Angola Table of Contents

Three mass organizations were affiliated with the MPLA-PT in 1988--the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Youth Movement (Juventude do Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola -- JMPLA), the Organization of Angolan Women (Organização da Mulher Angolana--OMA), and the UNTA. Each was founded as an anticolonial social movement during the 1960s and transformed into a party affiliate when the MPLA-PT became a vanguard party in 1977. Although these groups were formally subordinate to the party in accordance with Marxist-Leninist doctrine, they continued to operate with relative autonomy. Strict party ideologues objected to this independence and sometimes treated organization leaders with contempt. The resulting tensions added to public resentment of party discipline and became a political issue when Neto accused leaders of the JMPLA, the OMA, and the UNTA of supporting the Nitista coup attempt of 1977. Alves, the coup leader, had criticized MPLA-PT leaders for bourgeois attitudes and racism, and many people in these organizations supported Alves's allegations.

In the late 1970s, mass organizations became an important target of the rectification campaign. Their role in society was redefined to emphasize the dissemination of information about party policy and the encouragement of participation in programs. Throughout most of the next decade, MPLA-PT officials continued to criticize the lack of coordination of organizational agenda with party needs. The mass organizations became centers of public resentment of MPLA-PT controls, but these groups were not yet effective at organizing or mobilizing against MPLA-PT rule.

Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola-Youth Movement

The JMPLA was founded in 1962 and converted into a training ground for MPLA-PT activists in 1977. It claimed a membership of 72,000, mostly teenagers and students, in 1988. The JMPLA conducted military exercises and political study groups, measuring success within the group primarily by an individual's commitment to the socialist revolution. The Second Congress of the JMPLA was held on April 14, 1987, a date that was also celebrated as National Youth Day.

Despite the symbolic and practical importance of the political role of the nation's youth, MPLA-PT officials generally had a derisive attitude toward JMPLA leaders during the 1980s. At the MPLA-PT congresses of 1980 and 1985, party officials criticized youth leaders for their failure to encourage political activism. They also remonstrated against youth group officials for the bourgeois attitudes, materialism, and political apathy they detected among children and teenagers. One measure of these problems was the continued urban influx among young people, which impeded MPLA-PT efforts at rural mobilization.

MPLA-PT leaders assigned the JMPLA the task of guiding the national children's organization, the Agostinho Neto Organization of Pioneers (Organização dos Pioneiros Agostinho Neto--OPA). The goal of the OPA was to educate all children in patriotic values, socialism, and the importance of study, work, and scientific knowledge. Founded as the Pioneers in 1975, the group took the name of the nation's first president at its second conference in November 1979, following Neto's death. JMPLA leaders generally viewed the OPA as a recruiting ground for potential political activists.

National Union of Angolan Workers

The UNTA was organized in 1960 in the Belgian Congo (presentday Zaire) to assist refugees and exiled MPLA members in their efforts to maintain social contacts and find jobs. Managing the UNTA became more difficult after independence. The UNTA headquarters was transferred to Luanda, where the shortage of skilled workers and personnel for management and training programs became immediately evident. UNTA leaders worked to transform the group from an adjunct to a national liberation army to a state labor union, but encouraged by the "people's power" movement, many workers thought the MPLA victory entitled them to assume control of their workplace. UNTA leaders found that workers' rights were sometimes given a lower priority than workers' obligations, and at times industrial workers found themselves at odds with both the government and their own union leadership. These tensions were exacerbated by the demands of militant workers who favored more sweeping nationalization programs than those undertaken by the government; some workers opposed any compensation of foreign owners.

During the early 1980s, Cuban advisers were assigned to bring industrial workers into the MPLA-PT. With their Angolan counterparts in the UNTA, Cuban shop stewards and union officials undertook educational programs in technical and management training, labor discipline and productivity, and socialist economics. Their overall goal was to impart a sense of worker participation in the management of the state economy--a difficult task in an environment characterized by warfare and economic crisis. By late 1988, the Cubans had achieved mixed success. Some of the UNTA's 600,000 members looked forward to the prosperity they hoped to achieve through MPLA-PT policies; many others felt their links to the government did little to improve their standard of living, and they were relatively uncommitted to the construction of a socialist state. UNTA officers did not aggressively represent worker interests when they conflicted with those of the party, and the fear of labor unrest became part of Angola's political context.

Organization of Angolan Women

The OMA was established in 1963 to mobilize support for the fledgling MPLA. After independence, it became the primary route by which women were incorporated in the political process. Its membership rose to 1.8 million in 1985 but dropped to less than 1.3 million in 1987. The group attributed this decline to the regional destabilization and warfare that displaced and destroyed families in rural areas, where more than two-thirds of OMA members lived. In 1983 Ruth Neto, the former president's sister, was elected secretary general of the OMA and head of its fifty-three-member national committee. Neto was reelected secretary general by the 596 delegates who attended the OMA's second nationwide conference on March 2, 1988.

During the 1980s, the OMA established literacy programs and worked to expand educational opportunities for women, and the government passed new legislation outlawing gender discrimination in wages and working conditions. MPLA-PT rhetoric emphasized equality between the sexes as a prerequisite to a prosperous socialist state. At both the First Party Congress and the Second Party Congress, the MPLA-PT Central Committee extolled contributions made by women, but in 1988 only 10 percent of MPLA-PT members were women, and the goal of equality remained distant. Through the OMA, some women were employed in health and social service organizations, serving refugees and rural families. More women were finding jobs in teaching and professions from which they had been excluded in the past, and a very small number occupied important places in government and the MPLA-PT. However, most Angolan women were poor and unemployed.

In addition to leading the OMA, Ruth Neto also served on the MPLA-PT Central Committee and as secretary general of the PanAfrican Women's Organization (PAWO), which had its headquarters in Luanda. The PAWO helped sponsor Angola's annual celebration of Women's Day (August 9), which was also attended by representatives from neighboring states and liberation movements in South Africa and Namibia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress