By Jorge dos Santos
Marcelino dos Santos, a founding member and former Vice President of Frelimo, has died at the age of 90, according to Rádio Moçambique. Fittingly, his death was announced by President Filipe Nyusi, speaking in the northern city of Pemba. “We have lost our icon, Comrade Marcelino dos Santos”, said Nyusi, promising that more details will be made public later.
Dos Santos was President of the Assembleia Popular, Mozambique’s parliament when it was a one-party state, from 1977 to 1994. He remained one of Frelimo’s most influential figures for the rest of his life.
“We will organise ourselves, as a government, because he has already been declared a national hero (in 2015)”, he added.
Marcelino dos Santos was born on 20 May 1929 in Lumbo, Mozambique Island district, in the northern province of Nampula. He was deeply involved in nationalist policies from an early age.
He was a student in Lisbon from 1948 to 1951. Under surveillance from the Portuguese political police, the PIDE, he escaped to France where he worked with many other exiled African nationalists. Alongside the Angolan Mario Pinto de Andrade, and the leader of the Guinea-Bissau liberation struggle, Amilcar Cabral, he founded the Conference of Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies (CONCP) in 1961, and became General Secretary of this organisation.
By then, the first Mozambican nationalist movements were being set up, and dos Santos became head of the foreign relations department of Udenamo (National Democratic Union of Mozambique).
In 1962, Udenamo merged with two other movements, Manu (Mozambique African National Union) and Unami (National African Union for the Independence of Mozambique) to form Frelimo, under the leadership of Eduardo Mondlane. It was dos Santos who wrote the first Frelimo statutes.
When Mondlane was assassinated by the Portuguese colonial regime in 1969, dos Santos became one of a three member presidential triumvirate, alongside Samora Machel and Uria Simango, that briefly led the movement.
Simango soon defected, writing the bitter tract “Gloomy Situation in Frelimo”, and in 1970 Machel was elected President of Frelimo and dos Santos Deputy President.
After independence, in 1975, dos Santos became Minister of Planning and Development in Machel’s first government. He held several other senior state and party positions, but perhaps the most important of these roles was that of chairperson (speaker) of the Mozambican Parliament, the People’s Assembly from 1986 to 1994.
He was at the head of what became the most reforming parliament in Mozambican history – which abolished the one party state, replacing it with political pluralism, approved a Constitution of the Republic which included guarantees for freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and even changed the county’s name – from People’s Republic to Republic of Mozambique.
Despite this liberalisation, and despite Frelimo’s embrace of a market economy, dos Santos never wavered in his commitment to socialism.
His age and his increasing frailty restricted his activities in his final years, but he remained a member of the Frelimo Central Committee to his dying day – he was last re-elected to the Party’s Central Committe at its 11th Congreess in 2017.
Dos Santos was also a poet, writing under the pseudonyms of Kulangano and Lilinho Micaia. His early poetry was published in the Mozambican paper “O Brado Africano”, and his work also appeared in the 1950s in two anthologies edited by the “Casa dos Estudantes do Imperio” (“House of the Students of the Empire”) in Lisbon. A collection of his poetry was also published in the Soviet Union.