Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane was born in the region of Gaza, in the south of Mozambique, in 1920. His family, with a prominent lineage, was polygamous and animist. Why was he named Chivambo? This name was given to him by the magicians because they believed that, in this baby, the great chief Chivambo Mondlane was reborn. Eduardo himself commented: “My parents belonged to old Africa without real contact with the fashions of the Western world; they did not know Christianity, they could neither read nor write; they venerated and worshiped the ancestors… We lived off the cultivation of small fields, cattle breeding, and hunting. My childhood was spent in the pastures with many shepherds who were my age.”
The life of the shepherds had its rules and hierarchies. An acute sense of responsibility revealed to the boys very early on the ineptitude of the brutalizing colonial domination.
An older sister who was a Christian, took him to the Swiss Mission school in their region. A short time later, his friends admired him in the christian “patrol,” an event in which boys were allowed to act very freely, but in which the values of solidarity and the spirit of mutual aid were also emphasized. After this, Mondlane went to the Swiss mission at Lourenço Marques to finish his primary education, before proceeding to receive his evangelist degree in Rikatla. Finally, he returned to town to work at the head of the same “patrols” of boys in which he had previously participated. He attended evening classes and tried in vain to enroll in a high school, as high schools were only open to young people under the age of thirteen. He was one of the few Africans at the time who read well and spoke captivatingly of his childhood, which opened up new horizons for him. He was sent to the rural Methodist Mission of Cambine, and came back in 1942 fluent in English. He also brought back a box of books, but, above all, a bright hope: since the schools of Mozambique were closed to him, it was in English that he would study. He hoped to accomplish this by moving to the Transvaal, so that he could better serve both his country and his church by receiving an education there. But some wondered: “Who is this Mondlane? Will he take the path of so many others who crossed the border and never returned?”
The old African pastors who knew Mondlane declared: “We want to help this Eduardo who wants to serve his church, but let him first be given the responsibility of a small congregation in the bush, and we will see!”
The pastors opened their eyes and they saw him perform successfully. Besides this, Mondlane himself described his anxieties about his vocation as the master of a clandestine school where he taught boys Portuguese and agriculture.
Equipped with his past experience as an evangelist, Mondlane left for the Swiss mission field in the northern Transvaal, at Lemana. On Saturdays and Sundays, Mondlane taught and preached, but the rest of the time he worked hard at school. In 1948, he successfully passed his matriculation exams in English and Afrikaans, the language of the Boers.
In agreement with his missionary coworkers, Mondlane went to study social sciences at the “white” University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. But, in 1949, the political regime changed, and Malan came to power. This meant that Mondlane, as a black man among white people, was driven out of the country by the government. But the students of “Wits” [Witwatersrand] had elected Mondlane to the presidency of their social studies group, and he also managed an interracial club in the middle of town. At the news of the expulsion of their colleague, the students and teachers of “Wits” organized a large protest. Both the South African press and the Portuguese newspapers were galvanized into action. The only consolation for Mondlane and his supporters was that, in spite of the school’s official regulations, the faculty of “Wits” authorized Mondlane to write his first-year exam papers from the Swiss Mission in Lourenço Marques, since he had been expelled from the country.
But before that, a PIDE (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, or International Police of State Defense) jeep had picked up Mondlane at the Swiss mission and imprisoned him. For two or three weeks, he was interrogated by specialists in African politics. But Mondlane responded in such eloquent terms that he was issued a passport and given permission to study in the U.S.A. He obtained a scholarship from the “Phelps Stoke Fund” in New York. Examination of the situation led Mondlane and the missionaries– who were Swiss and American– to deem a year of study in Lisbon essential. They believed that the knowledge he would have acquired and observed in Portugal would be indispensable to him when he later returned to work in Africa. At the same time, as registration formalities were dragging on in Lisbon, Mondlane made a short visit to Switzerland. There, the Swiss Mission celebrated its 75th anniversary (this was in 1950). (A few years earlier, Mondlane had given me the notebooks of his childhood memories. I had entitled it “Chitlangou, son of a chief.” But the adventures of Chitlangou are those of Chivambo, and the Swiss have read them! Mondlane is celebrated in Switzerland as a hero!) Afterwards, back in Portugal, Mondlane worked hard, and passed his exams. But, at the airport, the police tried to prevent his boarding for the U.S.A.
In the United States, as in Mozambique or Switzerland, the brilliant intelligence and radiant personality of Mondlane were quickly noticed by those around him.
Mondlane’s friends and missionary coworkers realized that an extraordinary destiny awaited Mondlane. American university life unleashed his enthusiasm. Mondlane was called upon to give talks on African problems; he discussed topics with luminaries; and he analyzed situations with intelligence. A childhood friend of Mondlane wrote: “Education and faith are the two chances of health for Africa, and Mondlane is the proof of it!”
In the meantime, Mondlane passed his Bachelor of Arts exams at Oberlin, and then pursued studies towards a doctorate in sociology at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. In 1956, he married Janet Rae Johnson, a young American of Swedish origin, who long before meeting Mondlane had devoted her life to Africa. An academic like her husband, she was his dynamic collaborator. Let us add that, after the tragedy of 1969, Mrs. Mondlane continued to serve Frelimo and Mozambique, first in Dar-ès-Salam, and then, after independence, in Maputo (formerly Lourenço Marques).]
At the time, there was no better place for an African like Mondlane to observe ongoing developments back home than at the UN in New York, because it was there that he was offered a job in the Mandated Territories section. He quickly got to know all the African leaders who came to New York. The representatives of Portugal, themselves, approached “their” man and offered him a [living] situation… in Lisbon. However, this was not for him. Mozambique, which he left in 1950, remained close to his heart. He found financial support and, through intermediaries, was able to create the Edelweiss scholarship fund. In this way, young Mozambicans pursuing secondary education can receive help.
In 1960, the United Nations appointed Mondlane to the team that would prepare the referendum in English Cameroon. His wife took the opportunity to go to Mozambique, with their two children, to the Swiss Mission of Lourenço Marques. When Mondlane joined his family– he carried a diplomatic passport from the U.N.– his popularity exploded! In the eyes of the Mozambican crowd, he was the hero, the only one who had broken the leaden screen which weighed with an overwhelming weight on the indigenous populations. Despite the celebration given to him– even the executives of the colonial administration put a good face on– Mondlane saw his fears confirmed. Nothing had changed in Mozambique!
Back in America in 1961, Mondlane left the U.N. and accepted, on a temporary basis, a professorship at Syracuse University, New York. But, the same year again, Julius K. Nyerere invited Mondlane to settle in Tanzania, whose independence had yet to be proclaimed.
In Dar-es-Salam, political groups of Mozambicans were fighting, and thousands upon thousands of people from all over Mozambique suffered as refugees in Tanzania. A new agenda was essential: the Mozambican political factions needed to merge, and it was necessary to raise the standard of a new, united Mozambique; a fatherland for which one would give up one’s life. On June 25, 1962, the three main independence movements decided to dissolve and unite to form the Mozambique Liberation Front, also known as Frelimo. Mondlane was immediately elected president of Frelimo.
To liberate Mozambique meant to prepare for war; to seek support everywhere; to instruct future guerrillas, both men and women; and to interest the whole world in its cause! Additionally, Eduardo Mondlane, his wife, and several of his friends traveled throughout Europe and Asia speaking of Africa. Mondlane declared: “Although I loved university life above all, I decided to devote the rest of my life to the war of liberation of my country, until it receives independence!” Unfortunately, Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane only got to see glimpses of this independence, such as at the second Frelimo congress in the middle of Mozambique in July 1968, and again during his travels in the liberated territories. During the latter, he inspected the combatants, and visited the first health posts in the service of the population, small schools, and agricultural centers.
As we know, and the press around the world covered, on February 3, 1969, Eduardo Mondlane received a package of books. The package, which was a trap, exploded upon opening. Only a shredded body remained of Mondlane.
The flag of an independent Mozambique was raised in Lourenço Marques on June 25, 1975.
1946 Chitlangou. Fils de Chef par Chitlangou Kambane (Chitlangou Khambane est le pseudonyme temporaire de Mondlane) et André-D. Clerc.
Delachaux et Niestlé. Neuchâtel et Paris. Illustr. de A. Billeter, 256 p.
1946 réédition du même. Mission Suisse dans l’Afrique du Sud. Illustr. de G. Périer. 252 p.
1950 Schitlangu. Der Sohn des Häuptlings. Edoardo Mondlane et André-D. Clerc Wanderer Verlag. Zürich.
1952 Viidakon poika. Edoardo Mondlane ja André-D. Clerc. Suomen Lähetysseura. Helsinki.
1952 “Africa in the Modern World.” Round Table Chicago. 1. 1952. (An NBC Radio discussion by Melville J. Herskowits, Ed. Mondlane and Edw. Munger), 20 p.
1953 The Birth of Seeiso. Ed. Mondlane. Yeoman, Spring 53. Oberlin, Ohio. 5 p.
1953 “The Oberlin Interview: Politzer praises Yeoman.” 22. V. 1953. 1 p.
1964 “Eduardo C. Mondlane: Le mouvement d’émancipation du Mozambique.” Congrès Méditerranéen pour la Culture. Florence.
1969 The Struggle for Mozambique. Eduardo Mondlane. Penguin African Library.
1974 André-D. Clerc et Edoardo Mondlane. Shitlangu. Omuna gwokombanda. trad. Hosea Lampala. Ouiipa. Owambo.
Additional sources on Mondlane, Eduardo:
- Fernandes, Carla. “Eduardo Mondlane: The man behind Mozambique’s unity,” Deutsche Welle, 22 April 2020. https://www.dw.com/en/eduardo-mondlane-the-architect-of-mozambiques-national-unity/a-52448404 (Accessed 23 August 2023).
- McQueen, Albert J and John D. Elder. “In memory of EDUARDO CHIVAMBO MONDLANE ‘53, 1920–1969, to be Honored at May Reunion,” Alumni News and Notes. Lourain, Ohio: Oberlin College, 1998. https://www2.oberlin.edu/alummag/oampast/oam_spring98/Alum_n_n/eduardo.html (Accessed 23 August 2023).
- Mondlane, Eduardo. Nationalism and Development in Mozambique. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: University College, 1968.
This article, reprinted here with permission, is taken from Hommes et Destins: Dictionnaire biographique d’Outre-Mer, book 2, volume 2, published in 1977 by the Academy of Overseas Sciences (15, rue La Pérouse, 75116 Paris, France). All rights reserved. Translation by Luke B. Donner, the DACB Research Assistant and PhD student at Boston University at the Center for Global Christianity and Mission.