Desfile das tropas chegadas da metrópole, maio de 1961, Arquivo Histórico Militar, Arquivo fotográfico da guerra em Angola Espólio do fotógrafo Manuel da Graça e Costa

Assault to Luanda’s Jails

04 February 2023
Jungle patrol, 1961, Military Historical Archive, Photographic archive of the war in Angola – Estate of photographer Manuel da Graça e Costa.

The beginning of 1961 in Angola opened a cycle of hatred and terror, with the swelling of signs of tension, the appearance of outbreaks of rebellion and the intensification of the repression of the Baixa do Cassange revolt. In March, hundreds of elements of the white population and thousands of mestizos and blacks of non-Bakong ethnicities would be slaughtered by UPA elements in northern Angola. In April, the first Portuguese troops landed in Luanda. The colonial war was beginning.

But, let us return to these days of February, specifically on February 4, 1961, the day that marks the beginning of the armed struggle for independence in Angola.

Luanda was teeming with foreign journalists waiting for the possible arrival of the Santa Maria ship. But on the night of February 3 to 4, another subject will be in the news. The Casa de Reclusão Militar, Companhia Móvel da PSP, the São Paulo Administration Jail and the Companhia Indígena are attacked by about 200 men armed with machetes, knives and some pistols, coming from the city’s musseques. The aim was to release nationalists imprisoned throughout 1959 and 1960 and to obtain firearms and ammunition for the struggle for independence. The plan provided for other civilian and military targets, such as the airport or the post office, but it does not go as planned. On the Portuguese side, seven policemen and soldiers are killed. The repression is not delayed, and the dozens of rebels who die during the operations are joined by more than a hundred detainees by PIDE and PSP. In the following days, the military, police and militias formed by elements of the white population will still cause hundreds of injuries and deaths among the black population, in attacks on musseques and raids.

In an autonomous logic that transcends political and military organizations, although some operatives militated or sympathized with the MPLA and UPA and with both movements claiming action, the events of February 4, 1961 constitute the first major action against Portuguese colonialism with a view to independence, demystifying the rhetoric of peaceful coexistence between colonized and colonizer and of racial and social harmony.


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