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
The Phelps-Stokes Fund of New York offered the promising young
Mondlane a scholarship to study in the United States, and he chose
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
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
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
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
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,
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
shaping the policies and action of the FRELIMO independence fighters.
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
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
moved to Mozambique with the family in July of 1963, and worked
with her husband by operating the Mozambique Institute. They
children: Eduardo C., Jr. (b. June 7, 1957); Jennifer Chude
(b. May 13, 1958; A.B. 2001); and Nyeleti Brooke (b. January 17,