Daily Podcast #13 Sónia Vaz Borges /// Learning from Amílcar Cabral



Sónia Vaz Borges is an interdisciplinary militant historian and social-political organizer. She is the author of Militant Education, Liberation Struggle; Consciousness: The PAIGC education in Guinea Bissau 1963-1978, (Peter Lang, 2019) and of “On the Space of Imaginations and the Space of Memories: Remembering the Conakry PAIGC Headquarters,” in The Funambulist 21 Space & Activism (January-February 2019)Learn more on her contributor page.


As many of us are confined in many places of the world, we wanted to provide you with a daily podcast in partnership with Radio Alhara emitting from Palestine. Our ambition for it is to not add to the saturation of information we are currently experiencing but, rather, to propose a daily extension 15-minute of our political imaginaries.

The concept is very simple. Every day, we ask one person the same question: “what is for you a moment of true decolonization?” The answer can be a historial moment or something they witnessed; something heroic and grandiose, or rather discreet and mundane; a durable blow to the structures of colonialism or a short instant of liberation.

While we are recording this podcast in privileged conditions of confinement, we keep in our thoughts the multitude of people around the world who do not share similar conditions or have no choice but to risk being affected by the pandemic because of criminal policies that have to do with neoliberalism, carceralism, or colonialism

We thank you for listening and wish you and your loved ones the very best wherever you are.

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NB. The Funambulist daily podcast is also played every day at 3:30PM, Palestine time, on  راديو الحارة Radio Alhara, a new radio produced from locked-down Bethlehem and Ramallah, along with another 15-minute production about worldwide solidarity, created specifically by The Funambulist for the purpose of this show. 



Sónia Vaz Borges: I can tell how I got in contact first with his writings. I was almost at the end of university and a friend told me where I could find the writings of Cabral in the school library. And I went to the library, because the books are not available, you could not buy them because they were produced in 1981, if I’m not wrong, and since then they were not produced until 2003 and maybe till 2013, something like that. I went to the library, I copied all these two books, The unity and struggle, the Volume I and Volume II, and I read them. Once I started to read I could not stop because by reading Cabral, I start to understand the Cape Verdean migration in Portugal and also to understand the culture, understand the music, understand the food, understand my parents’ background history, some things that were, til University, not present in any school curriculum that I could understand in Portugal. I could understand my family history, but I couldn’t complement it with other knowledge that school would provide me. So it was the end of 2002 if I’m not wrong, when a friend told me where I could find the writings of Cabral. And once I started to read Cabral, one of the speeches that really made me aware of the situation in Portugal was a conference that he gave in Cairo in 1961, where he talks about the idea of decolonization in the idea of the liberation struggle. And here I have a quote of this text, where he says, “Our people make a distinction between the fascist colonial government and the people of Portugal. They are not fighting against the Portuguese people. However, the objective situation of the large popular masses in Portugal, oppressed and exploited by the ruling class in their countries, should make them understand the great advantages for them, which will flow from the victory of the African people over the Portuguese colonialism.”. And then it continues, “We must reaffirm that, while being opposed to all fascism, our people are not fighting Portuguese fascism. We are fighting Portuguese colonialism, the destruction of fascism must be the work of the Portuguese, the people themselves, the destruction of the Portuguese colonialism will not be the work of our peoples. Why the fall of the fascism in Portugal might not lead to the end of Portuguese colonialism, we are certain that the elimination of the Portuguese colonialism will bring the destruction of the Portuguese fascism.”. 

And why I see the importance of this passage is because it helped me to understand how come the April 25 revolution in Portugal that ended fascism, that happened in 1974, comes from. 

Cabral wrote this in 1961. And throughout the struggle, he wrote letters to Portuguese military, to people who are working, Cape Verdeans and Guineans, who were forced to be part of the Portuguese army. He wrote letters to students and one of these letters was directed to the Portuguese military or the Portuguese soldiers. And this was written in 1963. And he says that the time has arrived that people should understand the benefits of this struggle, not just for the Cape Verdeans but also for the end of fascism in Portugal. And these ideas were being broadcasted in Guinea-Bissau throughout the liberation struggle at the PAIGC liberation radio. So the Portuguese military, they were very aware of the speeches. And the importance of it is like in 1974, finally, the Portuguese military took a decision to put an end to fascism in Portugal. So this picture of Cabral shows, like the process of decolonization not just from the liberation struggle, but also the process that took place for the Portuguese military to understand the state of oppression that they were being victims inside their own countries.

Léopold Lambert: Can we talk a bit about how much Cabral was incredibly clairvoyant in saying that the African revolutions will bring revolution in Europe as well. I mean, in Portugal, specifically. This is very much what happened, didn’t it?

