Book Reviews

Book Review | Sita Valles: A Revolutionary Until Death | Leonor Figueiredo

Book Review | Sita Valles: A Revolutionary Until Death | Leonor Figueiredo

Revolution Swallows the Best: Sita Valles

Pogoat: This is a true story, a story about Sita.

TJB: ahh…

Pogoat: Don’t say anything, just listen to my note. Sita, a beautiful and charming young woman, born to an Indian couple living in Angola in 1951. Even though she came from a prosperous family, she stood against the Portuguese colonizers of Angola and sympathized with the Angolan people. After her 19th birthday in 1971, Sita went on to Lisbon to study medicine, got involved with the PCP (Portuguese Communist Party), and became part of the network of Communist militants in the student’s wing of the PCP. She rose to become 2nd in command in Portuguese Communist Student Union. Sita even made trips to Moscow for the communist youth congress where she represented the PCP. She was deeply involved in the Carnation Revolution that overthrew the Salazar dictatorship in colonial Portugal.

TJB: I’m all ears. I never heard of any other Indian who’s gone to study medicine abroad and then joined politics. And that too, such radical politics.

Pogoat: Yeah, and you would expect Sita with all this success, to settle in Portugal. But Sita felt that she was Angolan, an African by heart. Sita was 24yrs old when she returned to Angola to help with the on-going civil war and joined the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola). There she worked in the Intellectual’s Committee of the Department of Organization of the Masses. Sita also fell in love in Angola and was blessed with a son she called ‘Che’. Sita was a communist hardliner, and because of this, she was soon expelled from the government. Sita was then accused of an alleged coup and was later executed. All this happened while Sita was just 26 years old.

TJB: Ha! This time I read the book before you. I couldn’t wait for your Gyan, this book just drew me in. Most people would probably know about Castro or Che, but on the other hand, nobody really knows about Sita Valles. Surprisingly, there is hardly any literature or information available about Sita Valles and nothing about her book in English. Whatever little I could find was about the book was all in Portuguese. I think it’s tough for a patriarchal society to digest the ferociously strong and rebellious image of a woman. Primarily because she was too radical for mainstream idolization. Sita was said to be:

Beautiful, elegant and intelligent communist of Goan origin- a Goan-Portuguese woman with an African heart.

TJB: And from the book, you can tell that she was liberal, had many relationships. It’s said that her critics thought of her as seductive, reckless and ambitious. I found her honest, energetic and a great organizer of anything that the revolution needed. I also found Sita so very different from other real-life women stories I’ve read. In Sita, there is no sense of conformity to the idol image that the society has created of a woman; she seemed to be uncolored by these pre-conceived notions. However, I can’t get over the violence in the opening lines.

It is said that Sita Valles was shot at five in the morning on 1 August 1977  

In another version of her death, it is assumed that after two months of captivity (being tortured and raped by the political police), Sita was shot in the vagina after being shot in the head.

Pogoat: The Angolan government wanted to set an example here, warning women of the fate that lies in their path if they chose to fight for their rights. Sita was a very vocal critic of the new Angolan Government led by President Neto. Sita’s sister in law, Ana narrates how Sita was outraged seeing all the Portuguese colonial houses were occupied by high ranking Angolan officers. The poor people were chased away, left alone to deal with starvation and social collapse.

TJB: Yeah, I couldn’t believe the stuff that she did. Especially towards the end, even when she knew that the government was narrowing down on her and her partner, she just couldn’t lay low. But I guess her belief in her ideology was so strong that it overshadowed everything else. Once when Sita saw the Chief of Prisons- Carlos Jorge in hospital, Sita called out and directly accused him of ‘arresting and mistreating young students”.

Pogoat: I know she’s not perfect, and these were the cold war days. Angola was caught in the middle of the Americans, Cubans, Russians, Portuguese Communists, and South Africans, all who wanted in on Angola’s oil and diamonds. As a woman of Goan origin in Africa, fighting for the freedom and rights of the poor, she hardly stood a chance.

The Chief of Prisons- Carlos Jorge began to shout against Sita: ‘I won’t take this from a foreigner!’

TJB: With Sita, I feel that history has not been kind to her. Not directly, but there is some sort of indirect references that she led her own family into despair. Her older brother Aldemar Valles was arrested and shot without a trial, just because he was Sita’s brother. Her husband Jose Van-Dunem, co-accused was shot alongside her. Her parents never recovered from this grief, Sita’s son was only 3 months old, it is also rumored that Sita was pregnant at the time of her execution.

Pogoat: I feel what you’re saying, and your right, stuff like this can’t be segregated in shades of black, white or grey. Sita didn’t feel the need to be a victim to fight for freedom. Her solidarity extended beyond her family. I like how the book gives us different perspectives, never settling one definitive answer.

Portuguese journalist Moutinho Pereira who was working at the time for the Angolan government in the Department of Information and Propaganda respected Sita for the total devotion she gave to her cause, but in truth, Moutinho believed Sita wanted to see him dead. He thought that Sita was working for USSR, and the Portuguese Communist Party knew about it. She was sent to remove the head of the Angolan government- President Neto.   

TJB: As Leonor Figueiredo says in the book: “Revolution swallows the best.”

Pogoat: Till today, Sita’s family has no official confirmation on anything. This book has been put together by Leonor Figueiredo, who was born in Portugal but grew up in Angola. She has been a journalist for more than 30 years, working for newspapers, magazines and news agencies.

TJB: And I love how a deep friendship inspired this book. Sita’s close friend during her time in the Portuguese Communist Student Union- Zita Seabra requested Leonor to tell Sita’s story to the world.

About Zita Seabra (Source – Wikipedia)

As a member of the Communist Party, Zita was elected to and served in the Portuguese parliament, representing Lisbon and Aveiro between 1980 and 1987. She abandoned the Communist Party shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1989 she traveled to Russia to cover its first free elections for the Expresso newspaper. During the visit, she was struck by the contrast between what she had read about the country in its propaganda as a workers’ paradise and what she observed.

Pogoat: With the violence that followed, the book indicated how the Government used this as an excuse to crush all opposition. With the history of despair in Angola that followed after 1977, it still remains a polarising topic in local discourse.

TJB: We know is that Sita was a strong-headed woman with unwavering conviction. Her defiance even at the face of death is a valid proof of that. Shot once in each limb, about to receive the final blow, she asked her executioners to not blindfold her and looked her shooter in the eye whilst he pulled the trigger. Sita was a true revolutionary, a woman who devoted her life to the revolution in Angola and in Portugal.

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Book Review Sita Valles

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