Portrait of Samora Machel Who Led the Nation of Mozambique to National Independence From Portuguese Colonialism
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By President Thabo Mbeki,
Republic of South Africa
Courtesy of ANC Today
October 13, 2006
On October 19, at Mbuzini in Mpumalanga, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and I will lead a solemn ceremony to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the tragic death of the first President of independent Mozambique, Samora Moises Machel, in a plane crash at Mbuzini. With us will be Mrs Graça Machel, her children with Samora Machel, and other members of the Machel family.
Today it seems such a long time ago that we had the privilege to sit with Samora Machel, to hear him speak, to draw inspiration from his seemingly inexhaustible energy, his effervescence and optimism, his confidence that Mozambique, South Africa and Africa would overcome their problems, in the same way that the great FRELIMO liberation movement he led had, through struggle, ended 500 years of Portuguese colonisation of Mozambique.
And yet as we recall the memory of Samora Machel two decades after he died, the images of the living Samora flash in the mind, occasionally evoking an intense feeling that we can actually still see this great hero of the people of Mozambique and Africa and that we are indeed about to hear his voice once again.
It is during such moments that we come to understand the enormous and indelible impact that Samora Machel made on us as individuals, on our movement and struggle, and on the future of our country. It is at such moments that we come to understand that Samora Machel became part of us, our own national hero that cannot be separated from all our other national heroes and heroines.
The terrible news broke upon the world and us on October 20, 1986 that the plane carrying Samora Machel had crashed on South African territory the previous night, killing him and 34 other people, including the Soviet crew that flew the fated plane. And as we grieved, we asked a question that has still not been answered - was the apartheid regime responsible for the tragic deaths at Mbuzini!
Immediately after the deaths at Mbuzini, the President of the ANC, the late O. R. Tambo, sent a Message of Condolences to the Central Committee of FRELIMO, which fully expressed the feelings of our movement and our struggling people, saying:
“The tragedy that has befallen the people of Mozambique is without parallel in the history of the independent Africa. It is a tragedy that has shocked and stunned progressive mankind. It is a staggering blow to African people and especially to the people of southern Africa, a blow that is felt most intensely by the African National Congress and the entire oppressed and democratic people of South Africa, a tragedy they can never forget.
“Our leader, comrade-in-arms, and brother, Samora Moises Machel, President and Marshal of the People's Republic of Mozambique, President of the FRELIMO Party, one of the most outstanding leaders of our continent, one of its best brains, an unsurpassed fighter who fought to turn Southern Africa into a liberated zone of humanity, this great fighter has been killed by the only enemy who stands to gain by his death, the apartheid regime of Pretoria and its agents.
“President Machel fell in the cause of service to mankind. He was accompanied to his death by his great countrymen and by nationals of countries involved in the struggle against apartheid South Africa. On behalf of the African National Congress, the masses of South Africa, and on my own behalf, I send heartfelt condolences to the Mozambican nation, Graça Machel, and the children, as well as to the bereaved families of the deceased. The Mozambican people will yet again rise to the challenge of the hour, and use this great tragedy to execute a great leap forward. A Luta Continua; Venceremos.”
Even twenty years after the event, as we read this message from Oliver Tambo, we feel moved once more to cry out in pain, which, still, we feel with undiminished intensity, and recall the memory of our leader, comrade-in-arms, and brother, one of the most outstanding leaders of our continent, one of its best brains, an unsurpassed fighter who fought for the liberation of all the peoples of Africa, including and especially our own.
In 1981 the apartheid armed forces invaded Mozambique and killed members and cadres of the ANC then living temporarily in Matola on the outskirts of Maputo. This act of aggression constituted part of the offensive of the oppressor regime in Pretoria directed against both liberated Mozambique and our movement.
Correctly it saw free Mozambique, led by Samora Machel, and the ANC, led by Oliver Tambo, as inseparable comrades-in-arms committed to act together to achieve the liberation of our people and therefore the final liquidation of the system of colonialism and white minority domination on our continent. To save itself from destruction, it was determined to fight and defeat both, with no holds barred.
Already in February 1980, the Secretary General of the ANC, the late Alfred Nzo, had issued a statement headed “Hands off Mozambique!”, in which he said:
“Recent events have made it abundantly clear that the apartheid regime of South Africa is preparing for renewed attacks against the frontline states. For this purpose all manner of deceptive fabrications have been concocted and broadcast to the world seeking to justify these impending acts of aggression.
“Over the last few days the Pretoria regime has put out two such fabrications. The first was that it had captured a cache of arms in the northern part of the South African province of Natal close to the border with Mozambique. The second was that some ten guerrillas had robbed and burnt down a shop in the same area and kidnapped the owner for military training...
“The National Executive Committee of the ANC calls on the world community urgently to launch a vigorous campaign around the important watchwords - 'HANDS OFF MOZAMBIQUE'. We further call on the world community to give maximum assistance to the ANC for us to discharge our responsibilities, in the interests of international peace and security and the liberty of our people.”
However, regardless of anything the international community did to respond to this urgent call, the apartheid regime was not about to give up its offensive against its common enemies, independent Mozambique and the African National Congress. That is why it carried out a massacre in Matola in 1981.
A year later in 1982, Oliver Tambo came to Mozambique to participate in activities organised to mark the first anniversary of the Matola Massacre. Speaking at a Frelimo Rally at Bairro de Liberdade, Maputo, he said:
“We are here today because, exactly a year ago this day, at Praça de Independencia in Maputo, the celebrated Leader and Commander of the heroic Mozambican people, Comrade President Samora Machel, responded to the Matola raid by summoning his people back to the war trenches they had known since September 25, 1964; back into battle, for the defence of their motherland, their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, their national dignity; for the defence of the gains of the Mozambican revolution - the gains of the African revolution; for the defence of their internationalist essence and their socialist future - a future of which the victory of the struggle led by the ANC and SWAPO against the Pretoria fascists is an integral part.
