|Angola Table of Contents
The MPLA and FNLA faced a third competitor beginning in 1966 with the emergence of UNITA. UNITA first came to international attention when, in December 1966, a group of its guerrillas attacked the town of Teixeira de Sousa (renamed Luau), succeeding in interrupting the Benguela Railway and stopping Zambian and Zairian copper shipments for a week. The new organization was formed by Jonas Savimbi, the former foreign minister and main representative of the Ovimbundu within the FNLA/GRAE, whose disagreements with Roberto over policy issues led to Savimbi's resignation in July 1964. Savimbi had traveled to China in 1965, where he and several of his followers received four months of military training and became disciples of Maoism. Perhaps the strongest impact of Maoism on UNITA has been Savimbi's insistence on self-sufficiency and maintenance of the organization's leadership within Angolan borders. Upon his return to Angola in 1966, Savimbi turned down an invitation from the MPLA to join its organization as a rank-and-file member and moved UNITA into the bush, where the organization began its guerrilla war with a small amount of Chinese military aid transported via Tanzania and Zambia.
Although UNITA lacked educated cadres and arms, it attracted the largest following of the three movements from the Ovimbundu, who comprised 31 percent of the population. And, unlike the MPLA and FNLA, UNITA enjoyed the benefits of a unified and unchallenged leadership directed by Savimbi. Moreover, in contrast to the mestiço-dominated, urban-based MPLA, Savimbi presented UNITA as the representative of black peasants. UNITA's constitution proclaimed that the movement would strive for a government proportionally representative of all ethnic groups, clans, and classes. His Maoist-oriented philosophy led Savimbi to concentrate on raising the political consciousness of the peasants, most of whom were illiterate and widely dispersed. Savimbi preached selfreliance and founded cooperatives for food production and village self-defense units. He set up a pyramidal structure of elected councils grouping up to sixteen villages that--at least in theory-- articulated demands through a political commissar to a central committee, whose thirty-five members were to be chosen every four years at a congress.
In the early 1970s, UNITA began infiltrating the major population centers, slowly expanding its area of influence westward beyond Bié. There, however, it collided with the eastward thrust of the MPLA, which was sending Soviet-trained political cadres to work among the Ovimbundu and specifically with the Chokwe, Lwena, Luchazi, and Lunda, exploiting potential ethnic antagonisms.
On the eve of independence, UNITA controlled many of the rich, food-producing central and southern provinces and was therefore able to regulate the flow of food to the rest of the country. At the time, it claimed the allegiance of about 40 percent of the population.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress