In the month in which November 11 marks thecelebrations for the foundation of the Angolan Nation, we meet up with IreneNeto, daughter of António Agostinho Neto. An opportunity to find out from thechairwoman of the board of directors of the Dr. António Agostinho NetoFoundation what work the institution has been undertaking in promoting the workof the first president of Angola, at home and abroad, and above all else inAngola's schools. It also offers a chance for us to travel back to the years ofthe struggle for national independence, in which Agostinho Neto and his familyled a nomadic existence, stopping off in Portugal, Morocco, Cape Verde, Ghana,Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Congo, and also Tanzania. «Wetravelled in, from and for politics», recalls Irene Neto. «It was awhistle-stop tour of departures and arrivals, without time to lay down manyroots. We were political refugees, exiles, freedom fighters, always people in aforeign land, with Angola in our hearts».
Is November 11 especially important forthe daughter of the first president of the country?
It certainly is. November 11 is anindelible moment in our history as a nation, country, people and citizens. Itwas the boundary between before and after, the end of the condition of colony,of the status of political refugee, of native, of assimilated, of exile, ofunderground activity, of prisons, of the struggle for national liberation, ofguerrilla activity and the acquisition of a proper nationality, recognised bythe international community. The emancipation as a people had and will alwayshave a very particular taste, engraved in our memory forever. Every November 11that comes along is a moment for recalling what led an entire people to fightfor their right to decide their own fate. It is the moment to pay tribute toall those who fought for that cause, especially those who gave their lives forit.
November 11 is the day of independence andof freedom. The independence of Angola is the conquest of nationality and ofcitizenship. Freedom is the oxygen of us all. A society can only breathe if itis free. Democracy is only possible with freedom. The market economy only growswith freedom.
Is today's Angola the Angola AgostinhoNeto dreamed of and fought for?
Angola fought hard for its politicalindependence; it retained its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Peace tooka long time to come but today it is a factor in promoting harmony amongAngolans. Ideological orientations have been adapted to the winds of history;geopolitical situations have changed and are not the same as those in the timeof Agostinho Neto. In today's Angola there are social inequalities and aprovision of essential social services short of what is needed, which have tobe resolved, politically and economically.
The Dr. António Agostinho NetoFoundation has complained about how the first president of Angola has beenforgotten in schools. Why is this so and what has been done to turn it around?
It is a fact that has deeply concerned thefoundation and the family of Agostinho Neto. In such a way that the foundingstatutory objectives of our institution are geared, first and foremost, towardsfostering research into and promoting the life and work of Dr. Agostinho Neto.This requirement has been fulfilled by our production of bibliographical,audiovisual material, by our seminars, workshops, conferences and lectures invarious communities of the country. We have worked with the Angolan governmentthrough the ministries of education, higher education and of culture, with theaim of promoting teaching on national historical figures, and in particular ourfirst president of the republic. We have formed partnerships to enable andpromote the introduction and the study of Agostinho Neto's poetry in schoolcurricula. Just like every otherpeople of the world, we have to take pride in our role models and pass on theirlegacy to new generations. This will not be done automatically. We need to payparticular attention to passing on patriotic values, our idiosyncrasies, andour history. The globalised world and new technologies can easily monopolisethe attentions of the young from a certain age, meaning that the foundationsmust be laid during primary school years. Teaching the national anthem, respectfor national symbols, love for one's homeland, being «ourselves» as the poetAgostinho Neto put it.
The foundation fights against amnesia andagainst silence. The stories of the struggle for national liberation and of thefirst years of independence have to be told and taught in schools. The poetryof Agostinho Neto has to be read and taught.
Being Angolan should be founded in thedetailed knowledge of the history of Angola. You can only love what you know.And the struggle for liberation was a decisive process for the history ofAngola. The first years of independence were important for the direction Angolaand Africa took.
«Freedom is the oxygen of us all. A society can only breathe if it is free»
The Dr. Agostinho Neto Foundation has in actual fact played a fundamental role in the dissemination of the work of Agostinho Neto abroad with the translation of his books into several languages. What interest has been shown abroad for the life and work of Neto?
The interest and knowledge in and about the life and work of Agostinho Neto abroad has at times been cause for shame. Let me explain myself: at times people know more about Agostinho Neto abroad than they do in our country. There are many academies studying Agostinho Neto, Angola and its history, conducting research and producing studies. A country such as Angola arouses interest and this leads to researching its history and iconic figures. On the other hand there are more educated people abroad than in this country. We still have the struggle of illiteracy to overcome, schooling to consolidate and educational reforms to conclude. All these changes take time. And so it is important for us not to lose sight of the importance of foreign contributions in the promotion and knowledge of the life and work of Agostinho Neto. Let us not forget that every time we talk about Agostinho Neto the Angolan flag is being raised, at home or abroad.
In addition to being chair of the Dr. António Agostinho Neto Foundation, you are a member of parliament. Did you inherit your taste for politics from your father?
I might have.
Did you talk politics at home?
It was impossible not to talk politics at home when our entire life revolved around politics. We lived in, from and for politics. The countries in which we found ourselves, for longer or shorter periods of time, were according to political support for the MPLA. When I was born, in July, I entered the world in Lisbon and in September I was already on my way to Cape Verde where my father had been deported, on the island of Santo Antão. In October of the same year, they sent us back to Lisbon, with a detention order for my father, who was confined to Aljube prison. Ten months later, we escaped by boat, bound for Morocco. And so it went on. It was a whistle-stop tour of departures and arrivals, without time to lay down many roots. We were political refugees, exiles, freedom fighters, always people in a foreign land, with Angola in our hearts.
My mother and the children, we always accompanied my father, until we had to settle because of our education, which was in part by tele-education, that is to say, like distance learning (there was no Internet at that time). This meant that we travelled with him to many countries in which MPLA militants were located, in Africa and in Europe. Even as children we had to deal with the fact that we were different from our classmates. We were aware that we were in places that were not home, that we were speaking languages that were not ours, studying histories that weren't ours. We learned to listen, to keep quiet, to be attentive but also to intervene for our rights. The innocence of childhood was already tempered with recommendations to protect us. There were many burdens to bear: the political and economic condition of the colonised and refugees, the colour of our skin, the fact there we were the children of one of the revolutionary leaders most wanted by the secret services and the target of leadership disputes within the MPLA, the contradictions and racial nuances caused by the fact of having a white mother in Africa and black father in Europe, not forgetting the lack of support of the extended family members that weren't with us.
The conversations between my father and other MPLA militants, at home, almost always, at the meetings we attended on Sundays when he was present at militant bases, marked our childhood. We were together for longer in the Congos. When the war of independence gained new momentum with the opening of the Eastern Front, we moved to the Indian Ocean, to Tanzania and then my father was absent more often. The greatest interest in political events took place after April 25, 1974, the time of our adolescence.