Baixa do Cassange Strike: The Labor Protest That Sparked the Angolan War of Independence

The Baixa do Cassange strike, also known as Mariano’s revolt, was a labor strike regarded as the first political action that sparked the Angolan War of Independence against Portuguese rule, which lasted from 1961 to 1974.

Baixa do Cassange Strike: The Labor Protest That Sparked the Angolan War of Independence

The roots of the uprising lay in the exploitation faced by Angolan workers employed by Cotonang, a Portuguese-Belgian cotton plantation company. These workers were subjected to harsh working conditions, minimal wages, and abusive treatment. On January 3, 1961, the workers’ long-standing grievances erupted into protest. They demanded better working conditions and wages, a demand that was met with violence and suppression from the Portuguese authorities.

During the protest, the Angolan workers burned their identification cards and physically attacked Portuguese traders on the company premises. The protest led to a general uprising, which Portuguese authorities responded to with an air raid the following day on the Baixa do Cassange region, targeting twenty villages and resulting in a devastating loss of life. While the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) claimed the death toll was around ten thousand, other estimates range from 400 to 7,000 casualties.

Baixa do Cassange Strike: The Labor Protest That Sparked the Angolan War of Independence

The Baixa do Cassange strike was more than just a labor dispute; it became the spark that ignited a full-blown war for independence. On February 4, 1961, the MPLA, one of Angola’s main nationalist movements, launched an armed attack on a prison in Luanda. This marked the beginning of open armed conflict against Portuguese rule. The attack was a response to both the suppression of the Baixa do Cassange uprising and the longstanding colonial oppression experienced by Angolans.

In the wake of these events, the struggle for independence intensified. On March 15, 1961, the União das Populações de Angola (UPA), led by Holden Roberto, initiated a major revolt in the Bakongo region of northern Angola. This uprising saw Angolan farmers and plantation workers attacking and killing around 1,000 white settlers and numerous indigenous people who were seen as collaborators with the Portuguese colonialists. The violence and destruction spread rapidly, with plantations, infrastructure, and colonial government facilities being targeted and destroyed.

Baixa do Cassange Strike

The Portuguese response was one of brutal counter-insurgency. The military campaign launched to end the uprising resulted in the destruction of numerous villages and the deaths of an estimated 20,000 people by September 1961. This period marked one of the most violent phases of the conflict, with significant loss of life and widespread internal displacement, as many Angolans were compelled to flee their homes and villages to escape the brutality of the Portuguese forces.

Baixa do Cassange Strike: The Labor Protest That Sparked the Angolan War of Independence
Portuguese colonial troops on patrol in Angola

In the first year of the war, 20,000 to 30,000 Angolans were killed, and between 300,000 and 500,000 refugees fled to Zaïre or Luanda.

The Angolan War of Independence, which lasted from 1961 to 1974, was marked by fierce fighting, significant human casualties, and widespread destruction. The conflict ultimately led to the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in April 1974, which resulted in the overthrow of the Portuguese dictatorship and the subsequent end of the Portuguese Colonial War, leading to the decolonization of its overseas territories, including Angola.

On November 11, 1975, Angola finally achieved independence, marking the end of over four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule.

Talk Africana
Talk Africana
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