Born: 17 September 1922, Icolo-e-Bengo, Angola
Died: 10 September 1979, Moscow, Russia
Agostinho Neto was born in the village of Icolo in Bengo province, Angola; his father was a Methodist pastor. Neto was educated to high school level in Luanda and then worked for the Portuguese Colonial Health Service until 1947 when, provided with funds by his home village, he traveled to Portugal to study medicine.
Developing the Anti-Colonial Movement:
In Lisbon, Neto made friends with Amílcar Lopes Cabral (Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), Marcelino dos Santos (Mozambique) and several other students from Africa and formed an Africa cultural society (known as the Anti-Colonial Movement) – developing what they termed "the re-Africanization of the mind", a process which they compared to the French movement négritude. Many from the society became leaders of anti-colonial movements back in Africa.
In 1948 he published his first volume of poetry and was arrested for the first time. There followed a series of arrests and detainments which interrupted his studies. He joined the Movimento Popular da Libertação de Angola (MPLA, Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) when it formed in 1956. He was released from detention and allowed to complete his studies in 1958, retuning shortly afterwards to Angola with his new wife, Maria Eugénia da Silva, where he set up a private medical practice in gynecology.
Neto Held in Detention:
On 6 June 1960 Agostinho Neto was arrested at his practice as a result of his campaigning against the Portuguese colonial administration of Angola. When patients, friends, and supporters marched in demonstration the police opened fire and 30 were killed, 200 more injured. Neto was removed from Angola by Portuguese authorities and held initially in Cape Verde and then in Lisbon, Portugal, where he wrote his second volume of poetry.
Neto Becomes President of the MPLA:
Facing sustained international pressure, the Portuguese authorities released Neto into house arrest in Lisbon, from which he promptly escaped, and made his way to Morocco and then Zaïre – joining the Angolan Liberation movement in exile, and becoming president of the MPLA in 1962.
Looking for Assistance in the Struggle for Independence:
Neto traveled to Washington in '62 to seek assistance for the war of liberation against Portugal in Angola, but the US, in disdain for his Marxist-Leninist beliefs, placed their support with the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA, National Front for the Liberation of Angola) under the leadership of Holden Roberto. (Roberto and the FNLA also received recognition from the Organization of African Unity, OAU, and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaïre.
Neto's MPLA was coming into direct conflict with forces supported by the FNLA and Jonas Savimbi's União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), but Neto's aims based on socialism and non-racial equality were gaining him support in Angola. In 1965 the OAU removed its support from the FNLA and instead backed Neto and the MPLA.
Independence in Angola:
When Portugal underwent the Revolução dos Cravos (Carnation Revolution) in 1974, a military coup d'etat which removed Marcelo Caetano as leader and led a year later to a democratic election, things changed for its African colonies. The MPLA declared independence in Angola on 11 November 1975, the same day that the Portuguese abandoned the capital. The country was effectively held under the rule of three independence movements, with the MPLA holding the central section and the capital. Agostinho Neto was proclaimed president on 11 November.
Cold War in Angola:
Neto's period of rule was marked by armed conflict with Roberto's FNLA (with support form Mobuto in Zaïre) and with Savimbi's UNITA which had military support from South Africa and the US. Whilst Neto was forced to look for aid form the Soviet Union and Cuba, he still encouraged Western investment in the country – especially in oil production.
Agostino Neto – Doctor, Poet, and First President of Angola:
Neto was not only Angola's first president but he remains its most prominent poet, with his work published in several languages Neto's poetry deals with the quest for freedom, and several of his poems were converted into liberation anthems.
Neto died of cancer on 10 September 1979 in Moscow Russia, where he had traveled to receive treatment. He was succeeded in the post of president by José Eduardo dos Santos, Neto's Minister of Planning.
Neto's birthday is celebrated in Angola as National Heroes Day.