I am here for two reasons, one of which is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mozambican independence, independence being an end for which many of us, including several of my old comrades are also here this afternoon, had worked diligently in the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Portugal’s African Colonies to help Mozambicans to achieve. For, of course, Mozambique, like Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and Angola just across the sub-continent from Mozambique, had remained colonial wards of racist/fascist Portugal long after other “colonial powers” has decamped from Africa. Indeed, Portugal had toyed with these territories for centuries, controlling their people’s destinies before bringing them firmly under its domination in the late 19th and early 20th century. There was resistance, needless to say, but it was only in 1962 that an effective and united nationalist movement, FRELIMO, was formed – and it was not until 1974/5, after much fighting and some international pressure, that an exhausted, virtually defeated, and morally bankrupt Portuguese army of occupation turned on the country’s fascist state system and, in a dramatic coup swept yesterday’s Portugal and its tawdry empire away. The result? Liberation 40 years ago to this day! Cause to celebrate, no debate.
* A talk given at an event entitled “Solidarity then and now” held at York University, Toronto, on June 25, 2015, to mark the 40th Anniversary of Independence in Mozambique. Saul forthcoming book touches, more broadly, on many of these same themes; see his On Building a Social Movement The North American Campaign for Southern African Liberation Revisited (Saul, 2015).
I will now say a bit more about the second reason that I have been asked to speak according to the organizers. It is to recount the story of my attending those Independence Day ceremonies in Maputo, Mozambique on the 25th of June, 1975 – and, in doing so, specifically to mark and to celebrate the solidarity that was established between Mozambique and many Canadians during Frelimo’s struggle and in the years after.
As I’ve suggested, I was privileged to have been a part of that solidarity work, solidarity work which, I hasten to emphasize, was both about (1) linking up in support of our brothers and sisters on the front lines in Mozambique but also (2) about publicizing and resisting the links that “Official Canada,” both governmental and corporate, continued to have with Portugal, “our NATO ally” though one still in formal colonial control of Mozambique.
My own solidarity with Mozambique began with my friendship with Eduardo Mondlane, the movement’s first president, who was assassinated in Tanzania by the Portuguese during my own period living in Tanzania in the 60s and 70s, and also with the working links that I had forged with Jorge Rebelo, Frelimo’s Secretary for Information, whom I was able to assist, periodically, in the readying of English language materials for purposes of the movement’s political outreach work around the world.
Then, in 1972, when I was slated to leave Tanzania after seven years spent, principally, working at the University there, I was visited by Samora Machel, Frelimo’s new President - and destined to become a liberated Mozambique’s president with victory in 1975 (some years before he himself was also to be killed, in his case by the government of apartheid South African) – with Rebelo, the movement’s aforementioned Secretary of Information whom I had been assisting and who would be my boss when I returned to now free Mozambique in the early 1980s to work in the Frelimo Party School and the University’s Faculty of Marxism-Leninism. They came (on Jorge’s motorcycle with Samora on the back) to my house on the University campus to invite me, before I left Tanzania, to visit, in the company of Frelimo guerillas, the liberated areas of their country in Tete Province, south of Zambia and on the way to the Zambezi.
This I did, and in so doing, learned an incredible amount more than I knew already about the dangers such guerillas faced and also about just what they were accomplishing on the front-lines. Then, on my return to Dar (and only a few days before our family’s departure back to Toronto after more than a decade away) Samora and Jorge visited me again, to debrief me and to give me my “next assignment” as it were. As Samora told me, holding his thumb and fore-finger barely apart, “People in your country [Canada] know only this much about our struggle for liberation. You must go and do something to help them to understand it.”
This I also did upon my return, although it was, of course, not something one could do alone; in fact, a large number of us came together, over the next thirty years (for we became, after Portugal’s fall, TCLSAC), an incredible array of militants of diverse backgrounds who did an amazing range of work around the issue of southern African liberation, including the prospective liberation of Mozambique.
And we had lots of work to do in Canada. For Official Canada’s story was rather different from my own. In fact, when not merely crudely racist, most members of Canada’s “establishment” were tightly locked into an iron grid of class interest, raison d’etat and the pursuit of profit that carried them to the other side of the southern African equation, whatever moral qualms some of them may occasionally have had about taking up such a posture.
Thus, when Prime Minister Trudeau was asked by a student at a public meeting at Carleton University in 1970 just how Canada’s policy of trading with South Africa, the specific case than under discussion, could be reconciled with Canadian condemnations of apartheid Trudeau felt forced to admit “It’s not consistent. Either we should stop trading or we should stop condemning.” Indeed, he continued, “I have a very poor answer to that [question]. We are keeping on with our trade despite the fact that we condemn the policy [of apartheid] in the United Nations. We are not very proud of this approach.” (Toronto Telegram, February 25, 1970). But that was all he had to say on the matter and, of course (as one might have feared) Trudeau and the Canadian establishment continued doing, precisely, both: trading and condemning. Moreover, as Linda Freeman has forcefully documented in her important book, The Ambiguous Champion: Canada and South Africa in the Trudeau and Mulronry Years (Freeman, 1997), Trudeau’s statement was merely the tip of the iceberg as regard the ugly role Canada chose to play in South and in southern Africa.[i]
Needless to say, Canada’s record vis-à-vis Portugal’s continuing colonial presence in Africa up to the moment of liberation in 1974-5 was entirely of a piece with these same tawdry policies. Indeed, it was precisely this kind of “hypocrisy” that defined the national moral morass here in Canada within which the Canadian liberation support/anti-apartheid movement sought to navigate throughout the years of its existence, and this was well known in southern Africa...not least in Portugal’s African colonies: Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau. Thus official Canada stood firmly on the other side of the struggle as Portugal’s uncritical NATO partner, while its links to Frelimo (or to parallel movements in other of the Portguese African colonies mentioned above) were virtually non-existent. As Marcelino dos Santos, a senior Frelimo leader and the movement’s Vice-President, would succinctly note on the “As It Happens” programme on CBC-Radio during that time:
Really, Canada has made many statements but...I must say frankly that, knowing and having heard what Canada has said several times...but knowing that Canada is doing nothing real to help the liberation movements, one should at least ask: is...the Government of Canada sincere? We don’t believe it is, and we hope that Canada will try to show us that it is really sincere. [As he continued:] I’m forced to think that Canada continues to think it preferable to have relations with colonialist and fascist regimes than with people who are fighting for their freedom and their dignity.
Small wonder then – in light of the vast discrepancy between the concrete solidarity shown towards their struggle by various groups in Canadian society on the one hand and the little offered by the Canadian government itself on the other – that, when victory and independence came, two delegates from TCLSAC were invited, instead of the Canadian government, to comprise the official Canadian representation at Mozambique’s independence celebrations in 1975 – with one of these delegates (myself) finding himself, dressed (casually) much as I am now, on the podium, sitting in the exact same row as a besuited array of Heads of State from around the world.
It is worth underlining the fact that we were not alone in doing this kind of work in Canada. Already, in the late-1960s, there had been the bold, if short-lived, “Project Mozambique” in Toronto, a group that included Rick Williams who had worked with CUSO in Tanzania and would, much more recently, become a leading Deputy Minister in Nova Scotia’s NDP government, and also David Cayley, Janet Torg, Jackie Seaton and others) - a group that reached its high-water mark when, forty of its members having become Alcan shareholders by each purchasing a single share, they lectured the company’s Annual General Meeting in 1971 as to the inappropriateness of Alcan supplying $4 million of materials to the construction of the Cabora Bassa Dam in northern Mozambique. In the event this was a tactic TCLPAC would later copy from Project Mozambique in forcing open a dialogue at Gulf Oil Canada’s AGM on the latter’s predatory role in Angola!
Williams was also a member of a second, smaller, Toronto-based group (which, together with Williams, included U. of T. professor Cranford Pratt, the United Church of Canada’s Garth Legge and Globe and Mail journalist Hugh Winsor), a group that vigorously challenged the Canadian government’s recent foreign policy document, the White Paper: Foreign Policy for Canadians (insofar as the latter bore on Africa), by focusing their criticisms on some of these Africa-related sections in their own very tough-minded The Black Paper: An Alternative Policy for Canada in Southern Africa which was widely circulated and cited at the time. Meanwhile, Renate Pratt would author a key document on behalf of the YWCA regarding Canadian economic investments in white-held southern Africa and entitled, significantly, Investment in Oppression (Pratt, 1997); she would also become a crucial force as Executive Director of the Task-Force on churches and Corporate Responsibility, an organization sponsored by Canada’s leading establishment churches.
Nonetheless there was still, in 1972, plenty of room for a new grass-roots organization and so, in 1972 and in a church basement on Avenue Road, we began TCLPAC. our first chair being Murray MacInness, a former United Church missionary in Angola who had been thrown out of that country by the Portuguese authorities for his support of Angola’s black nationalists. And one of our first significant and well-attended initiatives was a series of progressive films that we held over a number of years at the MedSci auditorium on the U of T campus. There, among other things, we had raised money to buy a truck for Frelimo for its use in facilitating the supplying among its army bases just across the Mozambique border in southern Tanzania. But when we invited Shafrudine Khan, Frelimo’s North American representative from New York to a Cinema Solidarity session for us to formally present him with the keys to the truck, the meeting was, quite literally, attacked by Canadian ultra-right-wingers of Toronto’s Western Guard who beat up various people, including my own eight year-old son, before they were forced back and out of the building.
In addition, we were closely monitored by the Canadian government’s CSIS/Canadian Security Intelligence Service (as witness our large and much-redacted file which I finally was permitted to peruse several years ago in the National Archives in Ottawa) and we were even targeted for infiltration by an undercover agent (whom we managed to expose) dispatched by Gulf Oil. We also spoke everywhere we could, showed Bob Van Lierop’s excellent film on the Mozambican struggle as often as possible, and published, for over twenty years, our own magazines full of information on the southern African struggles and on our own struggles here in Canada. And we implemented a number of imaginative actions and campaigns to demonstrate our resistance to institutionalized racism and corporate domination.
We were even in on the very least minute of Portuguese power in Africa, hosting in 1974 an Angolan MPLA delegation to Canada, led by the movement’s president and soon-to-be president of Angola, Agostino Neto, at the old St. Paul’s Church on Avenue Road, when a call came to our office that a coup in Portugal had just occurred. So much for lunch: Neto and his colleagues were soon on the phone rejigging their plane reservations and seeking further up-dates on the coup and related happenings in Africa.
Thus was launched, in Toronto but far more importantly, in Portugal and in Africa, the final phase of Portugal’s cruel racist presence as overlord on the parts of Africa it controlled. And it was thus that, come Independence Day in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, there were two of us, myself together with John Saxby, an old TCLSAC hand but then living in nearby Zambia, in Mozambique’s National Stadium as, several minutes after midnight, the Portuguese flag came down and the new Mozambican flag went, to ecstatic cheering from the thousands assembled there. And later that very day (exactly 40 years ago) came the moment I spoke of earlier when a more formal assemblage of my fellow heads-of-state saw the new Frelimo government sworn into power!
Of course, as I’ve noted, the struggle was far from over in southern Africa: in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa itself. And, as stated, TCLPAC, now as TCLSAC/the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of SouthernAfrica, continued its support role on a region-wide basis too. Moreover, the struggle was at first sustained in Mozambique as well, the struggle to consolidate a really full and meaningful liberation – in socio-economic terms, in democratic terms, in terms of gender equality, for example. Indeed, as historian Norrie MacQueen has written, the initial plans of Portugal’s “guerrilla enemies” in so-called “Portuguese Africa” – Mozambique’s Frelimo amongst them - did offer “a clear alternative to the cynical manipulation of ethnicity and the neo-colonial complaisance of the kleptocratic elites who increasingly defined African governance in the 1970s and 1980s.” In sum, he states
Whatever their fate, the projects of the post-independence regimes of lusophone Africa were probably the most principled and decent ever proposed for the continent. They have not been superseded in this regard and seem unlikely to be.
It will not be, under such circumstances, too surprising for you to learn that, with my hour as Canada’s Head of State behind me, I, like many other comrades from the TCLPAC days, wound up working in Mozambique during the early years of socialist experimentation there...hoping against hope for a progressive future.
Unfortunately, such an outcome was not, in the long run, to be. Mozambique was, to begin with, under continuing military pressure from Rhodesia and South Africa and from SA’s cat’s paw, its puppet movement, RENAMO; such harassment also included things like the assassination of Samora Machel by South Africa mentioned earlier), In addition the country was also haunted by demoralizing internal class contradictions and by just too much vanguardism (however benignly intentioned it may have seemed at the time). Moreover, Samora’s successors as president - the political pirates Chissano and Guebuza – proved to be far more interested in lining their own pockets than in helping facilitate the expression of democratic voice or the socio-economic betterment of their own population. On such stony terrain, the original high purpose of Frelimo evaporated.
Not that this in any way can or should spawn nostalgia for the very bad old days of racist rule and of Portuguese domination of course. Mozambicans and their Canadian support workers, like Africans and international support workers more generally, could be proud of what had been accomplished in the 60s and 70s. Moreover, we could also echo, confidently if soberly, Frelimo’s old watchword: “a luta continua”/the struggle coninues. But we will hear more this afternoon I am sure: about Mozambique’s recolonization by global capital, about the on-going depredations of the country’s elite, and about the struggle for a better future for Mozambique that continues (even here in Canada). And so: thank you, and thanks especially a key organizer of this event Abobakar Fofana Leon (among others) for a chance to share the memories.
[i]. As Freeman continues: “In 1970, a government white paper had openly supported Canadian capital in its bid to take advantage of “the better than normal opportunities” of trading and investing with the apartheid state as a “balance” to Canada’s interests in social justice. One minor gesture to reduce official promotion of Canada’s economic relations with South Africa in the late 1970s in the aftermath of the Soweto riots had almost no impact on patterns of Canadian trade and investment. In addition, while Canada had adopted United Nations sanctions against military exports, enforcement of these rules was quite slack. A Canadian firm, Space Research Corporation, helped South Africa develop an artillery gun, the G-5, which has the capability to deliver tactical nuclear weapons and has been an important military export. Thus, in the Trudeau years, Canadian policy in South Africa – with its flourishing economic relations, loopholes on military exports and full diplomatic relations with the white regime – left the Canadian state open to charges of insincerity if not hypocrisy in its claim to be supporting the struggle against South Africa.” To put it mildly; see, on this, my critical review of Freeman, included in Saul, 2009, pp. 311-323).
Freeman, Linda, 1997. The Ambiguous Champion: Canada and South Africa in the Trudeau and Mulroney Years. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Garth Legge, Cranford Pratt, Rick Williams and Hugh Winsor, The Black Paper: An Alternative Policy for Canada in Southern Africa, 1970. This booklet first appeared, under the auspices of the Committee for a Just Canadian Policy towards Africa, as the September 1970 issue of Behind the Headlines, a publication of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs and was then widely distributed by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation/CCIC.
Pratt, Renate, In Good Faith: Canadian Churches Against Apartheid. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
Saul, John S., Revolutionary Traveller: Freeze Frames from a Life, 2009. Winnipeg, 2009.
Saul, John S., On Building a Social Movement The North American Campaign for Southern African Liberation Revisited, 2015. Trenton, N. J., and Black Point, N. S.: Africa World Press and Fernwood Press.
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