Childhood & Early Life
Antonio Agostinho Neto was born on September 17, 1922 in Icolo e Bengo, Bengo province, Angola, in a Methodist family to Agostinho Neto, a Methodist church pastor, and Mary d Silva Neto, a kindergarten teacher.
He completed his secondary education from Liceu Salvador Correia, Luanda, in 1944, and started working for Portuguese Colonial Health Service.
In 1947, he went to Portugal to study medicine, with specialization in gynecology, at the University of Lisbon and then at Coimbra, through a scholarship offered by a US Methodist Church.
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While studying in Lisbon, he met and befriended other African students who later became politicians – Amilcar Cabral and Marcelino dos Santos, and got actively involved in political activities, though secretly.
While opposing Prime Minister Salazar’s dictatorial rule in Portugal, he formed an African cultural society, Anti-Colonial Movement.
He released his first set of poems in 1948, soon after which he was arrested by PIDE for his protests against the Portuguese rule over Angola, on three occasions, and later imprisoned for seven years in 1951.
He joined the newly formed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), from the merger of Angolan Communist Party (PCA) and Party of the United Struggle for Africans in Angola (PLUA), in 1956.
He was released in 1958 and completed his medical studies. Upon graduating, he returned to Angola in 1959, where he opened a private medical center.
In 1960, he was arrested by the Portuguese authorities for his opposition of the colonial rule, which led to the Massacre of Icolo e Bengo leaving 30 patients and supporters killed and 200 injured, when the Portuguese police open fired.
He was arrested and exiled in Cape Verde for two years, after which he was imprisoned in Lisbon. Due to extensive protests from his supporters and international pressure, he was released and put into house arrest in 1962.
He completed his second volume of verses while serving the period of detention in Lisbon. He escaped house arrest with his family and fled to Morocco. From there, he moved to Leopoldville, Zaire.
He spent the next couple of months traveling across Europe, Soviet Union and other African nations seeking support for liberation war against Portuguese imperialism.
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In 1962, he traveled to Washington DC in the hope of receiving aid from Kennedy administration, but his plea was rejected due to US’s oil interests in colonial Angola. Instead, he started getting support from Cuba and Soviet Union, in 1965.
In 1974, when a military coup ousted Marcelo Caetano’s dictatorial rule during the Carnation Revolution, Neto took this opportunity to negotiate with Portugal for the independence of Angola.
Angola was declared independent on November 11, 1975. The MPLA (to which Neto was associated) was successful in capturing the central part of Angola, including Luanda, with Cuban help.
Under his rule, he developed close relations with Soviet Union, Communist states including Cuba, and countries in the Eastern bloc, yet he permitted the Western World to invest in oil production in Angola.
The Agostinho Neto University, a public Angolan university in Luanda, was re-founded as the merger of two university institutions in 1975, of which Neto became the first Rector.
In December 1975, he established the Angolan Writers Union as the founding member. He served as the President of its General Assembly, until his death.
He delivered the closing address as the chairman of the closing ceremony at the 6th Conference of African-Asian Writers, conducted from June 26 to July 3, 1979.
Besides being a nationalist leader, he was also a renowned medical doctor and a prominent poet, publishing three books during his life, which were translated into several languages with some of them becoming liberation anthems.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Maria Eugenia da Silva, a white Portuguese native, in 1958 upon completing his medical study. The couple had two children – son Mario Jorge Neto (1958) and daughter Irene Alexandra (1961).
In 1979, he went to Moscow to undergo treatment for pancreatic cancer and liver cirrhosis. However, he died during surgery on September 10, at the age of 56, just seven days ahead of his 57th birthday.
Angola celebrates his birthday as National Heroes Day and is a public holiday.
Chinua Achebe authored a poem ‘Agostinho Neto’ as a mark of respect to this distinguished personality.
The prime hospital in the Cape Verdean capital, Praia, is named after him – Hospital Agostinho Neto (HAN), while an airport and a morna in Cape Verde is dedicated to him.