. It then became known that UNITA had all along been doing the Portuguese army’s work against the people, the liberation struggle and MPLA.
In the case of Zimbabwe, we were, however, wrong. Reality and history showed that ZANU, in fact, was an authentic movement. In 1967-68, ZANU asked us several times if they could move into the interior of Mozambique. We hesitated. When we eventually agreed, we told ZANU: ‘Alright, you can go. You want to learn about our struggle, but remember that we have diplomatic relations with ZAPU and not with you. But go anyway’. They went there. For example, Tongogara trained in Mozambique. When in 1970 we opened a trail to the south of the Zambezi river—via the province of Tete—we went straight to the border with Zimbabwe. We also moved into Zimbabwe and the comrades who went there informed us that the entire area was controlled by ZANU. We then spoke to the comrades from ZAPU and ZANU, asking for a meeting, but the comrades from ZAPU refused to come. They said: ‘We have been allies for so long. You always talked to us. Why do you now also want to talk to ZANU?’ We answered: ‘Because now we know your reality better’. As they refused to come to our meeting, we then officially declared that from that time on we supported both ZANU and ZAPU. We saw with our own eyes that ZANU really had bases inside Zimbabwe and from that moment we made all our possibilities available to them.
Tor Sellström: FRELIMO had strong support from the solidarity groups in the Nordic countries, such as the Africa Groups in Sweden and the Norwegian Council for Southern Africa. They often took critical positions vis-à-vis their governments. You visited the Nordic countries many times. Did the governments ever try to limit your contacts with the solidarity groups?
Marcelino dos Santos: I think that they never did. For example, I do not remember them telling me: ‘You should not see the solidarity groups’. No one has ever said anything like that to me in any Nordic country. I do not think that it was difficult for us to meet the conservatives either. We never felt any obstacles. I am saying that because I compare with Germany, where we had to meet the Catholic church or political forces closely connected with the Catholic church. That was really difficult. But we never had a similar situation in the Nordic countries. We always found good will and a capacity to understand our concerns there. But I have to add that we had facts and examples from our struggle to demonstrate our political quality and fighting morale. The opposition we encountered was from the press in countries like England, Germany, France, Italy etc.
Tor Sellström: Perhaps more than any other liberation movement, FRELIMO had the independent capacity to receive aid and be critical at the same time. One example is the campaign in Sweden against the Cabora Bassa project. You said that if the Swedes went there you would shoot them.
Marcelino dos Santos: That was one case, but we also had the Sino-Soviet conflict. It was always a problem for the liberation movements, but not for us. We welcomed our relations with the People’s Republic of China and with the Soviet Union. They had their problems and we had our points of view. There were intense discussions between us and the People’s Republic of China and between us and the Soviet Union, but they were discussions between comrades that never affected the validity of the common struggle.
Tor Sellström: Did you consult the Nordic countries about representing your positions at the United Nations and in other international fora?
Marcelino dos Santos: We cannot say that we had reached that level of agreement, but we always appealed to the Nordic states to present the validity of our positions to the international community. We also asked the Nordic states to do us the favour of telling the world what they were doing. In addition, we requested all countries to take strong action against the whites in Mozambique, Angola and South Africa in order to explain that the blacks were not evil, that they were not beasts and that they did not eat people. We used to say: ‘Tell them that you have relations with us and show them these relations! Make propaganda over the radio! Make programmes for South Africa, Mozambique and Angola to show exactly that!’ However, Radio Sweden continued as they always had done and I do not think that there were great efforts to do that work. We explained: ‘It is important to create the right conditions, so that when the time arrives the transition will go well. It is necessary that the white population knows that we do not have anything against them’. It would have been good if the white population had been prepared, so that they did not have to live under great anxiety and repeat what had happened in other countries, namely, a general exodus. But the radio stations in the Nordic countries never did that work. It was a pity. We never fought against the whites. It was necessary that voices that the whites would listen to had spoken out.
Tor Sellström: In 1974, you negotiated the last assistance programme from Sweden to FRELIMO. As Minister for Development and Economic Planning, you then continued to have close relations with Sweden and the other Nordic countries. Was the transition a natural process in the relations?