SVB: One of the aspects or at least one Portuguese writer wrote that the April 25 happens, but it was incomplete happening because the Cabral was missing. And he said Cabral was missing because he actually envisioned the struggle. He could understand the struggle that he was doing in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde and related it with the state of oppression that Portuguese people were being victims of. So when April 25 happens, they say that this happening, this revolution was incomplete because Cabral was missing because he was killed in 1973. What I think is important to understand from this broader context of Cabral and the PAIGC, and the revolution of April 25, is that these links are never shown in school manuals. And for me being a Cape Verdean born and raised in Portugal, and having to celebrate the April 25th  as the end of the fascist regime in Portugal, but not making the link with my own process or the issue of my parents coming from Cape Verde, living in Portugal, raising their kids in Portugal, this has still, when my parents immigrated to Portugal, it was still colonial times. And they live the decolonization or the independence of Cape Verde in Portugal, and how these things are not explained in school manuals. I think from the side of Portugal, this is mind blowing because you explore something so important for a country just from one perspective, without giving the old context of how this revolution came about, and we exclude decolonization and the liberation struggle from all this process.

LL: Because the decolonization that Cabral is describing is, of course, the decolonization of the African continent and Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Yet he also talks about the decolonization of the colonizers themselves, which to a certain degree the Portuguese revolution, sort of initiated, perhaps, but looking at Portugal today, I think the last thing we can say is that Portugal has decolonized itself, right? There’s still a whole imaginary of the great discoveries and still a lot of violence, and segregation towards Mozambiquean and Angolan and Guinean and Cape Verdean people in Portugal today, right?

SVB: In Portuguese manuals, they go through all these romantic ideas of the discoveries. But they never explained the violence, that this was not just in the continent, but through all the countries that it travels to. And Portugal included, because we talked about for example, the enslavement of black people in the Americas. But we never talked about that in Portugal, it’s all a glorification of these discoveries. And then again, you have later the glorification of April 25. But you never explain the process in between, this long process of liberation struggle from where PAIGC comes from, for example, in Portugal. Before you have the PAIGC, before, as your other colleague spoke about, The house of the students of the Empire. And before that you have in the 1920s already movements of intellectual thinking not just in Portugal, but also in the African continent who have these links. So there’s a long tradition of struggle in Portugal. And the way we select what we show without making this interdisciplinary study of how one affects the other or the internationalism of these effects, I think is till today, Portugal, hasn’t done that. It was able to do the revolution, but was not able to continue this decolonization process, that the decolonization itself or the giving independence to other countries itself is important to do too.

LL: And of course, you’re citing quite a few times what you learn at school in Portugal, but your work has been looking at what the revolutionaries from Guinea-Bissau already have been doing in terms of education as opposed to Portuguese education that still continues today. Could you maybe tell us about it a bit?

SVB: Based on what I read and what I learned throughout these years and also from the result of my master thesis, which was focused on Cabral. And finding in the archives, the reading, that the PAIGC had developed some school manuals. It was always very intriguing for me. Understanding the struggle, reading about the struggle, reading Cabral, but not seeing like a specific aspect of it. How do you put these ideas in practice? How do you prepare this? Or how do you transmit this to the next generation? And that’s when I started to think about the question, can the liberation struggle be understood as educational practice? And if yes, where can I see that? And it was throughout this question that I started to research about what PAIGC was teaching or what was the goal of these school manuals? To whom were they directed to? How were they put in practice, then that’s how I come to the schools. And by understanding these school manuals, PAIGC had a very clear idea of what he wanted to show or to transmit to students; this could be from early age to adults, because PAIGC was for kids and adults. So the education was a lifelong process. It was interesting to see the message that they were interested to pass to, they had shown not only what happened before, for example, with the great empires, the history of Guinea Bissau, the history of Cape Verde, but also to understand what is this crucial moment that they were living now, and why it came about. So understanding that he means to explain what enslavement was, explaining what colonialism is, explaining what imperialism is. Explaining what can come after this process if we don’t do this decolonization process of the South and of the country. So that’s how I think the PAIGC has done it. And it could be a great example for us to think what we are explaining in our school manuals. And probably I come to this idea of working with the PAIGC schools based on my own experience of education in Portugal.

LL: Thanks Sónia. I can see two ways of going deeper into what we discussed today. The first one is just a small bridge with the episodes we had with Ana Naomi De Sousa about “the house of the student of the empire”  that you briefly mentioned. And another is an hour-long podcast that was recently released on “Millennials are killing capitalism”, in which you’re interviewed in a much more extensive way, people can listen to it.