Jonas Malheiro Savimbi was born in 1934 to a prominent Christian family living in Munhango in the Moxico district. He received his school education firstly at two Protestant missionary schools, then at the middle school at Silva Porto (Bié) and finally at the liceu of Sá da Bandeira (Lubango), where he excelled in his final exams as best student in his class.
In 1958, with the help of a bursary from the United Church of Christ, he went to Lisbon, which he left in 1960 to continue his studies in Switzerland, first at the University of Freiburg and then at the University of Lausanne. Here he earned his doctorate in State Sciences.
In 1961 he made contact with Holden Roberto. Later he joins Roberto’s movement and contributed much to the workings of the UPA (of which he was secretary-general), FNLA and GRAE (Gouvernement Revoluçionnaire de l’Angola en Exil).
But in 1964 he broke away from Roberto and approached the MPLA. His approach failed and he and his supporters proceeded with the creation of his own organisation, the Uniào Nacional para a Indepêndecia Total de Angola – UNITA (National Union for the total independence of Angola). This occurred in March 1966 in the district of Moxico, i.e. inside Angola. His supporters originate mostly from the Ovimbundo nation. The movement was, on paper at least, well organised with a General Council at the head with underneath it, central, provincial, district and area committees. A military wing was also added, the Forças Armadas de Liberteçào – FALA (Armed Liberation Force), in which Chinese influences could be seen. Some men were indeed sent to China for training.
President Kaunda of Zambia viewed UNITA favourably and allowed the organisation to open an office in Lusaka, which made the import of armament and the transfer of recruits possible.
On Christmas Day of 1966, UNITA entered the combat arena for the first time by attacking the border town of Teixeira de Sousa (Luau) with around 250 poorly armed followers. They suffered serious casualties. After this, UNITA elements penetrated the sparsely populated south-eastern corner of Angola, where the MPLA were also already operating.
It is often difficult to determine which one of the two organisations was responsible for sporadic terrorist attacks in these districts. This was also the case with the sabotage of the Benguela railway line, which eventually got blamed on UNITA with the result that Kaunda retracted his hospitality of Lusaka from Savimbi.
After being banned from Lusaka, Savimbi lived for a couple of months in Cairo and made visits to China and North-Korea. From China he received a small quantity of armaments and from North-Korea the training of twelve of his men. Upon his return, Savimbi took over command of the UNITA forces in Angola.
When the MPLA started expanding its operations in Cuando-Cubango in March 1968, it clashed with UNITA in the area. In fact, the first MPLA force of 207 men that penetrated the area, had orders to firstly drive out the mongos (UNITAs). Against this, as well as the Portuguese forces, UNITA was unable to stand, and later fell back to a central area contained within the triangle of Cangamba, Luso (Luena) and Silva Porto (Bié).
UNITA’a army was never large: in 1970 there were only 800 against 4 000 of the MPLA, but amongst his own people Savimbi enjoyed much support. He also boasted that UNITA was the only liberation movement managed from within Angola.
Translated from “Angola Operasie Savannah 1975-1976” by Professor F.J. du T. Spies, published by the SADF (Directorate Public Relations), 1989