Reviving the Memory of Eduardo Mondlane in Syracuse

Links between Syracuse and a Mozambican Liberation Leader

From the November-December 2012 PNL #819

by Jose Cossa

In my article in the Post-Standard, published on February 3 of 2012 to commemorate Eduardo Mondlane’s assassination and to bring a wider awareness of his connection to Syracuse, I shared my hope that the longstanding connection between the Syracuse community and the people of Mozambique be brought to the attention of a generation largely unaware of such an important connection. Mondlane served as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University from 1961 to 1963. He is to Mozambicans what King, Jr., is to Americans in the United States. While there may not be exact parallelism in their life trajectory and overall strategies in fighting against injustice—with King resorting to non-armed struggle against the then oppressive regime in the United States and Mondlane to an armed struggle against the then oppressive Portuguese colonial regime in Mozambique—both understood that injustice against black people in Mozambique and the United States, respectively, was injustice against all people; thus, each of them is seen as a symbol of courage and justice.

Eduardo Mondlane was born and raised in 1920 in Nwajahani, district of Mandlakazi in the province of Gaza, in Mozambique. Through the help of Swiss Presbyterian missionaries, working under harsh circumstances, and with his mother’s encouragement and support, he attended schooling in Mozambique, South Africa, Portugal, and the United States. His multi-country education afforded him first-hand experience with the injustice perpetrated by the respective regimes against black people, in particular; on the other hand, this experience along with his interactions with politically conscious individuals in the aforementioned counties contributed to Mondlane’s embarking on a quest to liberate Mozambique from Portuguese colonialism through the founding of Mozambique’s Liberation Front (FRELIMO) in 1962 and the beginning of the liberation struggle in 1964.

Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique.Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique.As a result of Mondlane’s and FRELIMO’s efforts, Mozambique declared its independence from Portugal on June 25 of 1975, three years after I was born. This independence allowed my family to move into the capital city of Maputo and made it possible for me to attend school in institutions that I would have not been able to attend under normal circumstances during colonialism because I was black. Furthermore, attending these once exclusive schools allowed me to enter the University of Eduardo Mondlane, the only university at the time, as a law student. My dissatisfaction with law school  was due to its use of the Portuguese Legal Code and textbooks written by former elite members of the colonial enterprise such as António de Oliveira Salazar and Marcelo Caetano, two key catalysts of Portuguese colonialism. My educational journey was highly inspired by stories about Mondlane’s determination and love for education, which I had heard since I was a child.

In 2006, after many years of study and work in cities that I have loved dearly, I ended up in Syracuse when I accepted a visiting instructor position at Colgate University to teach Comparative and International Education, a platform that also allowed me to expose my students to Mozambique and its greatest hero, Eduardo Mondlane. It was here in Syracuse where my determination to foster the knowledge about Mondlane through writing became manifest, perhaps because I could not bear the disappointment that only a few people in Syracuse knew about him, one of the greatest embodiments of justice and liberation, despite the fact that he had lived here. Albeit the disappointment, it was comforting to learn that the Africa Initiative’s Lecture Series in honor of Mondlane, under which a great figure in African liberation, Amílcar Cabral, came as guest, was  key  in revitalizing the memory of Mondlane’s connection to the university and the community. Nonetheless, it will take a university-wide effort to reiterate the important role that education and the university can play in changing the world through individuals and groups associated with it.

A university can serve as a birthplace of ideas that feed its surrounding community by nurturing the flames of activism or by transferring knowledge that breeds apathy towards the status quo. Today, it is very fashionable in academia to claim militancy for social justice. Yet, claiming social justice does not imply living a social justice lifestyle and, consequently, impacting our community with such lifestyle. We are comfortable talking about social justice and liberation, to some extent and within comfortable philosophical settings, yet we are not bold enough to confront ourselves about how our humane core has been tempered with misconceptions of the essence of justice and, therefore, of liberation. The link between Mondlane, Syracuse University, and the Syracuse community ought to remind us that reclaiming our humane core as educators and citizens is critical in our pursuit of justice.

Moreover, it ought to remind us that the university’s role in its community has an impact that often goes beyond classrooms and lecture halls. In recent months, I have met Syracuse University students not associated with the African and African-American Studies program, whose interest in Mozambique has led two of them to go to Mozambique—one for an internship and the other on a fellowship—and another student-entrepreneur aspires to bring potable water to rural communities in developing countries, starting in Mozambique, by harvesting and purifying rainwater. Surprisingly, none of these students knew about Mondlane, and the knowledge they gained by reading my article in the Post-Standard has fueled their interest to nurture this relationship between the university and the community with Mozambique. To some extent it was as if they had just figured out the spiritual link to their interest in a country they barely knew. In his lifetime, Mondlane had met young American students and faculty, and I am positive that this fueling of the memory of Mondlane on campus and in the community is in line with the work he began in Syracuse during his time here.

My intention in this article is not to downplay the work of the university and civil society to foster justice in Syracuse, but to reiterate the significance of the connection between Syracuse and a larger spectrum of the struggle for justice that results from Mondlane’s sharing of his life with this community and the community’s sharing of its life with this child of the human race who sacrificed his life for the liberation of the oppressed in a continent that continues to be a victim of neo-imperial expeditions. The success of such a unique connection can only be sustained through continuous efforts by the university, in partnership with the city’s leadership, to engage the overall Syracuse community in teachings about this citizen of the world that constitute an unfathomable gift to the community. Perhaps, unlike most small cities, Syracuse has the advantage of being one with ties to this globally impactful figure. Ultimately, I am inspired by the fact that we are a community blessed with Mondlane as a model of activism, the fact that he was flesh and blood, and the fact that he was an individual subjected to the same human limitations as we are.

Jose is a Mozambican scholar, blogger ( and podcaster residing in Syracuse. He holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education and is the author of the book Power, Politics, and Higher Education in South Africa: International Regimes, Local Governments, and Educational Autonomy.