Dos Santos – A pillar of SADC independence, development
By SANF 22 no 32.
The late President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos was laid to rest in Luanda on 28 August, with regional leaders praising his indelible contribution to the independence and development of southern Africa.
As a founder of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) in 1980, which was later transformed into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1992, President Dos Santos continued in the footsteps of his predecessor, Dr. Agostinho Neto, sacrificing the development of his own country to ensure that the rest of the region was liberated from colonial rule and apartheid.
Dos Santos took over as the leader of Angola in 1979 following the death of Neto who was Angola’s founding President.
After taking on the mantle, at a time when some countries in the region were still to achieve independence, he supported them, offering his country as a base for them to achieve freedom for all.
Neighbouring Namibia, then under apartheid administration as South West Africa was represented by its founding President Sam Nujoma, who shared a close bond with Dos Santos as Angola was a rear base and transit route for guerrillas of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO).
Nujoma said Dos Santos stood firm and never wavered in his support for the independence of countries in the region.
“In this regard, we recall his prophetic words when he assured Africa and the world that, ‘Angola shall be on its own will, a revolutionary trench in Africa to Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa in the continuation of our struggle,” Nujoma said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said Angola and the region had lost a true son of the soil.
“He was a liberation leader who ensured that southern Africa becomes free and it was a great sacrifice by the people of Angola for which we are grateful,” he said.
The final battle of the war against apartheid was fought in Southern Angola, at Cuito Cuanavale from November 1987 to March 1988 when Angolan forces supported by Cuban allies and SWAPO fighters defeated the invading forces of the then Apartheid regime of South Africa.
This battle became a turning point in the history of southern Africa’s liberation from colonial rule and apartheid, opening the way for negotiations over independence for Namibia, followed by negotiations to end the Apartheid administration in South Africa.
The last day of the battle at Cuito Cuanavale, 23 March, is now commemorated by SADC member states as Southern Africa Liberation Day.
With the rest of southern Africa having attained independence, President Dos Santos focused on healing his country which was plagued by decades of civil war, and eventually managed to achieve peace between his People”s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the main opposition, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in 2002.
The Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa described Dos Santos as a “solid member of the Frontline States,” saying “he was a man of peace, he managed to negotiate peace between UNITA and the MPLA.”
Since then, Angola is on the road to recovery, and on 24 August conducted peaceful general elections that were described by observers as held in line with regional and international standards.
The 24 August general elections were the fifth multi-party polls following those held in 1992, 2008, 2012, and 2017, and marked 20 years since the end of the civil war in 2002.
Speaking at the burial, leaders from southern Africa hailed the contribution of President Dos Santos to the liberation and development of the entire region, describing him as a great statesman, freedom fighter, architect of peace, and staunch pan-Africanist
The SADC Chairperson, President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said Dos Santos believed in total peace throughout the region since instability in one Member State had the capacity to impact other countries.
Angola was one of the SADC Member States that contributed troops to DRC in 1998 when some neighboring countries tried to invade the country from the east.
“He (Dos Santos) was an illustrious friend of the DRC and who, for years, showed unwavering support for the safeguarding of our territorial integrity, in the face of the belligerent tendencies of our enemies, especially in the darkest hours of our recent history,” President Tshisekedi said.
The former SADC Chairperson, President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera of Malawi agreed, saying the region was indebted to the Angolan leader who always believed that “peace and security were key to the economic development and prosperity of the region.”
“As a skillful diplomat, he always believed in the peaceful resolution of disputes and conflicts in the SADC region,” President Chakwera said.
“With him goes the voice of a peacemaker who always advocated the African Union founding principle of African solutions to African problems, and defended the political and economic freedom of the continent.”
Angolan President João Lourenço, who took over from the late President José Eduardo dos Santos in August 2017 said he will continue with the work of his predecessor in pushing forward the regional integration agenda of SADC and ensuring that there is peace in the region.
“Angola lost a great son, someone who dedicated his entire youth, his entire life for the good of Angola and Angolans,” said President Lourenço, who was re-elected for a second term in office at the 24 August election.
In his campaign message, President Lourenço had urged all Angolans to “honour the memory” of the late President José dos Santos by voting for the MPLA party.
Other regional leaders who attended the burial included former Presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Jakaya Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania.
Born on 28 August 1942 in Luanda, Dos Santos joined the MPLA in 1961, and went for military training to join the fight for his country’s independence. He became the President of Angola in 1979.
Dos Santos was SADC Chairperson during 2002-2003 and 2011-2012, where he rallied fellow leaders to accelerate efforts towards achieving the SADC regional integration and development agenda while promoting peace and security. sardc.net