Angolan leftist and novelist. Born in Benguela to a middle-class family of Portuguese descent, he got to know from his childhood people of all races, as his native city at the time was the most multicultural and integrated in Angola. Influenced as a teenager by the leftist ideas of his journalist uncle, he moved to Lubango, a segregated city, to attend secondary school and was disgusted by the racial intolerance and befriended a leftist priest who taught him about the Cuban Revolution among other things.

In 1958 he moved to Lisbon to study, and became active in "La Casa dos Estudantes do Imperio," a left-leaning student group that organized students from the Portuguese colonies and was generally anti-colonial and anti-Salazar. Pepetela fled Portugal in the early 1960s for Paris, to avoid conscription in the Portuguese Army. In 1963 he left Paris for Algeria, where he joined the MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola). In Algiers he started working for the MPLA Center for Angolan Studies, continuing after it moved to Brazzaville in 1969. After 1969 and into the 1970s he began to take an active part in the armed struggle to free Angola from colonialism.

After the Portuguese Revolution and the independence of Angola in 1975, Pepetela became the Angolan Vice Minister of Education until his resignation in 1982. After he left the government he dedicated himself to writing, mainly historical, satirical, and allegorical novels.

Pepetela has remained a principled leftist and continues to write on social issues and against capitalist exploitation.

The Return of the Water Spirit (1995): 103 pages. Written during the rapidly changing situation in Angola during the 1990's, it uses the "Water Spirit" as a metaphor for the growing corruption of the government and the ruling MPLA (The People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labor Party, which led an armed struggle against Portuguese colonialism from 1961-1974, and has ruled Angola continuously since 1975). A criticism (from the left) of the MPLA (which was avowedly "Marxist-Leninist" until 1991) whose Marxism was superficial and skin deep even in the 1970's as Pepetela puts it, and which simply renounced Marxism as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed. The novel satirizes the opportunists who fill the MPLA's upper-echelons, who were skin-deep leftists before 1991 when it served their interests, and then after were quick to become boisterous supporters of capitalism as well as masters in using their positions to enrich themselves and in the art of corruption in general.