Holden Roberto Dies at 84; Fought to Free Angola from Portuguese Rule
Holden Roberto, one of the fathers of Angola’s independence and a staunch opponent of President José Eduardo dos Santos, died on Thursday at his home in Luanda. He was 84.
His contributions in helping free Angola from centuries of Portuguese rule were hailed by both Angola’s main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, Unita, and the governing party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or M.P.L.A.
Mr. Roberto formed the country’s first nationalist movement, called the Union of Angolan Peoples, which was linked to his own Bakongo ethnic group, and then transformed it into the National Liberation Front of Angola, known as the F.N.L.A., in the 1960s.
He began an incursion into Angola on March 15, 1961, and his forces overran farms, government outposts and trading centers. Recalling the incursion, Mr. Roberto later said: “This time the slaves did not cower. They massacred everything.”
A close friend of other African-independence stalwarts, like Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Congo, and Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, Mr. Roberto also established a political alliance with the former Zairean strongman Mobutu Sese Seko by divorcing his wife to marry Mr. Mobutu’s sister-in-law. Zaire is now known as Congo.
In April 1975, Mr. Roberto and the leaders of two other political parties signed peace accords with Portugal that led to Angola’s independence the same year.
But fighting immediately erupted and the F.N.L.A., backed by the United States, France and Zaire, fought the M.P.L.A., supported by the Soviet Union. After Cuba sent forces to support the M.P.L.A. in 1976, the F.N.L.A. was decisively defeated and abandoned its armed struggle.
The fighting did not cease, and Angola was devastated by a 27-year civil war between M.P.L.A. and Unita factions, in which about 500,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Mr. Roberto went into exile, notably in France and Zaire, but when he returned to Angola 15 years later, he remained involved in politics despite his failing health.
After participating in the 1992 general elections won by the M.P.L.A., he remained in the opposition, criticizing the two-party system in Angola dominated by the M.P.L.A. and Unita.