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  • Imagining revenge:the adoption of violence by Mayombe's fighters1
  • Sean Rogers (bio)

Whether he is an essayist, a pamphleteer, a satirist, or a novelist, whether he speaks only of individual passions or whether he attacks the social order, the writer, a free man addressing free men, has only a single subject —freedom.

Jean-Paul Sartre (cited in Jinadu 1986:136)

So the survivors stayed.And the earth and the sky stayed.Everything took the blame.Not a leaf flinched, nobody smiled.

Ted Hughes, from 'Crow's Account of the Battle' (1972)

While the exact origins of the armed resistance to Portuguese colonial rule in Angola are uncertain, the mythology of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has it that the armed resistance began as follows: on the night of February 3, 1961, fighters of the MPLA attacked a Portuguese colonial army base and two prisons in which their members were being incarcerated prior to being shipped to Portugal for long term imprisonment (van der Waals 1993:58, Chabal et al 2002:6). What followed was an anti-colonial war that was to see three nationalist movements —the MPLA, the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) —fight a guerrilla war against the Portuguese Colonial forces that was only to end with the fall of the Salazar-Caetano regime in Portugal, in April 1974 (van der Waals 1993:250, Chabal et al 2002:3, Birmingham 2002:141). What is certain about the night of February 3, 1961, however, is that over and above the intended freeing of the MPLA members the attack was intended as a first blow in a war to end 500 years of brutal Portuguese colonisation. [End Page 118]

Such a view, however, overlooks one vital aspect of the anti-colonial war in Angola, or for that matter any armed conflict. At some stage prior to the first shots being fired, the members of the MPLA who attacked the prisons had to accept that they were about to adopt extreme violence to further the cause of an Angola free of colonial rule. Why, in this case, did the decision to adopt violence take place, or for that matter, why did any of the many African colonies that ended colonial rule through violence choose this approach and not a pacifist one? Perhaps the most detailed attempt to answer this question was provided by the Martiniquan/Algerian theorist Franz Fanon.

Geertsema (2004:749) says of Franz Fanon that he 'played a significant role in the Algerian revolution of the 1950s and 1960s and produced highly influential theorisations of it, as well as of black identity and decolonisation more generally'. To others, he has come to be 'regarded as a prophet of violence following Hanna Arendt's claim that his influence was mainly responsible for growing violence on American campuses in the 1960s' (Mamdani 2002:5). Regardless of how one feels about the specifics of his work, it cannot be denied that Fanon's theories have become a cornerstone of post-colonial theory (Parry 2001).

In his The Wretched of the Earth, first published in 1963, Fanon describes how the colonial state 'is violence in its natural state, and will only yield when confronted with greater violence' (Fanon 2001:48). This reasoning he attributes to the Manichean nature of Western colonial thought, as in his view, the 'native' had been ruled by a people who saw 'him' as no more than an unreasoning savage who would only respond to the violence that 'he' was seen by the coloniser to embody. He posits therefore that:

… [t]he existence of an armed struggle shows that the people are decided to trust to violent methods only. He of whom they have never stopped saying that the only language he understands is that of force, decides to give utterance by force. In fact, as always, the settler has shown him the way he should take if he is to become free.

(Fanon 2001:66)

The ultimate aim of this violence is a free 'life', which Fanon adds 'can only spring up again out of the rotting corpses of...


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