“And we now know that the Mozambican people, from the Rovuma to the Maputo rallied to FRELIMO's call with their knobkerries, pangas and other weapons. When the raiders reappeared at Ponto d'Oro, the people plunged their pickaxes into the skulls of the fascist intruders.
“Your response - the response of a nation forged in the furious furnaces of two brutal wars - had a dynamising impact throughout southern Africa, and throughout the continent. It was an act of mobilisation of the international progressive forces for resolute struggle against apartheid colonialism and fascism.
“You riveted the 35 million people of Mozambique and South Africa together and joined them in solid unity with the peoples of the rest of the region in their determination to rid our continent of this painful and dangerous plague.”
This message of defiance did not sit well with the captains of apartheid. They decided to intensify the pressure against liberated Mozambique, especially by ensuring that RENAMO intensified its military offensive with the intention truly to bring liberated Mozambique to its knees.
In the end, Samora Machel, on behalf of the government and people of Mozambique, had to accept and sign the Nkomati Accord in March 1984, to bring peace to the Mozambican people and defend the independence of Mozambique.
In return for the promise to call of its dogs of war, which it did not keep, the apartheid regime demanded its pound of flesh - the expulsion of the ANC from Mozambique and the termination of the comradeship and friendship between FRELIMO and the ANC, between the peoples of Mozambique and South Africa, between Samora Machel and Oliver Tambo.
When the day came when Samora Machel had to explain to Oliver Tambo what the Nkomati Accord meant to the ANC, he could not bring himself to do it. His revolutionary morality and conscience would not allow him to tell the story that in order to protect our liberated zone, Mozambique, saving it from total destruction, he had had to agree that our combined forces, liberated Mozambique and the ANC, had to retreat. He broke down and wept the bitter tears of arrogant humiliation by a criminal racist regime.
He was obliged to ask somebody else, his comrade, Mariano Matsinha, to break the news to his other comrade, brother and friend, Oliver Tambo, that liberated Mozambique had had to take on the desperately unhappy responsibility to ensure that the ANC closes down its Mozambique front, thus significantly reducing its capacity further to intensify its offensive against the common enemy of the peoples of Mozambique, South Africa and Africa, the apartheid regime.
But first among us, Oliver Tambo knew that the combined retreat of free Mozambique and the ANC was temporary. He knew, as he said at Bairro de Liberdade in Maputo, that by his actions, Samora Machel had “riveted the 35 million people of Mozambique and South Africa together and joined them in solid unity with the peoples of the rest of the region.”
In 1976 FRELIMO and the Government of Mozambique conducted a determined campaign to mobilise the Mozambican people to support the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe. During this campaign, Samora Machel asked Oliver Tambo to visit Xai Xai, the capital of Gaza Province, to see his father who had expressed a desire to meet President Tambo.
This was true. But in reality Samora Machel wanted Oliver Tambo to visit Gaza to persuade the population of this Province also to support the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe, prepared to withstand the inevitable violent retaliatory onslaught that would be launched by the forces of the Rhodesian Smith regime.
Samora Machel asked Oliver Tambo to go to Gaza because the population of this Province of Mozambique, whose male population had been working on the South African mines and farms for many decades already, saw themselves as members and supporters of the ANC rather than FRELIMO. Thus they would sooner take their direction from the ANC rather than FRELIMO. They saw their own and most urgent task as being the liberation of South Africa, accepting that the rest of the country could focus on Zimbabwe.
Oliver Tambo spent many days travelling throughout Gaza, communicating the message to the people that the ANC and FRELIMO were completely at one in identifying the liberation of Zimbabwe as our common, principal and immediate strategic task. The peoples of Mozambique and South Africa were indeed riveted together and joined in solid unity with the peoples of the rest of the region.
On October 19, free Mozambique and free South Africa will convene at Mbuzini in Mpumalanga to pay tribute to a beloved son of the Mozambican people, a leader and hero of both the Mozambican and South African people, on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of his tragic death.
In the 1987 January 8th Statement of our movement, when we celebrated our 75th anniversary, Oliver Tambo said:
“The late President of the People's Republic of Mozambique, Samora Moises Machel, and others who have been murdered by the Pretoria regime and its agents, will forever remain examples of that steadfast refusal of the peoples of our region to surrender to racial and colonial domination, fascist tyranny and state terrorism.
“Samora Machel was a towering giant of the African Revolution. He dedicated his life to our own liberation. His ideas and his deeds are a material force in the struggle for our emancipation. The blood he shed on our soil is and will forever be a fountain of freedom for all our people. On this historic day we make an undertaking to the brother people of Mozambique and our entire region that, at Mbuzini, where the fellow-combatant, Samora Machel, lost his life, we shall erect a monument that will symbolise the common suffering of the people of Southern Africa, a tribute to their heroism, and a solemn affirmation that we share a common destiny of liberty, peace and social progress.”
On October 19, at Mbuzini, we will, together with the leaders of the sister people of Mozambique, to whom we are riveted by unbreakable steel bands of comradeship, friendship and solidarity, formally dedicate the monument that will symbolise the common suffering of the people of Southern Africa, a tribute to their heroism and a solemn affirmation that we share a common destiny of liberty, peace and social progress, of which Oliver Tambo spoke almost 20 years ago.