In 2009, I attended a conference in Maputo marking the fortieth anniversary of the death of Eduardo Mondlane, the founding president of Frelimo, Mozambique’s independence movement. I greeted Janet Mondlane, his widow, an American who grew up in Illinois. Eduardo Mondlane Jr., a bank executive in Johannesburg, signed my Portuguese-language edition of his father’s Struggle for Mozambique. I stood in a buffet line with Marcelino dos Santos, the first vice president of independent Mozambique—and among the original Frelimo brass perhaps the only one who still wears shirts with radical-chic wide collars. (I later presented him with an Obama t-shirt.) And I met the Reverend Edward Hawley, who with his bolo tie and gray Willie Nelson braid stuck out in the Maputo crowd. Hawley had been one of Mondlane’s closest friends, and last month I finally got to Denver to interview him. We talked a lot about Mondlane’s years in the U.S.
When Hawley first met Mondlane, in 1951, Hawley was assistant pastor of the Congregationalist Church in Oberlin, not so far from Cleveland, and Mondlane was there to finish up his undergraduate degree. For Mondlane, the road to Ohio had been a long one. He had grown up in the countryside of southern Mozambique, he was one of the rare Mozambicans given the opportunity to obtain a high school degree (from Swiss mission schools), but he had been at Wits University, in Johannesburg, for only a year or so before apartheid authorities revoked his visa. After a short while in Portugal—where his student political activities were viewed with suspicion—he secured a scholarship to Oberlin, a place with a long tradition of racial integration (and co-education, for that matter). Mondlane was already in his 30s as he began his junior year.
Oberlin was surrounded by an ocean of farms. On weekends Mondlane and Hawley would drive the 30 miles or so from Oberlin to Cleveland for a change of pace. Cleveland had Karamu House, one the oldest black stages in the U.S., where they saw an early theatrical adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country. Cleveland had the Indians, too. This was the golden age of Cleveland baseball, the teams of Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Al Rosen, Larry Doby. (Mondlane followed Doby, the first black player in the American League, with particular interest.) In the summertime, Mondlane worked at a cement works in Elyria, one of Cleveland’s industrial suburbs. As some of you know, I got my start as a reporter in Cleveland, in some ways I got to know it better than where I grew up, I adore the place, and I’ve been a booster in the decade since. My thrill that Mondlane got to know Cleveland too, a half century before, may be an entirely personal one. Perhaps the larger point is that Mozambique’s history often feels surprisingly close at hand.
Mondlane met Janet at a Christian student conference. Interracial romance was not unheard of at Oberlin, but the ripples of potential scandal were felt in Mozambique. André-Daniel Clerc, a Swiss missionary who had tutored Mondlane in Mozambique, and to whom Mondlane remained close, flew from Africa to Cleveland to try to convince Mondlane not to marry the American girl. Such a marriage might complicate the mission’s plans for Mondlane. When Mondlane married Janet some years later, Hawley presided over the ceremony.
After their time in Oberlin, Hawley and Mondlane were never far apart. Mondlane moved on to Northwestern for his doctorate (in sociology), and at around the same time Hawley was called to the Warren Avenue Congregational Church in nearby Chicago. A few years later, Mondlane was in Dar es Salaam as head of Frelimo, and Hawley was there as a pastor to the many refugees in Tanzania who had fled white-ruled South Africa and Rhodesia. Among the Mozambicans in Dar there were sharp conflicts—divisions that the Portuguese secret police hoped to exploit. On February 3, 1969, at the home of a friend in Dar es Salaam, Mondlane opened the parcel bomb that killed him, perhaps the victim of Frelimo infighting, perhaps of the Portuguese secret police, perhaps both. Janet was out of the country at the time. Hawley rushed home upon hearing the news to find Mondlane’s daughters playing with his own. The girls already knew.
Hawley led the service for Mondlane at Azania Front Lutheran Church. He reminded the mourners that Mondlane had been a Christian, and though some other revolutionary leaders did not believe the cool-headed academic was fiery enough, that Mondlane was also a warrior. Here is some of what Hawley said:
This strange yet compelling man whom Christians call the Son of God once said, ‘The Kingdom of God comes by violence, and violent men take it by force.’ I do not wish to enter here into the long debates that have surrounded this passage, except to say that there have been many who, like Dr. Mondlane, filled with a burning love for the oppressed whom Jesus loved, and seeing justice long delayed and the cruel yoke harsh on the people, have been willing to go against their natures, to become violent men, and to seek to seize the kingdom by force, trusting in a gracious God to rework the deeds they saw as necessary, into a larger pattern of justice and right.