Aquino de Braganca (1924-1986)
It was with shock and great sadness, followed by a sense of anger, that colleagues working in African Studies learned of the death of Samora Moises Machel, President of Mozambique. Thirty-three others died in the plane crash with him, among them Aquino de Braganca, Director of the Centre of African Studies, Eduardo Mondlane University, with whom this department had contact over many years. He was born in the Portuguese colony of Goa, on the Indian sub-continent, in the mid-1920s. At the age of thirteen, he left home to engage in anti-colonial politics, being particularly dissatisfied with the methods of Mahatma Gandhi. He gained a degree in physics, but scorned a safe career in favour of political activism, which took him from country to country, while he earned a living as a journalist. As a result, he came to know many people who played an important role in African history, as well as enjoying the company of intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre.
He is reported to have ensured that Nelson Mandela met the Algerian FLN, during Mandela’s celebrated tour of Africa. It is possible that this meeting may have helped to influence Mandela’s decision to support a policy of armed struggle against apartheid. Aquino certainly was the person who received the young Samora Machel when Machel left Mozambique for military training. While pursuing his journalistic activities, including being a founder member of Afrique-Asie, Aquino played an important role in the development of contacts between students from the various Portuguese colonies. This process led up to the formation of the liberation movement in Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. He was acquainted with Melo Antunes of the Armed Forces Movement, which organised the 25 April 1974 coup in Portugal that overthrew fascism and thus helped to shorten the anti-colonial wars.
At the time of the negotiations up to the Lusaka Accord in September, 1974, under which Portugal recognised the independence of Mozambique governed by Frelimo, he was a key member of the negotiating team. After Independence, he was acutely aware of the importance of building up Mozambique’s own research capacity in the social sciences. So instead of a career in government, he founded the Centre of African Studies (CEA), named after the Centre in Portugal where important members of the liberation movements had studied. He asked his old friend Ruth First to be Research Director. The CEA soon began to engage in research aimed at dealing with the most acute problems of post-Independence Mozambique, and produced a series of reports at the request of various government or party agencies. These reports were often critical of the implementation of policy, but invariably produced constructive suggestions on ways of dealing with the difficulties which they analysed.
While Aquino remained fairly active academically, he was constantly on call from Frelimo to deal with diplomatic tasks. Thus while he co-edited a three-volume work on Africa with Immanuel Wallerstein, established the History Workshop in the Centre, and participated in field work in Cabo Delgado on the history of the Liberated Zones, he was also involved in, for example, the re-establishment of good relations with Portugal. In the process he became acquainted with President Eanes of Portugal, who had been a general in Mozambique fighting against Frelimo. More often than not, his overseas visits were undertaken as part of a team accompanying President Machel, for example, on the visit to India for talks with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, where Samora Machel took time to visit Aquino’s mother. The charming photographs of that visit clearly show the friendship between the two men.
Several of his friends were assassinated, including Eduardo Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral and Ruth First. He served on the Commission of Inquiry into Cabral’s death, where his knowledge of the intimate interconnections between the different liberation movements in the Portuguese colonies enabled him to write a lengthy report. In the case of Eduardo Mondlane, an interview which he had tape recorded two weeks before Mondlane’s death proved invaluable in 1982 in dispelling MNR lies concerning alleged differences of opinion between Mondlane and Machel. He was present with Ruth First, together with Bridget O’Laughin and Pallo Jordan, when the letter bomb that killed Ruth First exploded. He was temporarily blinded by that bomb, but, despite the discovery in hospital that he had heart problems, he fought his way back to health and to work in an amazingly short time. Within a few months he had reorganised the CEA into three fairly distinct parts, and was again engaged in diplomatic work.
His interest in academic work remained, however, and he had wished to attend the conference of ESARG held at Leeds University at the end of September 1986. He had to cancel the trip because President Machel had assigned him further diplomatic tasks. This was why he was accompanying the President on what proved to be their final visit to Zambia.
Aquino de Braganca was a legendary figure in Portuguese politics, yet his importance was not generally recognised in English speaking countries, with the exception of South Africa, which rightly feared his influence. His greatest wish was to live to see the end of apartheid. The full story of his contribution to the end of Portuguese colonialism and the overthrow of Portuguese fascism may never be known, but from what is known,his contribution was considerable and, at times, perhaps decisive. He will be remembered as a kind and generous friend, and a formidable diplomat. He was an integral part of a struggle which will continue.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 45 (November 1986), pp. 6-7]