Former Minister of Security and of Agriculture
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Maputo, 29 Aptil 1996.
Tor Sellström: As a participant in the liberation struggle—but also a person who has reflected on the struggle and written about its international context—how did you look upon the Nordic countries when they started to give humanitarian support to FRELIMO?
Sérgio Vieira: I saw it as a really serious and fundamental action. I think that the persons who started the relationship with the Nordic countries were Eduardo and Janet Mondlane in the early 1960s. I was a young man when the Swedish Minister of Education, Olof Palme, walked the streets against the war in Vietnam. It was very important for my generation. Here we saw a minister of a European country saying that ‘you are right in wanting freedom with independence, freedom with liberty’. From an ethical standpoint, the Nordic countries said that ‘we are from Europe and we may be members of NATO, but we disagree with colonialism’. In FRELIMO, we made a tremendous effort to depolarize the issue of the liberation struggle. In the very beginning—under the Kennedy administration—the United States also said so, of course, taking into consideration all the international problems at the time. But after the Kennedy assassination, there was a shift under Johnson. Franklin Thomas of the Ford Foundation told me two years ago that he was very shocked by the pressures from the US State Department to make them withdraw their support from the Mozambique Institute. The involvement by the Nordic countries was, however, a first clear sign that liberation was not an issue of the Cold War. Decolonization was not Cold War.
Secondly—and I do say that it was very important—the Nordic humanitarian support was medicine, clothes and food. There was a tremendous need of all this. I would say as much as weapons. Weapons alone do not change life, but the clothes supplied, for example, helped us to present something to the peasant in the liberated areas. He could get something in return for his production. It was fundamental to create a base of economic development and self-reliance, whatever you want to call it. It was essential. Thus, when we in 1970 managed to call the solidarity conference in Rome—where a broad spectrum of political forces, from Christian Democrats to Communists from all over Europe attended— they went there also thanks to the example set by the Nordic countries.
Tor Sellström: Would you say that they broadened your diplomatic field of action?
Sérgio Vieira: Yes. They were a sort of locomotive in that respect. After independence and during the confrontation with Rhodesia and apartheid, the ethical stand of the Nordic countries was essential. Today, a lot of people discuss how efficient the Nordic support really was. I think that it is a false discussion. Things were done. Trucks were there to carry the products. Agriculture was developing and forests were planted. Of course, we faced problems of management, but fundamentally problems of war. You cannot have good management when things are physically destroyed. However, the economic growth in Mozambique from 1977 until 1981 was also a result of the support given by the Nordic countries, without conditions attached.
Tor Sellström: You did not feel that there were political conditions attached?
Sérgio Vieira: No. We agreed and disagreed in open discussions.
Tor Sellström: Also during the liberation struggle?
Sérgio Vieira: Absolutely. The Nordic governments never told us: ‘Do not attack the Portuguese or do not do that.’ Never. They said: ‘Your struggle is just. Of course, we are in principle in disagreement with the armed struggle, but we do understand that it is the only way, since there is no possibility of dialogue with Salazar’.
Tor Sellström: I get the impression that FRELIMO— perhaps more than any other liberation movement—was very principled, for example, criticizing Sweden regarding its involvement in the proposed Cabora Bassa scheme?
Sérgio Vieira: Yes, but Sweden took a good stand on that issue. It was not our purpose as such to oppose Cabora Bassa. After all, we were one hundred per cent sure that we would be independent and after independence we would need that source of energy. Also, Cabora Bassa made the war much more expensive for Portugal. It weakened the economic base of the colonial war. There is not one particular reason for the collapse of the Portuguese regime. The main reason was, however, the colonial wars. People were killed in the wars, the military expenditure rose, desertions were taking place and the army became exhausted. All of this was involved in the Cabora Bassa issue.
I would like to point out another interesting dimension in our relationship with the Nordic countries, namely the respect that they had for us and the respect that we had for them. For example, in 1977 there was a conservative government in Sweden. The Prime Minister was Mr. Fälldin. I was charged by our government to prepare an official visit and I went to Sweden before Samora Machel arrived. I discussed with our Swedish friends and was received by the Prime Minister. At a certain point I said: ‘Mr. Prime Minister, there is something very sensitive that I really would like to ask you. During a long time, Olof Palme was a very close friend of ours and today he is the leader of the opposition. Would it be improper for President Machel to meet Olof Palme?’ I received an answer that symbolized what Sweden was for us. He said: ‘We would be surprised otherwise. Olof Palme is the one who contributed to the consensus in Sweden around our relationship with FRELIMO. Please, do see him’.
Another important dimension in our relationship with the Nordic countries was that solidarity became a popular movement. For example, I was very touched—many of us were very touched—when we received a printing machine for the Mozambique Institute in Dar es Salaam from Finland. It was through an effort by school children. They collected money for that. It was a clear expression of how they felt about solidarity. The support was not just at the level of states, coming from SIDA, DANIDA, NORAD or FINNIDA, but from the base. From children, churches, trade unions, from all strata of society. I think that this was precious.
Tor Sellström: FRELIMO probably enjoyed stronger support from the Nordic solidarity organizations than other liberation movements?
