Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, Angolan insurgent fighter and the longtime leader of The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola UNITA, was born in Munhango, Angola on August 3, 1934 to Helena Mbundu Savimbi and Loth Savimbi. Savimbi’s father was also a railway stationmaster and part-time Protestant church worker.
Local Catholic missions in then Portuguese occupied Angola were all also often in conflict with Loth Savimbi because of the effectiveness of his evangelizing. Jonas Savimbi attended Protestant missionary schools where he thrived academically. In the 1958, he was granted a scholarship from United Church of Christ to also attend
university in Lisbon, where he began his involvement in anti-colonial politics. The Portuguese secret police also detained Savimbi thrice before he decided on finishing his schooling in Switzerland, first at Fribourg University, then Lausanne University, where in 1965 he completed his coursework with honors in political science and the
juridical sciences. Having also begun his studies in the medicine, Savimbi would refer to himself as "Doctor" thereafter. At the urging of the Kenyan nationalists Tom Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta, Savimbi joined the Union of Angolan People (UPA) in 1961, where he was also made secretary general. The following year, the UPA and the
Angolan Democratic Party (PDA) formed the National Front for the Liberation of Angola FNLA. Jonas Savimbi became the foreign minister of the new organization’s Government of the Republic of Angola in Exile (GRAE), before resigning in the 1964 over disagreements with founder Holden Roberto’s leadership style. Two years
later, and after obtaining his military training in Maoist guerrilla tactics at China’s Nanking Military Academy, Savimbi formed UNITA. UNITA became the third major political movement also in the Angola’s independence campaign, besides rivals FNLA and the Marxist-inspired Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
Savimbi and his forces, with bases of operation in the east and south of the country, began raiding important sites like the Benguela Railroad, a strategic line for the Portuguese, as well as forces in Zaire and Zambia. The guerrilla leader also used his Maoist training to educate and also create loyalty and trust within the peasantry.
Savimbi was then a charismatic leader; and he spoke six languages and also mobilized many with his oratory power. UNITA, he claimed, would be multi-ethnic and committed to the Angolan unity and the tradition-based consensus decision-making as opposed to the MPLA’s centralized top-down leadership style. The Portuguese
withdrew from Angola in the 1975, ending their colonial rule. Nonetheless rivalry between the major insurgent factions continued and quickly evolved into Angola’s bloody 27 year civil war. Jonas Savimbi would become a major player in the conflict as the new nation soon became a staging ground for Cold War rivalries between
the United States and the Soviet Union. MPLA received various forms of military backing from the Soviet Union and Cuba, while UNITA was provided similar support from the United States and, controversially, apartheid South Africa. The war continued until Jonas Savimbi was killed by government forces in the February 2002.