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Book Reviews

SITA VALLES - A Revolutionary Until Death

Volume 16, Issue 3  | 
Published 03/03/2020
  |

Author: Leonor Figueiredo

Translator: D A Smith

Publ: Frederick Noronha for Goa 1556 Saligao, India.  In Association with Golden Heart Emporium, 2019

Reviewer: Adolfo Mascarenhas

Who Is Sita Valles?

The original book, in Portuguese, was published in 2010, by Ms Leonor Figueiredo, a journalist from Portugal but who reported from Angola.  In January 2019 in a book store in the small town of Margao, Goa, I saw the striking cover of the book in dominant red and black, designed by Bina Nayak. I had not heard of Sita Valles. 

However, there she was, more standing than leaning on a Morris Minor sedan of the 1950’s, tallish, determined jaw, crossed legs, a shortish white skirt topped by a polar necked long sleeved blouse.  The red back cover of the book, had four paragraphs inscribed in white lettering – I was convinced that the book, along with others, should go into the ‘to purchase cart’.  

Sita - the beautiful, Goan communist had an African heart. She and her two brother siblings were born in Angola, not in the hospital but at home where the roof leaked so an umbrella had to be used.  Sita’s mother, Lucia, was born in Mombasa; Sita’s father was raised in Goa, studied agriculture in India and was the Portuguese Consul in Mombasa. His grandfather had lived in Portugal.      

Sita Valles was a doctor who at the age of 26 was executed without a trial at dawn on August 1 1977, she was shot with a single bullet on each leg and each arm. It was the year when an estimated tens of thousands of Angolans were massacred. Sita’s closest Angolan friends were the militants including her husband Jos Van-Dumen, and Nito Alves. 

‘Alves Nito’ was the nom de guerre of Bernando Alves Baptista; a young black Angolan born in 1945. Nito and Sita were particularly articulated and could talk impromptu on various issues hindering development. Their very virtues became their death sentence. Nito was a fast thinker and an analyst and rose rapidly up the ranks to become a member of the Central Committee of the MPLA and a Minister in independent Angola. 

The book gives a detailed account of the histories of both Portugal and Angola, colonial and post-colonial. Leonor Figueredo, a Portuguese journalist, was well informed about the events in Portugal and its African colonies in the 1970’s and 80’s. 

In Portugal, the iron-fisted Antonio Salazar ruled from 1932 for 42 years through his institution of terror, the PIDE, The International Police for Defense of the State. This way of governance did not just operate in Portugal but was replicated in full in Africa and beyond. It must be mentioned that Salazar was ‘highly esteemed in Europe’. His dictatorship continued under Caetano and then Franco whose death in 1975 heralded a return to democracy. 

It was at this time that Sita Valles travelled to Lisbon where she experienced the euphoria of the Union of Communist Students, the secret meetings, the Carnation Revolution. She returned to her country Angola, but the country was not the same any more. Colonialism in Angola had ended; it was now another Angola with different thinking and premises, and distinct social, political and cultural realities.  

Sita did not fully realize that in post-colonial Angola; despite the Alvor Agreement (1974) to share power, the three powerful armed groups UNITA, FNLA and MPLA were still at war. There were complications.  What about people who were born in Angola, liked the place and had contributed to its development?  This included Portuguese deserters of an unjust war, people of mixed races who had formally even taken vows in churches.  Incredibly such people were accused of subversion! They were whites or brown but such discrimination did not make sense.   Agostinho Neto’s own wife was an Azerbaijani, and therefore a Caucasian. President Neto bowed to pressure from his party compatriots or so it seemed; perhaps he had wanted to marry an indigenous Angolan! 

Jose Agustinho Neto, an avowed communist, was Angola’s first president. He died in 1979 and was followed by Jose Eduardo dos Santos who ruled from 1979 to 2017, slightly more than 37 years, during which he eliminated all functioning forms of democracy.  In early 2017, President João Lourenço, out maneuvered the formidable attempt by President dos Santos to put his family members, especially his daughters to succeed him. President João Lourenço, has decided to act against the open corruption and amassment of wealth and there is now a ray of hope for Angola.

Sita Valles’ struggle for Angola, where she was born, was not in vain.  She was not a violent revolutionary; it remains to be seen if the new leader of Angola will make amends to Bernando Alves, Sita Valles and Van Dunem.  More than that, there were thousands of others who were also massacred during the ‘Angolan Marxist Revolution’.  

In 2018 in Goa, the recent past Minister Alina Saldanha, noted: 

……Sita, a great human  being who lived her life fearlessly to ensure a more just society, especially for the downtrodden and the underprivileged. Sita Valles and my late husband Matanhy Saldanha were closely related: the similarity in their thought processes on some aspects of their life and the deep love for their respective lands is both striking and amazing. 

A fine tribute from a Member of Parliament of modern day India, who had just experienced, how even in democracies, political manipulation can oust those who believe in ethical behaviour.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 March 2020 10:08

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