Marcelino dos Santos: Yes, our relations were completely natural. In both the political and in the material field we tried to receive support from and promote cooperation and solidarity with the Nordic countries. In Europe there were countries that did not want to have anything to do with FRELIMO and there were countries that had relations with us. They were the Nordic countries—Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland—and also the Netherlands. Not the other countries. That is why they were not present at our independence celebrations. Except England, but that was due to trickery. At that time, England had a woman as Minister of Co-operation and she came to talk to us. Despite the fact that the British government had never had anything to do with us, she managed to infiltrate the independence celebration and get a seat. We said: ‘FRELIMO is giving this independence party. We do not have any relations with you. That is why you have not been invited to attend the celebration. When the Mozambican government has been formed—and if you decide to establish relations with us—then we will receive you’. That is what happened.
We naturally felt great respect towards the states that had supported us. For example, between February and April 1975 a delegation from FRELIMO went to all the Nordic countries to thank them. I myself was the head of the delegation and I remember that Júlio Zambete Carrilho, Fernanda Machungo and Joaquim Ribeiro de Carvalho were part of it. We went to thank everybody for the support they had given us during the struggle for national liberation.
I recall that we were a little surprised in Denmark. In our meetings with the support groups, they asked us: ‘Now that you are independent, you are going to create new political parties, aren’t you?’ That was something that really went beyond our understanding. During the liberation struggle we had continuously worked to achieve unity. Why should we create divisions when we were independent? We had to explain the reasons why we would not do this. If Denmark had a history of various parties, that was Denmark’s problem. But one should not think that it is the same everywhere. We managed to end tribalism, regionalism, ethnicism, racism and the divisive problem of religion. We were able to build unity. Why should different groups in a country not be able to build deeper unity? This was even necessary.
Via the Socialist International, the Swedish Social Democratic Party was very active in the reconstruction and promotion of the Socialist Party of Portugal (PSP). FRELIMO had on various occasions strained relations with PSP. How did you look upon the relations between the Swedish and Nordic Social Democrats and PSP?
Marcelino dos Santos: Well, it was first Acção Socialista and then the Socialist Party. In 1970, the International Conference of Solidarity with the Peoples of the Portuguese Colonies took place in Rome. For that meeting we decided to do everything we could to stop the Portuguese Socialist Party from attending. Why? Because at the end of 1969, there had been elections in Portugal and we had put pressure on the Socialist Party to use the ending of the colonial wars as a slogan, but they refused. When the conference was being prepared, we therefore said no to the Socialist Party. But our Italian friends had a different opinion. The Italian Socialist Party came to us and said: ‘Listen, we are from the Socialist International and so is the Portuguese Socialist Party, or Acção Socialista. If you don’t want them to be present it will create a big problem for us. We will have to withdraw from participating, even though the conference is taking place in Italy. That would be unpleasant for everybody’. We had to rethink. We met the Portuguese Communist Party and we spoke to the African countries. We finally agreed that Acção Socialista would participate. Luckily, they had the good sense to send Tito de Morais as head of delegation. He was very much respected by all of us for his stand.
We did not have much affinity with the Socialist Party. That was not the force that declared its solidarity with us in Portugal. The political force that represented total solidarity in Portugal was the Portuguese Communist Party. After 1957, when at their congress they declared that they recognized the right of all peoples to be independent and that they were ready to establish relations of friendship and solidarity with all the nationalist forces in Angola and Mozambique, they always supported us.
The support given by the Swedish Social Democratic Party to the Portuguese Socialist Party did not worry us. It was never a problem. It was quite normal and natural, in the same way as other Communist parties gave important support to the Portuguese Communist Party. I even know that there were Communist parties from the socialist countries that wanted us to advance in certain directions defined by the Portuguese Communist Party. For example, to give priority to the struggle for democracy and economic development and only in the third place stress the struggle against colonialism. We had many friends who told us to support the positions of the Portuguese Communist Party. Our answer was: ‘We are very close friends with the Portuguese Communist Party, but in this concrete case, we have our own ideas. We believe that they should have their own slogans and carry out their own struggle. We will do ours with our slogans’. Many of our friends were not pleased with us.
Tor Sellström: Did you never use your good relations with the Swedish Social Democratic Party to discuss your problems with the Portuguese Socialist Party?
Marcelino dos Santos: No, we never considered asking them to intervene. But the problems were always explained to our friends.