Angola: Maria de Jesus Haller

I was standing barefoot in the warm African earth and my mother said to me, 'This land is ours, go tell the world that this land is ours’."

— Maria de Jesus Haller

The first woman ambassador from Angola, Maria de Jesus Haller, was born in 1923 to a 12-year-old Angolan mother. Her father, the Portuguese owner of the plantation, sent her to Portugal at the age of three. Twelve years later a short-lived but decisive reunion with her mother provided the incentive for her political commitment. She became a teacher, then a journalist fighting racism and discrimination. Her years of activism in the Angolan liberation movement earned her the post of ambassador to Sweden, soon after her country’s independence.

Angolan political activist Maria de Jesus Haller is a slight and soft-mannered woman. But when she speaks, everybody listens. In fact, in 1974 whilst attending a United Nations conference in Hungary she interrupted the conference and asked the permission to have the floor. She was then the representative of the Mpla, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, dedicated to freeing Angola from Portuguese domination. At the time, however, liberation movements such as the Mpla were admitted to United Nations conferences only as observers and could not take an active role in debates. Maria de Jesus Haller changed that. “That was my moment of glory,” she says, “all the press was on me. Angola had never been mentioned as much as it was that day.” Today, after two decades of conflict, Angola is finally at peace. The brutal colonial past, however, is not easily forgotten. “The tragedy with colonialism is the question of dignity. We were told we were good for nothing. We longed for dignity, not only bread to feed ourselves.” Maria de Jesus was separated from her mother at the age of three and sent to Portugal for schooling. She returned many years later, an adolescent imbued with European prejudice. “My mother spoke to me in her native tongue and I said I did not speak that dog’s language. It is so stupid that one says things one does not feel inside, only repeating what others have said. Then my mother told me that my father had taught me many things, but he had left out the most essential part, which is, this land is ours.” And Maria's lifelong commitment began: to tell the world, “this land is ours". At the age of 80, with five decades of political activism behind her, Maria de Jesus Haller still believes that hope for a better future lies with the people. “What Africa has is the courage of its people, it is extraordinary,” she says.

Movimento Popular de Libertação (second n with tilde) de Angola (Mpla) Union of Angolan Writers