Janet Modlane

FRELIMO—Director of the Mozambique Institute Former National Director of International Cooperation

Tor Sellström: You and Eduardo Mondlane visited Sweden as early as 1964. Was that on your initiative or were you invited by a Swedish organization?

Janet Mondlane: When FRELIMO was founded in 1962, my husband and I decided that something should be done for the Mozambican refugees in Dar es Salaam and southern Tanzania. We decided to set up a school. As we had lived in the United States we approached the Ford Foundation for assistance. The foundation said that it would support the school and we were funded by them for about a year. Then Portugal made a complaint to the American ambassador, who in turn spoke to the US government. The US government was very concerned about what was going on and that the Ford Foundation was giving money to the Mozambican liberation movement. The result was that the support was cut off very suddenly.

By that time, we were already functioning so it was very difficult. I then turned to Z. K. Matthews at the World Council of Churches and got funding for one year. However, as I knew that it could not go on I searched in my mind, thinking how the world was at the time. I thought about Sweden, in great part because my grandparents were Swedish and I always felt a kind of alliance with the Swedish people. Thinking about that, I decided that I must go to Sweden. I invited myself. I went there looking for funds. My husband joined me later. I cannot remember who I saw first, but it must have been the Social Democratic Party.

Tor Sellström: Did you also visit the other Nordic countries?

Janet Mondlane: No, it was only Sweden that time around. The relations with the other countries developed later. The Nordic countries worked very much together, telling each other what they were doing. I think that it is more or less how the involvement with the other Nordic countries started.

Tor Sellström: At the beginning of the 1960s, the Swedish solidarity movement was almost uniquely concentrated on South Africa. Was there any awareness in Sweden regarding the Portuguese territories in Africa?

Janet Mondlane: What happened was that I got very good advice. The actual penetration was done through the Social Democratic Party to the union of secondary school students, SECO. It was an extraordinarily powerful youth organization. I went around, speaking in different schools. The end result was that SECO decided to take Mozambique—in particular, the Mozambique Institute—as a fund-raising campaign. Through their annual Operation Day’s Work there was an extraordinary publicity. It was not just the money that was important, but the sensitization of the whole population. These young people went home and talked about what they were doing. It was a big event. Not just in Sweden, but in the other Nordic countries as well, particularly in Finland. That is how a kind of a mass consciousness about what was happening in Mozambique really began. After that, things began to snow-ball as far as Sweden and the Nordic countries were concerned. The awareness about Mozambique’s war was really brought to the fore.

Tor Sellström: In the case of Finland, the students donated a printing press to FRELIMO?

Janet Mondlane: Yes. It is still functioning here in Maputo. It was a fantastic donation.

Tor Sellström: FRELIMO also distributed good and reliable information about the struggle?

Janet Mondlane: Yes, we did. We managed to make a distinction between the social services and the war effort. It was on that basis that the World Council of Churches were able to help and it was on that basis that the Nordic countries also worked with us. We separated the social services—which were humanitarian, educational and to some degree cultural—from the military struggle. It was accepted, except by the Ford Foundation.

Tor Sellström: Was the fact that FRELIMO had embarked upon armed struggle a problem in the Nordic countries?

Janet Mondlane: No, it was not. I spoke to the labour unions and to other groups. The support was part of a conscious and really determined effort by the Swedes to make the population aware of what was happening in the Portuguese colonies. I spoke to these groups on their initiative. They were really debating the issue of the Portuguese colonies, looking at it from a moral point of view. The Swedes were very concerned about how they were behaving in the world at that time. For example, we talked about the target of one per cent of GDP for international aid. That debate was going on. In FRELIMO, we really admired this. Sweden was one of the very few countries—later there was Denmark, Finland, Norway and Holland, as well as the World Council of Churches—that really did take a moral decision, defending the right to self-determination. They not only thought about it, but also acted, which was rare. That is where the great admiration for the Nordic countries started.

Tor Sellström: At the same time, two of the Nordic countries—Denmark and Norway—were members of NATO and, together with Sweden and Finland, also members of EFTA?

Janet Mondlane: Yes, it was an issue, but there was something extraordinarily different about what was going on in the Nordic countries. I certainly did try to get assistance from other countries, but it did not work. It just did not work. But it worked in the Nordic countries. Until this day I am sure that it was due to some moral education.

Tor Sellström: There must have been a close relationship between some of the Swedish Social Democratic leaders and Eduardo Mondlane. One example is that Pierre Schori wrote to Mondlane, asking for his points of view on different opposition groups in Portugal.

Janet Mondlane: Yes, there was, but to understand that you have to understand Eduardo Mondlane. He was the key to the relationship. As far as I am concerned, there were two factors behind the relations with the Nordic countries, in particular with Sweden. One was the separation of the humanitarian and the armed activities within the liberation movement. The second was the personality and the leadership of Eduardo Mondlane. He was able to cultivate good friendships and respect on the part of peoples who were not from his culture or milieu.

Tor Sellström: Would it be fair to say that the close relationship with leaders such as Mondlane made it possible for the Nordic leaders to see beyond the ideological Cold War divisions and more easily understand the nationalist cause of the liberation struggle?

Janet Mondlane: I would say that it probably may have been so. As far as FRELIMO was concerned, Eduardo Mondlane was an extraordinary person. For example, in the Cold War context he was able to manage the Soviet government and the Chinese government, speaking with both of them without causing problems. It was difficult then, because if you were a friend of the Soviet Union, China was not going to have anything to do with you and vice versa. I remember passing his office one day. He was with the Soviet ambassador and the Chinese ambassador was waiting outside. I laughed about it and wondered how many could do that balancing act. I have many letters of his, written from the Soviet Union, in which he— tongue in cheek—talked about the Cold War situation. It is very possible that he mentioned these things in his conversations with the Nordic leaders. Of course, they were much more involved in the Cold War situation than we were, especially in Finland.

Tor Sellström: Could you say that the Nordic countries recognized the liberation movements as governments-in-waiting? Were they seen as legitimate governments-to-be?

Janet Mondlane: This was one of the things that we talked about, but from my point of view there was another element which was very important. One can reflect on these things politically and at a theoretical level. With the Nordics, I felt a respect towards the peoples trying to become independent. It was not just a theoretical political concept, which is admirable in itself. It went beyond that. I can hear the young Swedish and Finnish people saying: ‘If we really knew the Mozambicans, we would probably like them’. That is different from a theoretical position.

Tor Sellström: Do you think that the question of non-racism was important?

Janet Mondlane: Yes, I think that it was very important. I have often wondered about that. The Nordic countries had not been exposed to a lot of foreign people. Like myself. I grew up in an absolutely white village, so I was positively curious about blacks. Until I was a teenager, I had had no contacts with blacks at all. Fortunately, my family did not colour my attitude, so I grew up in ignorance and innocence. I was a kind of a microcosm of the Nordic society. They were very positive when it comes to race. I always felt that it was on the basis of an equal relationship.

Tor Sellström: Did you or your husband during the early visits in the 1960s meet Olof Palme?

Janet Mondlane: Oh, yes! My husband much more than I. I went to see Olof after Eduardo was killed. He then told me how they had worked together in a meeting of the Socialist International. It was very much in his mind. They made strategies together. They knew each other very well and respected each other a lot.

Tor Sellström: Olof Palme said that his first political act was in 1949, giving blood to raise funds for non-white students that were expelled from the white universities in South Africa. Eduardo Mondlane was one of them.

Janet Mondlane: Yes, he was the first student expelled from South Africa, for being ‘a foreign native’.

Tor Sellström:In the beginning, you had quite difficult discussions with the Swedish government regarding whether the support should be given to the Mozambique Institute in the form of goods or as cash. How did you look upon this?

Janet Mondlane: Well, at first I thought: ‘They should give us the funds so that we can buy what we want’. But you cannot hit people over the head in the beginning. You have to ease them into the situation. You have to give them confidence. When donations were made in cash or kind to the Mozambique Institute, it was terribly important to have a good reporting system. You had to ask people to come down and visit and you had to make a great effort to inspire confidence. Contributions in kind were very good, because we needed the goods, but they were much more difficult to administer. They had to be packed and shipped. It is much easier to report on money spent than on things received. We were supposed to show how every little thing was distributed. That is hard when you are running a big operation. The Mozambique Institute included the Tunduru refugee centre, Dr. Américo Boavida Hospital and activities in the liberated areas inside Mozambique. How can you put your word on the line and say: ‘Yes, I know that those books went off to such and such a place?’ But it worked out. We had to go slowly. In the end, a lot of confidence inspired our working relationship and reached such an extent that we received cash funds. But it had to go slowly, because there was no previous Swedish experience in working with the liberation movements.

Tor Sellström: As the American-born wife of the FRELIMO President, was it difficult for you to negotiate on behalf of the liberation movement?

Janet Mondlane: My position in FRELIMO was not that of a black Mozambican. My position was that of the wife of the President and of a person who could raise material support and a certain amount of respect. I had a lot of really good friends, but I was not generally integrated. There was an argument between some members of the Tanzanian government and FRELIMO after my husband was killed. It concerned my working in the southern part of Tanzania—not to speak of crossing the border into Mozambique—because I was white. This was a problem. A lot of strange things were said about me by some FRELIMO members who we can call the opposition at that time and who were allied with some members of the Tanzanian government. That made my life very difficult. However, I ignored it.

My view of the Swedes, the Danes and the Norwegians was obviously a bit different from that of many people in FRELIMO. I felt more integrated with the Nordic countries than they did. I had another point of view. But I was in a sense able to interpret both sides, if we look at it positively. Of course, my real devotion to FRELIMO existed, but I had also a sincere respect for the Nordic countries. I saw them through very special glasses and I still do.

Tor Sellström: Do you feel that there were strings attached to the Nordic support?

Janet Mondlane: No, not that I was aware of, but I think that one has to take each Nordic country by itself. Sweden was absolutely the most open, with no strings attached. I was always very impressed by the fact that they talked about it. The Swedish leaders and the people with whom I dealt were talking about how the assistance to the resistance struggle should have no strings attached. Denmark was much more cautious about this. I would not say that there were strings attached, but they did not channel the money in the same way as the Swedes did. There was always a feeling that ‘the Danes do not really trust us’. They used different Danish groups to cover their tracks. That was the difference. The Finnish government also found it hard to work directly with us. The biggest relationship was with the secondary school students’ movement, which paid for the printing press and sent out a technician. I do not remember how the Norwegians gave us funds.

Tor Sellström: At the same time, FRELIMO received assistance from the Nordic governments and a lot of support from the various solidarity organizations. The latter were often very critical of the governments, criticizing them from the left. Was that a problem when you visited different milieus in the Nordic countries?

Janet Mondlane: No, that was not a problem. If they had problems, they were kept among themselves, but they never translated into my problems. Maybe I was hard-shelled, but I never really felt a problem. I moved very easily between the two milieus. When you represent a liberation movement, you are different. You do not have to meddle in the internal problems of others. Let them help as they can. But they really fought among themselves. I remember going to European solidarity conferences where you had the far left and the middle-ofthe-road, edging over to the right. The liberation movements would just sit back and watch the things that were going on between the various solidarity groups. It really was not our problem. It was theirs.

Tor Sellström: Do you remember if FRELIMO would liaise with the Nordic countries on the issue of decolonization in international fora such as the United Nations?

Janet Mondlane: I was not involved in that and I do not know if FRELIMO did. Certainly, Mondlane did. Olof Palme also said so. It was a very interesting time. I somehow feel that it was the last decade of the age of innocence of the Nordic countries.

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Updated 3 February 2010, 14:22

The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Maputu, 30 April 1996.

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