Miguel N´Zau Puna
UNITA—Secretary General and Political Commissar of the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FALA)—Leader of the Movement for Democratic Reflection (TRD)
Tor Sellström: Do you remember when UNITA had its first contacts with the Nordic countries?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: I think that it was right after the foundation of UNITA in 1966. In 1965, UNITA started to recruit men and send them for training in China. At the same time, in the beginning UNITA also had some Swedish friends who helped us, such as Lars-Gunnar Eriksson, responsible for student coordination at COSEC, and Pierre Schori, who had direct contacts with President Savimbi and other people in UNITA.
Through Eriksson, we used to travel. He helped us with tickets for the journeys from Cairo to Switzerland and back and for the trips to Tunisia, where I was a student. He even arranged the trip from Cairo to Dar es Salaam, Lusaka and our entry into Angola in 1968. Our contacts with Sweden were through Lars-Gunnar Eriksson and Pierre Schori. Eriksson was a great friend of ours. When we were in Cairo, he came to visit us at home in Zamalek. We talked and analyzed the liberation movements. In 1967, Savimbi visited Sweden and the other Nordic countries thanks to the support of Schori and Eriksson and openings by them. They worked a lot. The Swedish funds were arranged through Eriksson and it was he who organized the trip which gave Savimbi the opportunity to visit Sweden, Norway and Denmark. We then started to have more cooperation through Schori, who was closer to the Swedish Socialist Party. Our relations with Sweden from 1966 until 1968 were good.
When UNITA decided to send the leadership into Angola, Savimbi and I had to leave Cairo. Savimbi pretended to be heading for Switzerland and I pretended that I was on my way to an OAU conference. I came to Dar es Salaam first. Through our SWAPO friends— with whom we had good relations—we started to understand that there was a Swedish initiative to support MPLA. MPLA was already based there and recognized by OAU and the United Nations. UNITA was not. With our entry into the interior of Angola, our contacts with Schori and Eriksson were then in practice cut off. After UNITA’s second congress in 1968, the leadership wrote a letter to Olof Palme, trying to re-establish the relations with our Swedish friends.
Tor Sellström: Was it at that congress that you were elected Secretary General?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: Well, it was at the second congress that I was elected Secretary General, a position that I already had, but only in an acting capacity. At the second congress, I was elected General Secretary of the party and Political Commissar of FALA, UNITA’s military forces. From then on, we started to develop the activity of our organization. But the Cold War had started. It began to divide the liberation movements into two camps. There were movements that were supported by the Soviet Union and others by the West. At that time, we were neither supported by the Soviet Union or the West, but by the Chinese. As all the UNITA cadres had been trained in China, we started to receive more Chinese help. It was difficult, because there was polarization. An African group— ‘the progressives’—supported MPLA because they regarded it as the only movement, while the ‘moderates’ supported FNLA. This created great difficulties for UNITA’s development.
Tor Sellström: It was at the Khartoum conference in 1969 that the so-called ‘authentic’ movements were recognized by the Soviet Union?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: Yes. The so-called ‘authentics’—or ‘the progressives’—were in the Soviet sphere and stated that they were the only ones. The others were CIA agents.
UNITA was prejudiced by the fact that OAU did not adhere to the stipulations in its foundation charter. In the charter, it was written that whenever a liberation movement was created, an OAU commission should go to the country to verify if the movement really existed. Unfortunately, in our case this never happened, despite the letters we sent to OAU, asking them to visit the areas controlled by UNITA. One thing should be underlined: there were several liberation movements—FNLA, MPLA and others—but the only movement with a permanent leadership inside the country was UNITA.
We had to survive and in order to survive we had to find a way to attract the people to our side. Our best defence was the people, because we were not recognized, we did not have any weapons or any external support. We had to buy weapons illegally in Katanga, Zaire, and move them through Zambia into Angola. This is how we fought. From time to time, our friends in SWAPO—which was recognized by OAU and received weapons, but did not have the men in Namibia to fight with those weapons—helped us. That is how UNITA was growing stronger.
We never forgot our first friends. When there was reconciliation between UNITA and FNLA in 1975, Savimbi also went to Kinshasa to seek reconciliation with Mobutu himself. He then went to Dar es Salaam, where he met Agostinho Neto. There was reconciliation, and in 1975 we went to Mombasa to participate in the Mombasa agreement. UNITA was thus reconciled with FNLA and MPLA. There only remained the need for bilateral reconciliation between MPLA and FNLA.
OAU only recognized UNITA after the meeting in Mombasa and when we went to Alvor we had the status of a liberation movement. OAU and the United Nations accepted that there were three liberation movements in Angola, UNITA, MPLA and FNLA, although in the beginning the others claimed that they were the only ones. MPLA said that they were the only one and FNLA said the same. We said: ‘We also exist!’ Eventually, the international community could verify our existence. Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary General of the United Nations, went to Portugal to discuss with the Portuguese authorities. They confirmed that UNITA was a true liberation movement, because it had areas where it was fighting. After that, there was no other alternative but to accept UNITA as a liberation movement.
However, then the situation became unstable. Instead of finding a common understanding each movement started to build up forces to be ahead of the others. MPLA was looking for weapons, FNLA was looking for weapons and also UNITA was looking for weapons. This cannot be explained by patriotic duty, but simply by hegemony. Each movement wanted to be ahead of the others. That is why in 1975 instead of a united proclamation of independence there were two proclamations. There was the independence proclamation by MPLA in Luanda and the one from the UNITA/FNLA coalition in Huambo. But it was the one in Luanda that was recognized, because it was made in the capital. Internationally, whoever holds the capital represents the strongest force. The issue was not whether MPLA was better or UNITA worse, but that MPLA went to Luanda and therefore was in a better position to get support from everybody.
But what revitalized MPLA was the presence of the Cuban army. It changed the scenario completely, because MPLA, UNITA and FNLA did not have regular armies. When the Cuban army arrived, the whole situation changed automatically. That is why I believe that to achieve peace today, all Angolans have to sit down, turn the page and forget the past. When we speak about our heroes, we have to speak about the heroes of MPLA, the heroes of UNITA and the heroes of FNLA. That is how we can say that we are all represented. But if we only speak about one movement, the frustration will continue and there will never be any understanding.
Tor Sellström: Considering that the Nordic countries are Western countries, how would you explain that they supported the same movements that were assisted by the Soviet bloc?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: Sweden believed that the African countries had a right to liberate themselves. In spite of threats from NATO and others, they considered it just that the African countries ob tained their freedom. The right to self-determination and independence is a right of all peoples. With the contacts that they started to have with the African peoples they noticed that support was needed to achieve what ‘we have already achieved’. Therefore, many Africans went to Sweden. I did not go myself. I was supposed to, but I had to go inside Angola. Savimbi went. Other members of UNITA went to Sweden several times and they also visited the other Nordic countries. Sweden influenced all the Nordic countries to support the liberation movements. They even started to give political asylum to many Africans. This allowed them to get established, not only by sending messages to other Africans living in those countries, but also by explaining to the Swedish and Nordic peoples what the objective of our struggle was. The objective of our struggle was not against the Europeans or the Americans, but a just cause.
From Sweden there was much understanding, but from the Soviet Union the support was only ideological. Sweden did not impose an ideology. They said: ‘Yes, we can see that you are suffering’. There is also the fact that as Sweden had little knowledge about Africa, it supported certain movements that did not represent anything in their respective countries. But that was due to lack of experience. Sweden’s intentions were good. I think that the intention was to support all the movements to see if they could reach their objectives.
I had contacts with China and other countries. From Cairo—and later through African countries—we always had contacts, but our first contacts were really with Sweden.
However, with Savimbi and me inside Angola and not being recognized by OAU, we could not come out. We had to fight from inside. That resistance—and I can say this without being contradicted by anyone—must have been one of the best guerrilla campaigns Africa has ever experienced. Being inside the country and fighting with the people was not easy. The other leaders were abroad and sent others to fight. They sent troops to fight while they were accommodated in neighbouring countries. But we were right in there. When the other movements saw our methods, the courage and the internal organization, they started to say that we were a Portuguese creation. That UNITA had been created by PIDE and other such accusations. President Savimbi may have committed certain mistakes, but in the most essential matter—to mobilize the people, to lead the people and to live with the people—he was outstanding.
Even today, MPLA keeps claiming that ‘we are the only ones’. But one can go to Cazombo and ask: ‘Who was the first commander who came here?’ and the people will answer: ‘He was from UNITA’.
