Beginning of Revolution

Beginning of Revolution

After 1959, as several African states won their independence, anticolonial sentiment intensified in Portugal's overseas territories. The Portuguese met this sentiment with stiffening opposition characterized by increasing surveillance and frequent arrests. In December 1959, the Portuguese secret political police, the International Police for the Defense of the State (Polícia Internacional de Defesa de Estado--PIDE), arrested fifty-seven persons in Luanda who were suspected of being involved in antigovernment political activities. Among those arrested were a few Europeans, assimilados, and other Africans. After this incident, the Portuguese military in Angola reinforced its position, particularly in the northwestern provinces, and became increasingly repressive.

In the first months of 1961, tensions came to a head. A group of alleged MPLA members attacked police stations and prisons in an attempt to free African political prisoners. Then, a group of disgruntled cotton workers in Malanje Province attacked government officials and buildings and a Catholic mission. In the wake of further sporadic violence, many wealthy Portuguese repatriated. They left behind them the poor whites who were unable to leave on short notice but who were ready to take the law into their own hands.

The violence spread to the northwest, where over the course of two days Bakongo (thought by some to have been UPA members) in Uíge Province attacked isolated farmsteads and towns in a series of forty coordinated raids, killing hundreds of Europeans. Also involved in the rural uprisings were non-Bakongo in parts of Cuanza Norte Province. During the next few months, violencespread northward toward the border with the former Belgian Congo as the Portuguese put pressure on the rebels. Although it had not begun that way, as time passed the composition of the rebel groups became almost exclusively Bakongo.

The Portuguese reacted to the uprising with violence. Settlers organized into vigilante committees, and reprisals for the rebellion went uncontrolled by civilian and military authorities. The whites' treatment of Africans was as brutal and as arbitrary as had been that of the Africans toward them. Fear pervaded the country, driving an even deeper wedge between the races.

The loss of Africans as a result of the 1961 uprisings has been estimated as high as 40,000, many of whom died from disease or because of famine; about 400 Europeans were killed, as well as many assimilados and Africans deemed sympathetic to colonial authorities. By summer the Portuguese had reduced the area controlled by the rebels to one-half its original extent, but major pockets of resistance remained. Portuguese forces, relying heavily on air power, attacked many villages. The result was the mass exodus of Africans toward what is now Zaire.

In an effort to head off future violence, in the early 1960s the Salazar regime initiated a program to develop Angola's economic infrastructure. The Portuguese government increased the paved road network by 500 percent, stimulated the development of domestic air routes, provided emergency aid to the coffee producers, and abolished compulsory cotton cultivation. To reestablish confidence among Africans and among those who had been subject to reprisals by white settlers, the military initiated a campaign under which it resettled African refugees into village compounds and provided them with medical, recreational, and some educational facilities.

The uprisings attracted worldwide attention. In mid-1961 the UN General Assembly appointed a subcommittee to investigate the situation in Angola, and it produced a report unfavorable to Portuguese rule. The events also helped mobilize the various liberation groups to renewed action.


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