Samora Machel, The first president of Mozambique remains a central figure of independence. We are going tell you about this African legend considered in his country as father of the nation.

Samora Machel

Mozambique before the Europeans

“(…) the crowd was all dressed with silk and velvet clothes. There were great and well-organized states down to the very last details. There were powerful sovereigns and wealthy industries. They were civilized to the bone! It was the same on the east Coast, like Mozambique for example’ [1]. This is how German historian Leo Frobenius described Mozambique before the European slave trade, based on testimonies at that period. The country was part of the Mwene Mutapa Empire and the important mineral wealth of southern Africa flowed through its port of Solafa to be traded with East Asian and Arab countries. The ancient Mozambicans, very haughty and proud of their civilization, had boats for their international trade.

Illustration of Kongo and Southern Africa at the arrival of Europeans (author unknown)

Mozambican cities will collapse with the arrival of Portuguese slavers. After an absolutely heroic resistance for decades, the country was subjected to the Europeans’ fierce domination. 1,000,000 is the estimated number of Africans who were deported from the territory [2]. After this bloodletting, Mozambique officially became a Portuguese colony in 1891.

The colonial hell

“Blacks in Africa must be run and organized by Europeans (…) and be considered as instruments of production organized or made to be organized by a white-led economy” Marcelo Caetano, Minister of the Colonies and President of the Council of Ministers from Portugal [3].

The colonial philosophy of the Portuguese was different from that of other European nations. The Portuguese, present for 400 years in Africa, considered Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, and Sao Tome as part of their multicontinental state. Refusing to be called colonial power, they did not differ from the inhuman practices of the British, French, Belgians and Germans.

With the help of multinational companies, the Lisbon government deprived Africans of their lands, enslaved them through forced labor, ripped them off through colonial taxes, suppressed those who were reluctant to its rule, renamed places and people in Portuguese, encouraged the immigration of thousands of whites to hold high positions, controlled the movements of Africans on their own territory. An unacceptable system of apartheid was established. In 1950, only 4000 out of 5.7 million Mozambicans had the right to vote.

Portuguese people having a good time on Mozambican beaches while Africans were suffering

Samora Machel, the origins of a commitment

Born in 1933, Samora Moises Machel is the grandson of a follower of Ngungunyane, a historical opponent of the Portuguese. Machel comes from a family of farmers who suffered the colonial segregation laws. Classified as a native, he was educated in a Catholic school and became a nurse in Lourenço Marques (today Maputo), holding one of the few positions opened to Blacks.

He protested against black nurses’ low wages. He was always witnessing Whites taking over the land. His brother went to work in the mines of South Africa where he died. Convinced by anti-colonial ideas, Samora Machel connected with Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo), the independence party founded by Eduardo Mondlane. Watched by the police, he decided to leave the country in 1962 to join the Frelimo into exile in Tanzania, which had been established there under the benevolence of President Nyerere.

Eduardo Mondlane, father of Mozambique’s independence
He is on the right with Samora Machel

The liberation war

After two years of fruitless negotiations with the colonial government, Eduardo Mondlane decided to turn the Frelimo into a powerful armed movement. He was supported by the Soviet Union, China and Cuba, who supplied him with weapons. His men, including Samora Machel, received military training in Algeria. From the neighboring Tanzania, Mondlane launched his armies to northern Mozambique, helped by people revolted by centuries of abuse. The Portuguese responded with unspeakable crimes. Mondlane sent his men in small groups to disperse the enemy forces, took advantage of the monsoon and its mines on the ground, inflicting losses to Europeans demoralized by his guerrilla methods.

Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and President Nyerere in front of Samora Machel
It is a southern African front that allowed Mozambique to gain independence
The crimes of the Portuguese army in Mozambique

Mondlane was killed by a bomb attack plotted by the Portuguese in 1969. Samora Machel took the lead of the Frelimo and stood against the Portuguese counter-attacks. For 4 years, with great intelligence and heavy armament, he continued the offensive and led his troops further south. The Frelimo continued its irresistible progress and crossed the Zambezi River, putting the Portuguese in panic.

In 1974, the white military exhausted by the colonial wars in Africa, overthrew the dictatorial regime of President Salazar in Lisbon during the carnation revolution. Machel negotiated independence and the departure of the strong white minority. From Tanzania, he entered the country and crossed it from north to south in jubilation. After five centuries of occupation, the Mozambicans regained freedom.

Machel, the communist and pan-Africanist president

Having a communist ideology that he built up with Mondlane and his foreign allies, President Samora Machel nationalized the economy, gave back the land to Black people. Healthcare became free and education was developped. Blacks came out of the ghettos to occupy the downtown apartments deserted by the Portuguese. As he was charismatic, the president was a gifted orator and endowed with a smile, charm, humor and unquestioned shrewdness. Machel captivated his country and Africa. But he also knew how to be ruthless by killing thousands of people he considered as traitors to the nation.

Together with Tanzania and Zambia, Mozambique formed the famous front line, which supported the ANC, Zimbabwean ZANU and Namibian SWAPO. The aim was to rid southern Africa of English and Dutch colonial powers. Machel attracted the wrath of Whites. They set up a movement, the Renamo, made up of fallen Portuguese and the Mozambican enemies of Frelimo. War broke out between Renamo and Frelimo. Machel then signed a non-aggression agreement with South Africa. He gave up on supporting the ANC in exchange for the government of apartheid to end its support to Renamo.

Machel with Nyerere, Fidel Castro, South Africa’s icon Oliver Tambo, and Thomas Sankara
Nujoma from Namibia, Kaunda, Machel, Nyerere, Mugabe and Dos Santos
It is this union that made apartheid and colonialism in southern Africa collapse

Suspicious death

Samora Machel’s deep hostility towards racist governments, the example of an agrarian reform and a communist ideology close to capitalist South Africa, maintained the apartheid government’s enmity towards him. Samora Machel was taking part in a meeting in Zambia to pressure Mobutu and Malawian President Kamuzu Banda to stop supporting apartheid and its local allies. On the way back, the president’s plane crashed in the South African airspace. That was on October 19, 1986. He died at 53 years old. Although there has been no certainty so far, many believe that Dutch colonizers would have a hand in that crash.

Samora Machel’s legacy

Statue of Samora Machel at Independence Square in Maputo
(CNS photo/Antonio Silva, EPA)

The war between Frelimo and Renamo continued until 1992, killing nearly 1 million people. The end of the conflict coincided with the end of the apartheid regime. Frelimo, which has won all presidential elections since independence, still runs the country. Racist regimes in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia have fallen politically. The image of Samora Machel is that of a charismatic man, a Pan-Africanist, sincerely anti-colonialist, against social injustice, against tribalism. He is with Eduardo Mondlane the father of the Mozambican nation and remains one of the greatest figures of Africa’s independence.


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