The Portuguese Coup d'Etat and the End of the Colonial Era

Angola Table of Contents

During the early 1970s, its African wars--including fierce nationalist struggles in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau--were draining Portugal's resources. By 1974 the Portuguese had lost 11,000 military personnel in Africa. On April 25, 1974, a group of disillusioned military officers, led by the former governor and commander in Guinea-Bissau, General António de Spínola, overthrew the Lisbon government.

On July 14, Spínola acceded to the wishes of officers who favored independence for the Portuguese territories in Africa and promised to take steps toward their freedom. At the end of July, Spínola appointed Admiral Rosa Coutinho as head of a military council formed to oversee Angola's independence. Also during this time, UNITA and the MPLA signed cease-fire agreements with Portugal; the FNLA initially moved military units into northern Angola, but later it too signed a cease-fire. The liberation movements set up offices in the major population centers of the country, eager to mobilize support and gain political control.

The approximately 335,000 whites in Angola, who had no political experience and organization under years of Portuguese authoritarian rule, were unable to assert a unilateral independence. In addition, their security was severely threatened as the new Spínola government began releasing political prisoners and authorized Angolans to organize, assemble, and speak freely. In July 1974, white frustration exploded into violence as Luandan whites rioted, pillaged, and massacred African slum dwellers. The Portuguese army quickly suppressed the riot, but when the Portuguese government announced that it intended to form a provisional Angolan government that would include representatives of both the nationalist movements and the white population, further rioting by whites erupted in Luanda.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress