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RG 30/307 - Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane (1920-1969)

Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane was born June 20, 1920 in a small village near the town of Manjacaze in the southern district of Gaza, Mozambique. He described his father, Nwadjahana Mussengane Mondlane, a chieftain of Tsonga clan, and his mother, Makungu Muzamusse Bembele, as traditional, “without any meaningful contact with Western European systems of life such as Christianity or the capacity to read or write.” However, the power of education was extremely important to Mondlane’s mother, and she insisted that he go to school “in order to understand the witchcraft of the white man, thus being able to fight against him.”* His mother’s advice were words that Mondlane reported he could hear ringing in his ears many years later, and he credits his early life with imbuing in him a sense of revolutionary spirit.

Eduardo Chivambo initially began his education in Swiss Calvinist schools, attending first a school near his village and then running away to the city of Lourenço Marques to complete his primary education. Discovering that Portuguese restrictions barred his entrance into secondary schools, the young Mondlane attended an American Methodist mission school where he completed a two-year course in the agriculture of arid regions. In 1944, the mission helped Mondlane make arrangements to study in South Africa, first at the Douglas Lain Smit Secondary School in Lemana, South Africa, then at the Jan H. Hofmeyr School of Social Work in Johannesburg (1948); and, finally, he was introduced to the social sciences at Witwatersrand University (1949-50). Mondlane was one of only a few Black African students at Witwatersrand University. Subsequently, his chosen fields of study would be Sociology and Anthropology. Expelled from South Africa by the 1948 rise of the Nationalist government and the full implementation of apartheid in that country, Mondlane found himself forced to return to Mozambique before completing his higher education. During the next years in Mozambique, Mondlane organized the first Mozambican student union, the Organization of Secondary Students or NESAM. In 1950, the Portuguese government offered him the opportunity of studying at the Lisbon University in Lisbon, Portugal. Mondlane accepted and studied in Portugal between 1950 and 1951. However, he was, like many African students at the university, subject to almost constant harassment, and he felt compelled to leave and “seek another country where I could more peacefully pursue my university education.”

The Phelps-Stokes Fund of New York offered the promising young Mondlane a scholarship to study in the United States, and he chose to enroll at Oberlin College as a junior in 1951, at the age of 32. As a sociology major, Mondlane completed nine academic courses, four of them with Professor J. Milton Yinger. He took an anthropology course with Professor George E. Simpson (d. 1998) and a Christian Ethics course with Professor of Religion Clyde Holbrook (d. 1989). At Oberlin College, he was active in the Forensic Union and the Cosmo Club, and possibly the YMCA. After receiving his A.B. in 1953, he took a position as an instructor at Roosevelt University in Chicago (1954) before entering Northwestern University, where he completed A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology and anthropology in 1960. Upon the completion of his Ph.D., Mondlane worked as a research officer for the Trusteeship Department of the United Nations in New York City. With the U.N., Mondlane prepared papers on the social, economic and political conditions of the Trust Territories in South West Africa, the British Cameroons, and Tanganyika (Tanzania).

In February 1961, Mondlane returned to Mozambique under the protection of a UN diplomatic passport. Even though his stay was short and he had been absent for 10 years, Mondlane reported he “was able to make quite meaningful contacts with the African masses and to assess their feelings concerning independence from Portuguese colonialism.” This visit to his home country fueled his decision to leave the UN that same year and dedicate himself to his country’s liberation struggle. Through his work with the United Nations, Mondlane had made acquaintance with Dr. Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, and the two found that their interests in anti-colonialism work coincided. Nyerere promised Tanzania’s support for Mozambique’s independence struggle, and Mozambican revolutionaries began to congregate in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Later in 1961, as Mondlane continued to organize support for the Mozambican liberation struggle, he took a temporary teaching position at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY. The position allowed Mondlane to conduct research in connection with the Center for Overseas Operations and Research, through which he made contact with thousands of Mozambican refugees in South Africa. Mondlane worked to assist three large Mozambican groups in exile, and organized a conference uniting the groups in the newly independent Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in June of 1962. At the pivotal conference, the Mozambique Liberation Front, FRELIMO, was formed. Mondlane was elected its president. In some haste, he resigned his position at Syracuse, commenting, “Even though I love university life more than anything else in the world, I have decided to dedicate the rest of my life to the liberation struggle until the independence of my country.”

Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane returned to Mozambique in 1963 and continued to work with his fellow countrymen for the freedom they sought, shaping the policies and action of the FRELIMO independence fighters. On February 3, 1969 he was assassinated when a bomb exploded under his chair at the Dar es Salaam headquarters of the liberation movement. The national government never apprehended the persons responsible for his murder. Neither has history settled on which ideological faction committed the crime.

On October 15, 1956, Mondlane married Janet Rae Johnson, a classmate from Northwestern University whom he had met at a Christian camp where Mondlane taught a discussion group on Africa. Janet Mondlane moved to Mozambique with the family in July of 1963, and worked with her husband by operating the Mozambique Institute. They had three children: Eduardo C., Jr. (b. June 7, 1957); Jennifer Chude (b. May 13, 1958; A.B. 2001); and Nyeleti Brooke (b. January 17, 1962).

Sources Consulted
Note: *This and all subsequent quotations are from Biographical Notes prepared by Eduardo Mondlane.
Mondlane, Eduardo Chivambo, Biographical Notes, December, 1966
Mondlane, Eduardo Chivambo, “Oberlin College Biographical Form,” n.d.
“ Mondlane, Eduardo Chivambo,” Oberlin Alumni Magazine, April, 1969, p. 20
Simpson, George E. Memorial Minute read to the Oberlin College Faculty,
February 5, 1969
Shore, Herbert, “Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane,” Political Leaders of Contemporary Africa South of the Sahara: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Harvey Glickman (Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut.)
The Struggle for Mozambique. London: Zed Press, 1983
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