The Angolan War of Independence began on this day in 1961, sparking a brutal 13 years of clashes between the colonial forces of Portugal and three armed nationalist factions in the country better known as the Portuguese Colonial War. The nationalist groups were also joined by a separatist movement — all seeking an end to Portugal’s hold over the nation.
The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) were the three groups aiming to take over Portugal’s Overseas Province of Angola, also known as Portuguese West Africa.
The Portuguese colonials ruled over Africans for centuries and made their supremacy known over the people with a law known as the Portuguese Colonial Act, which was passed in 1933.
The seeds of an uprising were planted in 1953, though, when Angolan separatists established the Party of the United Struggle for Africans in Angola (PLUA), the first political group to call for Angolan independence from Portugal.
The following year, Congolese-Angolan nationalists joined together to form the Union of Peoples of Northern Angola, which advocated for the independence of the historical Kingdom of Congo.
Mário Pinto de Andrade (pictured), along with his brother Joaquim, formed the Angolan Communist Party (PCA). In 1956, the PLUA party joined with the PCA to form the MPLA. The MPLA was led by Viriato da Cruz of the Movement of Young Intellectuals, Andrade, Ilidio Machado, and Lúcio Lara. Forces from the Ambundu tribe also worked with the MPLA.
In early January 1961, Angolan workers began boycotting in the Baixa de Cassanje, Malanje region due to the conditions of the Cotonang cotton fields where they worked. The cotton workers demanded higher pay and better conditions.
Cotonang was owned by Portuguese, British, and German businessmen. The workers began attacking Portuguese traders and burning their ID cards in what is known as the Baixa de Cassanje revolt.
The Portuguese military bombed villages in the area in response, reportedly killing up as many as 7,000 native Africans.
The soldiers stormed a police station in the city of Luanda and killed a handful of police officers and attempted to free captives from the São Paulo prison.
In the end, 40 of the militants were killed and no prisoners were freed. Portuguese people living in Angola then began committing violent acts against the ethnic Black majority living in the poor parts of Luanda. Militants responded again on February 10th, which prompted a violent response once more from the Portuguese forces.
Because of the infighting between the MPLA and FNLA, the nationalist movements failed to gain traction in the 1960s. The clashes officially came to an end on April 25, 1974, which is the day of the Carnation Revolution. That day marked the end of the Portuguese Colonial War.
Angola achieved independence in 1975.