Sérgio Vieira: Yes. A number of reasons contributed to that. In the first place, nobody doubted who was leading the liberation struggle. It was very clear that there was only FRELIMO and the colonial power. Full stop. Secondly, what very much assisted our dialogue and acceptance by the people in the Nordic countries was FRELIMO’s ethical principles regarding treatment of prisoners of war, the total refusal to attack the civilian population and resort to terrorist actions like putting a bomb in a super-market, a cinema or a school. Some of our friends wanted us to engage in that kind of action, but all the time we said no. We refused. Respect for human dignity and human life was an ethical principle of FRELIMO. A distinction between the colonial power and the settlers was always upheld.
Tor Sellström: You also had a very good information apparatus keeping the international opinion informed about the struggle?
Sérgio Vieira: Well, a very small apparatus, but I think that it was efficient. Some of my colleagues who worked in the Nordic countries—for instance, Lourenço Mutaca, who was later killed in Ethiopia—contributed to the growth of the relationship.
Tor Sellström: After Mozambique’s independence, Sweden and the other Nordic countries supported ZANU in your country. How did you look upon this? Did you see it as interference or as continued internationalist involvement in Southern Africa?
Sérgio Vieira: I think that the Nordic support to the liberation movements in Southern Africa was coherent. There was no interference at all. They did not come to us saying: ‘We want to do that’. They said to us as host country: ‘Can we do that?’, and we responded: ‘Yes, they need the support. We are asking you to support them. Their cause is just. We think that you should support ANC, SWAPO and ZANU’. When it comes to Zimbabwe, a shift occurred, because during a certain period we in FRELIMO thought that ZAPU was the main movement until we started to study the situation in 1970-71. At that time, the Smith forces were already operating inside Mozambique and we wanted to force them out to be kept busy in their own country. We then started to look for ZAPU, but could not find them. I participated in the discussions. We tried with J. Z. Moyo and others but no one was forthcoming. Until Chitepo and Tongogara from ZANU came to us and said: ‘Please, can you help us?’ We had already studied the situation and knew that they were on the ground, so we said yes.
Tor Sellström: In the case of Sweden, equal support was given to ZANU and ZAPU. Is it your impression that the Swedish support was more pragmatic than ideological?
Sérgio Vieira: I do not know if pragmatic is the proper term. I would say that Sweden tried not to interfere or prejudge. They were not present in the terrain, but they knew about ZANU and ZAPU, saying ‘let us have a more balanced approach, because it seems that both of them represent important segments of the population’. I do not think that it was on the basis of cold calculation, which the word ‘pragmatic’ may suggest, but on the basis of respect.
Tor Sellström: During the liberation struggle, did you find that the Nordic countries acted on your behalf in different international fora, as at the United Nations? Did you consult with the Nordic countries?
Sérgio Vieira: There were consultations and clear signs that they were positive. In NATO, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, for instance, raised the question of NATO weapons going to the Portuguese colonial wars. To a large extent I would say that the solidarity was extended into the global action of bringing an end to the colonial and the apartheid systems.
Tor Sellström: Similarly, did you, for example, inform the Nordic countries about the Nkomati Accord between Mozambique and South Africa?
Sérgio Vieira: Yes, we informed them. During a certain period, a sort of misunderstanding occurred. I remember that we had very long discussions and that eventually Olof Palme and others from the Nordic countries at the Socialist International meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, in 1984 understood our position and decision. They had not understood us properly. Actually, they had not read the documents. They thought that we wanted to stop ANC’s armed struggle, but ANC was actually not waging any armed struggle from Mozambique and we were not stopping anything. Samora Machel summarized the situation and said that ‘either we march towards a war between South Africa and Mozambique or we try peaceful coexistence. What is your advice? Should we declare war or should we fight for peace? Should we, the Mozambicans, appear to the international community as war-mongers or should we let the South Africans show that they do not respect peace?’ Olof Palme replied that ‘no country can oppose an effort for peace’. There was a slight misunderstanding, because people did not know the documents, even thinking that there was a sort of hidden agenda. But there was no hidden agenda, only the text in the documents. Nothing else. We discussed with South Africa. I was in charge of that. On a number of occasions we discussed with P.W. Botha about ANC, the need to release Mandela and the end to apartheid. He was all the time saying that they were going to do something. I remember when Foreign Minister ‘Pik’ Botha phoned me from Geneva to say that P.W. Botha was going to make an important statement. He was going to ‘cross the Rubicon’. I sat down to watch ‘the crossing of the Rubicon’ on television, but it was not exactly the Rubicon, rather a glass of water.
Anyway, it was an expression of the contradictions existing within the apartheid system. I do not think that the Nkomati Accord was a fundamental element, but it was important for the isolation of the apartheid regime. Reagan had to react to that. It was an element to further depolarize the issues. South Africa was all the time arguing that they were going to be invaded by the Russians, the Chinese and the Communist hordes through Mozambique. After Nkomati, they could not come with that kind of mythology. It helped to further erode the apartheid system and strengthen the internal struggle.
Tor Sellström: In this respect, was the Nordic support important?
Sérgio Vieira: Yes, very important. In conclusion, I would say that the support of the Nordic countries for the liberation of Southern Africa was fundamental.