UNITA was penalized because the Western countries supported the ‘moderates’, that is FNLA, while the ‘progressives’ supported MPLA. We were considered pro-Chinese. But at that time the Chinese had little influence in Africa. There were some movements with pro-Chinese tendencies, such as ZANU of Zimbabwe—the major part of its cadres were trained in China—PAC of South Africa, which was allied with UNITA, and SWANU of Namibia, which was not very efficient at that time.
Now, in spite of having pro-Soviet tendencies, SWAPO had fraternal bonds with us. A common culture and a common past. In those days, we did not go in for ideology. We looked at ethnic affinity and, above all, regional affinity.
Tor Sellström: Did SWAPO go through areas under UNITA control to enter Namibia?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: Yes. That was the only way that they could get into Namibia.
Tor Sellström: Was there a tactical alliance between UNITA and SWAPO?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: There was a strategic and tactical alliance. Many soldiers from UNITA fought with SWAPO. We also made some incursions into Namibian territory under UNITA’s General Commander Samuel Chiwale, who is now a general. There was Francisco Kulunga, who fought a lot on the other side to help our friends in SWAPO. We also had Commander Lucas Canjimi. He is from Kavango, on the border with Namibia. His nephews are here and his uncles on the other side. It is the same family.
Tor Sellström: Sweden had good relations with SWANU, SWAPO and the Socialist Party in Portugal (PSP). You also had good relations with SWANU, SWAPO and PSP. Why did you never establish direct contacts with the Social Democratic Party in Sweden?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: We did, with Olof Palme’s party. But when we went inside Angola, the contact was in practice broken. But the feelings remained, because they were the first to open the door to us. At the same time, we benefited from the good relations between SWAPO and Sweden, because we had friends like Andreas Shipanga, who used to visit Sweden frequently, or Emil Appolus, who also went there. We also had Peter Katjavivi in Norway. We had a close affinity with everyone in SWAPO and SWANU. After moving to the interior, we got better contacts with SWAPO because they had fighting forces. We also had good relations with Mugabe’s ZANU. Mugabe’s journey to China was at Savimbi’s request as he already had good relations with China. Savimbi had visited and also trained in China. This is how Mugabe managed to go to there.
Tor Sellström: Later, when the relations with Sweden no longer existed, a Swedish conservative MP, Birger Hagård, visited Jamba. From the mid1980s, he was very active and co-founded a support committee for UNITA in Sweden. Did you know about that?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: Yes, we did. The person who co-ordinated that was Jorge Sangumba, our representative in London. He was the one who sent Luís Antunes to Sweden and it was through Antunes that the MP visited Jamba.
Tor Sellström: In September 1987, UNITA kidnapped three Swedes in Quibaxe. It was very difficult for the Swedish opinion to understand why this happened, since Sweden gave humanitarian and development assistance to Angola. Two men were taken to Jamba and the third was killed.
Miguel N’Zau Puna: I remember it very well. At that time we thought that if we kidnapped some foreigners, the international community would perhaps become more aware of our struggle. The UNITA area commander decided to kidnap them without knowing the relationship between the leadership of UNITA and Sweden. They went on foot to the Lunda provinces. One of them died. I think that he died during the ambush in Quibaxe. After that, they went down to Jamba. They were then released through the Red Cross. The buried body was later found and returned to Sweden.
This happened because our soldiers did not know the relationship we had with the Swedes. They thought: ‘Well, they are like the others’ and kidnapped them. But we told them ‘You did wrong, because we have a past relationship with the Swedes’. It was more or less like that. It was not something intentional. It was rather ‘if we kidnap these persons, people will talk about us’. No one spoke about the struggle we were fighting. After some time, we stopped the kidnappings. We kidnapped Swedes, Englishmen and many others. But we reached a point where it was not worth it.
Tor Sellström: Do you think that the Nordic countries contributed anything constructive to the process of national liberation and self-determination in Southern Africa?
Miguel N’Zau Puna: I think so, because the Swedish presence in several African countries supported the liberation movements. It was most notable in Tanzania, where the OAU Liberation Committee was and where all the movements were represented. Sweden did not only support the liberation movements, but also the reconstruction of the countries which had recently obtained independence. That was the case in Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. We could therefore see that the Swedish presence was important, not only in support of those that were fighting for their freedom, but also for the countries that were developing. I believe that it is a support that should be taken into consideration. In comparison with many other European countries, Sweden played a fundamental part. The African countries which benefited from this assistance must not forget that. They should not only maintain the relations, but improve them even more. That is my opinion.