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Eduardo Mondlane

Date of birth : 1920-06-20
Date of death : 1969-02-03
Birthplace : Mozambic
Nationality : Mozambican
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2011-02-28

The Mozambican educator and nationalist Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane was the leading figure in his country's independence movement from 1962 to 1969.

Eduardo Mondlane was born on June 20, 1920, in the Gaza district of southern Mozambique. The son of a Tsonga chief and the only member of his large family to receive even a primary education, he later attributed his educational drive to the vision of a "very determined and persistent" mother. The colonial school system was almost exclusively for Europeans, but Mondlane gained entry into a Swiss mission school and went from it to an American Methodist agricultural school. He then served for 2 years instructing African peasants in techniques of dry farming.

Next Mondlane obtained a scholarship and admission to a Presbyterian secondary school in the Transvaal, South Africa, and in 1948 he was admitted to Witwatersrand University of Johannesburg, the first African from Mozambique to enter a South African university. In 1949 the South African government declared him an unwanted "foreign native" in a white university and revoked his student permit. Returned to Lourenco Marques in Mozambique, Mondlane was arrested and interrogated about his role in the formation of a local African student association.

In June 1950 Mondlane entered the University of Lisbon as the only African student from Mozambique pursuing a higher education in Portugal. After a year during which he complained of harassment by the political police, his Phelps Stokes scholarship was transferred to the United States, where he entered Oberlin College in Ohio at the age of 31. After earning a bachelor's degree from Oberlin in 1953, he undertook graduate work at Northwestern University in Illinois and received a doctorate in 1960.

By this time Mondlane had become Mozambique's best-known, best-educated, and most watched African. The uniqueness of his position can be appreciated when one notes that perhaps 10 out of nearly 6 million Africans in Mozambique were attending secondary schools in 1955, while slightly over 200 were enrolled in technical schools or seminaries.

In 1957, after a year as a visiting scholar at Harvard, where he worked on role conflict (the subject of his dissertation), Mondlane joined the trusteeship section of the United Nations Secretariat in New York as a research officer. In this capacity he went to West Africa in 1960 as part of a UN team preparing and supervising a plebiscite in the British Cameroons. From the Cameroons, following an absence of 11 years and accompanied by his American wife and family, he revisited Mozambique in early 1961. After renewing and expanding a wide assortment of personal contacts on his tour of Mozambique, he returned to the United States, resigned his post at the UN, and accepted a teaching position within the East African program at Syracuse University. At the same time he began lecturing and writing on Portuguese colonialism and politicoeconomic conditions in Mozambique.

In June 1962 Mondlane flew to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he helped to unite several groups of exiled Mozambique nationalists into the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). He was confirmed as the movement's first president at a congress held that September in Tanzania. He then returned to America to complete his obligations at Syracuse University. During this last semester of teaching he delivered a paper at the first American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa (Harriman, N.Y., November 1962). Early in 1963 he and his family moved to Dar es Salaam, where Mondlane assumed his new role as a revolutionary leader.

For some years Mondlane had worked with American Protestants and others to funnel scholarship funds to Africans wishing to attend secondary school in Mozambique and to study abroad. It was only consistent, therefore, that he made education a principal concern of FRELIMO. He founded the Mozambique Institute in Dar es Salaam to receive refugee students, to obtain scholarships, and, ultimately, to develop a new Mozambique primary and secondary school curriculum.

FRELIMO sent volunteers for military training to Algeria and the United Arab Republic and to camps in Tanzania. By September 1964 Mondlane had a cadre of some 250 trained men, and guerrilla operations were launched that month in the northern Cabo Delgado and Niassa districts of Mozambique. By 1969 several thousand FRELIMO guerrillas were operating in those areas. To equip and feed them, Mondlane circled the globe, raising funds and seeking arms. Money and training were made available by various African states, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Soviet Union, and China, and educational and humanitarian funds by the World Council of Churches (Geneva), Scandinavian countries, and various private groups in the United States.

Although a new FRELIMO military front was opened in the Tete district of northwest Mozambique during 1968, Mondlane still warned soberly of a long, costly fight ahead. His leadership came under attack within the movement by would-be rivals and dissidents of the key northern Maconde community. In the face of Portuguese intransigence and military support for Portugal from Western countries, the struggle for independence was proving more costly and slower than some had hoped. Despite criticism related to the difficulties and intrigues of exile politics, the Central Committee convened the second FRELIMO congress inside the Niassa district in July 1968. There Mondlane was reelected president by an overwhelming majority.

A sunny, didactic man with an open life-style, Mondlane was an easy target for political enemies. On Feb. 3, 1969, he was killed by a bomb mailed to him marked as a book. His assassins remain unknown. Leaving behind a wife and three children and a weakened Mozambique liberation movement, Eduardo Mondlane immediately became a martyred symbol of the continuing African struggle for national independence. He was succeeded as president of FRELIMO by the movement's military commander, Samora Machel, while his wife, Janet Mondlane, continued as director of the Mozambique Institute.

Mondlane's The Struggle for Mozambique (1969) was completed just before his death. He was a contributor to Calvin W. Stillman, ed., Africa in the Modern World (1955), and to John A. Davis and James K. Baker, Southern Africa in Transition (1966). Recommended for general background are James Duffy, Portugal in Africa (1962), and Ronald H. Chilcote, Portuguese Africa (1967).



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