Illinois-Born Widow of African Revolutionary Eduardo Mondlane Hopes for Peace

Associated Press

Janet Mondlane, educated in a one-room schoolhouse near Downers Grove, Ill., was 17 and dreaming of becoming a doctor in Africa when she met an African revolutionary at a summer church camp.

He changed her life.

It was 1951, and Eduardo Mondlane, who became the founder and first president of the Mozambican Liberation Front, was 31 and lecturing at church camps as part of his scholarship to Oberlin College in Ohio.

"I am a product of Eduardo Mondlane," says his widow, 55, who heads the Red Cross in Mozambique, still racked by war and famine 14 years after independence from Portugal and 20 years after her husband's assassination.

"I grew up in this little town near Chicago. Until I was 7, I lived out in the country," the former Janet Rae Johnson recalled in an interview. "Life was calm, very stable, not many ideas were passing through."

She said, "Eduardo was able to write on a blank sheet, and he wrote on it until the time he died."

On Feb. 3, 1969, Mondlane was killed by a parcel bomb at his office in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where the revolutionary movement--known by its Portuguese acronym, Frelimo--was headquartered during the war against the Portuguese.

"During the whole long struggle, every now and then you had to pick up the children and leave the house in the middle of the night, because word came that someone was coming to attack," the widow said.

"I'm not at all a violent person. As a matter of fact I'm rather a pacifist. But my life has been very much linked with war, unfortunately."

Her work as head of the Mozambican Red Cross involves providing emergency aid for millions of refugees displaced by fighting between the Frelimo government, which took power in 1975 under a Marxist constitution, and guerrillas of the Mozambican National Resistance, supported for many years by the white-minority governments of South Africa and what then was Rhodesia.

The widow said she is not a Marxist but is a member of the Frelimo party and a deputy in the People's Assembly, the national legislature.

Today's Mozambique is not what she had expected, she said.

"I never counted on so much war, that's for sure. We thought that it would be possible to develop the country. It hasn't been."

A major decision of her life was relinquishing her American citizenship.

"The rest of my family is in the States. It's a question of do you break these ties or don't you, really throw in the lot or not?

"I decided yes, this is really my country. I really dedicated my life to this country since I met Eduardo, and that's a long time ago.

"I went to the church camp in (Lake) Geneva, Wis., and there was Eduardo. We students were supposed to go to a different lecture every day. I went to the lecture Monday on Africa and stayed there. I was just mesmerized."

She and Mondlane exchanged letters for the next 18 months. After high school graduation she went to Marianhill College in Ohio to be near him, then they both transferred to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"Blacks and whites didn't get married then," she said. "The process took five years, trying to work through things with my family. There was a lot of hullabaloo from his missionary friends about marrying instead of going to the Congo."

Mondlane went to work for the United Nations and didn't return to Africa until 1961.

After nine months as a professor at Syracuse University in New York, Mondlane went to Tanzania, where three Mozambican exile groups united in 1962 under his leadership and began the guerrilla war.

After her husband's death, Mondlane helped fund schools and medical posts in the northern provinces that Frelimo controlled until independence came in 1975.

"What I'd like to do is go and work on my farm (in the countryside) but here I am still working here, doing the same thing I was doing all my life," Mondlane said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World