I wonder what people think when the hear the name Samora Machel. For many, the Machel part is easy to link with the late President Mandela’s wife, Gracia Machel. For the greater number, I assume, the name doesn’t evoke any thoughts. There are some however, who might link the name with Mozambique and specifically a turbulent time in Mozambique’s history. Samora Machel was Gracia Machel’s first husband and Mozambique’s first president. This is an attempt at discovering and celebrating who Samora Machel was and answer the question, was he a freedom fighter or nothing more than a terrorist?
Samora Moises Machel, was born in 1933 in a Southern African country called Mozambique, at a time when it was under Portuguese colonial rule. The natives of Mozambique, suffered under colonial rule, pretty much as they did in other parts of Africa and some parts of the world, in some regards worse than even the natives of its neighbour, Zambia. They were treated like commodities, and not like humans, subjected to humiliation, violence and exploitation, some forced to work for peanuts, their land taken from them, some experiencing life in concentration camps and some dying purely because they were black. Mr Machel himself, was not immune to the inhumanity and injustice of colonialism; his own people, forced off their lands by the Portuguese. His great-grandfather, a part of the army that, as part of the Gaza empire, fiercely resisted Portuguese occupation, President Machel was very probably influenced by the stories that were told to him.
Not only were people denied the rights of a citizen, things like religion were also imposed on the people, to an extent that Mr Machel converted to Catholicism in order to write his grade four exams. The Portuguese, provided very few education facilities for the African population and at the end of it all, only three career paths were available to them; you could chose to be a nurse, to become a priest or be a labourer. Mr Machel, chose to be a nurse.
He became involved in politics when he attended a meeting and heard Eduado Mondlane address the group in 1961. A meeting that sparked interest, in him, from the Portuguese Secret Police (PIDE). They interrogated him that year, and in 1963, he was forced to flee via Swaziland to Botswana, after being tipped off to PIDE’s intention to arrest him. He travelled to Tanzania with ANC militants and joined Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, aka The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). In 1970, he was elected the President of FRELIMO, the year after Mondlane was assassinated by a letter bomb, possibly due to internal divisions, or as an attempt by the government at destabilising the movement, the former, stated as being more likely. President Machel believed the latter to be true.
In 1964, FRELIMO launched major military action against the ruling Portuguese and gained popularity among the people as they attempted to instil a sense of worth and a different identity than the one that they held due to colonialism. After the Portuguese Coup of 1974 , Portugal had no choice but to grant independence to Mozambique in 1975, as FRELIMO had no interest in any solutions that meant anything but independence, and was relentless in their pursuit of that cause. FRELIMO, being the major political movement at the time of independence, formed government and Samora Machel became president, a position he would hold for close to eleven years.
The government embarked on ambitious health and social reforms; bringing in a socialist style government (a style they would eventually start to abandon). They had nationalist policy, that might have been milder than Zambia’s, in that they did not nationalise businesses. However, the remaining settlers, understandably so, left the country, and with no qualified personnel to run the different businesses and industries, and with Mozambique experiencing natural disasters, the country plunged into economic crisis.
Civil unrest soon followed with The Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) being formed, most likely from waring factions within FRELIMO and possibly with the help of the Portuguese and Rhodesia. FRELIMO’s hostility towards local traditions and religion, as well as its agricultural policy did not help matters, as it caused the build up of resistance in rural areas and momentarily, measures similar to those used in colonial Mozambique were employed, only inflaming the situation further. Despite his view of African traditions, you see themes central to most African societies flowing through his speeches; those of oneness, and putting the community before oneself, and sharing.
During FRELIMO’s fight against Colonialism, Mr Machel made it clear that colonialism was race-less, and talked of the need to differentiate between friend and foe, regardless of their cover, and saw racism, tribalism and false loyalty, among others as part of the enemy that needed to be fought. The government he led managed to incorporate the different races and tribes that made up Mozambique’s population in their government as well as civil service. He is said to have believed in the use of persuasion and not making administrative decisions, as this was the recipe for dictatorship, and tried to instil a sense of initiate, believing Colonialism, traditions, and superstitions to be crippling to peoples sense of initiate and hence leading to a lack of responsibility.
FRELIMO, not only advocated the right to self govern, but was also very loud in advocating for women’s rights and stated that the fight against colonialism was a fight against exploitation and that the fight would be incomplete if it did not include fighting for women. It is important to note that the government did imprison some of its political opponents, despite Samora Machels’s views on democratic rule, though, it is hard to determine if this was justified by RENAMO’s insurgency or not. Most of those imprisoned were released by 1980
Samora Machel and FRELIMO believed international cooperation was essential to Mozambique’s growth and in line with that, supported the rest of Southern Africa’s struggle for independence and allowed the ANC and ZANU to carry out their operations in Mozambique. They also imposed UN sanctions against the Rhodesian government, to Mozambique’s peril. Destabilisation from RENAMO continued and even got worse after Zimbabwe was granted independence, with increased help from the South African government. In 1984, Mozambique agreed to reduce the number of ANC members who were allowed to operate in the country in exchange for South Africa withdrawing support for RENAMO. It is believed that South Africa’s Aid for RENAMO did not completely stop and the destabilising effects of RENAMO were still present, and would have probably been present without South Africa’s help.
On October 19th, 1986, the plane carrying President Samora Machel from Zambia, back to Mozambique, crushed in South Africa, killing the majority of its passengers, the President, crushed beyond recognition required the use of dental records for identification. The government of South Africa and forces within Mozambique at the time, have been blamed for the accident, with investigations apparently revealing that radar manipulation by South Africa caused the crush. No one has been found responsible for the crush and the then government of South Africa denied any involvement in the incident.
More than being a military commander or head of state, President Samora Machel was husband, a man who loved his wife dearly, a father who is said to have always had time for his children, regardless of what was going on. As for the question of him being a terrorist or a freedom fighter, it depends on which glass you stand behind when you look at the happenings in Mozambique. Throughout history we see war and fighting, for the cause of freedom. The colonial government in Mozambique made life impossible for the people, concentration camps were present, people’s quality of life was poor. It is important to remember the importance of diplomacy, but that just as the Americans fought for their independence, the situation in Mozambique may have warranted the picking up of arms.
Like any other leader, President Machel made mistakes, some tremendous, but the majority of his views, his relationship with his family, and his role in the fight for Southern Africa’s freedom, leave a celebratory trail. I leave you with this quote as we seek solutions for our continent’s and world’s problems
“Leadership is collective and although each member of the leadership has a specific task, there are no hard and fast compartments. The duty of every member is to be concerned with all the work, see that it is carried out and put forward ideas and criticisms. Leadership is collective and responsibility is collective.” ~Samora Moises Machel 1933-1986~
Cheers, D. (1989). Jackson confers with new Mozambique Leader After Funeral of Samora Machel. Jet, (Vol. 71 No. 10), 24-27. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.au
Machel, S. (1981). Mozambique (1st ed.). Harare, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe Pub. House.
Martin, G. (2012). African Political Thought (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mugubane, V. (1997). Gracia Machel. Ebony, (Vol. 52, No. 7), 118-120, 122, 124, 162. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.au
Poddar, P., Patke, R., & Jensen, L. (2008). A historical companion to postcolonial literatures (1st ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.