President Samora Machel was not in a hurry to get on the plane that was waiting to take him home from Zambia. He kept his friends and comrades waiting — because he wanted to sing along with the choir that came to say farewell.
Samora Machel, the President of Mozambique never got home. He and thirty three other people died when their plane crashed into the Lebombo Mountains inside South Africa.
Who was this leader that loved to sing and loved to laugh? Where did he come from and what did he believe in? Why was he loved so deeply by his people?
FROM A FARMING FAMILY
Samora Moises Machel was born on September 29, 1933 in the village of Chilembe in southern Mozambique. He came from a poor farming family who lived off the land.
At that time, and for a long time before that, Mozambique was ruled by Portugal. The Portuguese were cruel masters. They took everything they could from Mozambique and gave nothing back.
As a young child, Samora Machel heard how his grandparents and great-grandparents had fought against their Portuguese masters. His grandfather fought in the army of Magwegwane Khosa against Portugal in the 1890’s.
Samora Machel’s family, like thousands of other families, did not have food to eat. His older brother was forced to work as contract worker in the gold mines of South Africa. His brother did not come back after one contract. He was killed in an accident in a gold mine.
A CLEVER CHILD
The young Samora wanted an education very much. There was only one place where he could get this — at the Roman Catholic mission schools. Life at the mission school was not very nice. When the children were not in the classroom, they had to work in the fields. Some of the priests were very cruel. Samora Machel remembered later in life that “white priests used to say that God was white and that black people did not go to heaven when they died.”
Many of the priests did not believe that blacks and whites were equal. But even they had to say that the young Samora was a clever child. When he finished six years of primary school, they said he should study to become a priest. He refused and got a job instead.
A JOB AT THE HOSPITAL
As a young man, Samora Machel worked in the day and used his wages to go to night school. At night school he studied to become a nurse. That was the best job a young African could hope to do. After he finished the nursing course, he went to work at a hospital in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.
At the hospital he got less pay than the white nurses — for the same work. He also saw how much better white patients were treated. Later in life he told a newspaper in England that “in Mozambique the rich man’s dog got more health care than the workers who made the rich man rich.”
THE BIRTH OF FRELIMO
In 1960 Samora Machel met a man by the name of Dr Eduardo Chivambu Mondlane. The two men became close friends. They found that they shared the same dream. They wanted freedom for their people. They wanted a new Mozambique where people would not go hungry.
In June 1962 many of the small groups who were fighting for freedom in Mozambique joined together and FRELIMO was born. Its first president was Dr Eduardo Mondlane.
THE ARMED STRUGGLE
Soon after FRELIMO was born, Samora Machel left Mozambique for the FRELIMO headquarters in Dar es Salaam, the capital city of Tanzania. Samora Machel was sent for military training.
In 1964 Frelimo began the armed struggle against the Portuguese in Mozambique. 250 FRELIMO soldiers crossed the Rovuma River into northern Mozambique. Samora Machel was the leader of these men. He shared their hardships and dangers.
WORKING WITH THE PEOPLE
The soldiers of FRELIMO fought well. Soon a large part of the countryside in Mozambique was in the hands of FRELIMO. Samora Machel and his comrades worked with the people in the parts of Mozambique that were free.
In the towns they worked with the people to start people’s committees. On the farms they worked with the people to start co-operatives where the people farmed together. FRELIMO began learning groups where people learned to read and write. And they built clinics and trained people in health care.
BATTLES INSIDE FRELIMO
Samora Machel had to fight battles inside FRELIMO. He fought against those who wanted to sign an agreement with Portugal. He also fought against those who believed in tribalism. He said: “Our struggle killed tribalism. We killed the tribe to give birth to the nation.”
A man by the name of Alfonso Dhlakama was one of those who was kicked out of FRELIMO. He was kicked out because of corruption. Later, in October 1976, Dhlakama started the MNR — with the help of the old Rhodesian government and some rich whites who left Mozambique after independence. The MNR, or Renamo, has killed, raped and robbed the people of Mozambique ever since.
In February 1969, Mondlane was killed by a letter bomb from the enemies of FRELIMO. Two months later FRELIMO elected Machel and two other comrades, Uria Simango and Marcelino dos Santos as the leaders of FRELIMO. In 1970 Samora Machel was elected president of FRELIMO.
A NEW GOVERNMENT IN PORTUGAL
The Portuguese army was not strong enough to win the war against FRELIMO. Portugal is one of the poorest and smallest countries in Europe. They were not only fighting the people of Mozambique. They were fighting the people of Angola as well.
The people in Portugal were tired of the war. They were also tired of their leader, Salazar. The people in Portugal, like the people of Mozambique and Angola, wanted a government that was for the people — and not against the people.
On 24 April 1974 some officers in the Portuguese army threw Salazar out and took over the government in Portugal. They said that the people of Portugal would have a democratic government. And they gave the people of Mozambique and Angola their freedom.
THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF MOZAMBIQUE
Samora Machel left Tanzania and went home to a free Mozambique. But he did not go straight to Maputo. He travelled all around Mozambique first, talking to the people.
On 24 June FRELIMO had a big meeting at the football stadium in Maputo to talk about their freedom. Samora Machel spoke at that meeting. He told the people that their country would now be called the People’s Republic of Mozambique. He said that all the land, businesses, schools and hospitals now belonged to the people of Mozambique.
That night the central committee of Frelimo chose him as the country’s first president.
The people of Mozambique had won their freedom from Portugal. But their struggle was not yet finished. As President Machel told his people time and time again: “Aluta continua — the struggle continues.”
There were many problems after independence. Many white people left the country. The country was left with few doctors, dentists, teachers, mechanics and other skilled people. Very few people in Mozambique could read and write.
President Machel’s people also suffered because of their wish to help the people in Zimbabwe and in South Africa win their freedom. In the first years after independence, President Machel let the ZANLA army of Robert Mugabe use Mozambique as a base. The people of Mozambique paid the price. The soldiers of Ian Smith attacked and bombed Mozambique time and time again.
After the people of Zimbabwe won their freedom, President Machel tried to help the ANC in their struggle in South Africa. The people of Mozambique paid the price again. The South African government began helping the MNR in their cruel war against the people of Mozambique.
NO HATE, NO BITTERNESS
The people of Mozambique had suffered in the war and in the years after independence. But President Machel and his people were not full of hate and bitterness. They were more interested in building a new nation rather than settling old scores.
They did not kill those who had helped the Portuguese in the war. Some were sent to special camps for “re- education”. But for most, President Machel had a different kind of punishment. The names and photographs of the “comprometidos” were put on the walls of government offices and factories for two years. President Machel said that these people must not be punished in any other way.
President Machel and his people spent many years fighting the white people from Portugal. But he did not hate white people. He chose many white people to work in his new government. President Samora Machel often said: “I did not fight the Portuguese so black racists could take over from white racists.”
A TRUE LEADER OF THE PEOPLE
Machel was a true leader of his people. He was not scared to say when he made a mistake. He said that he made two mistakes after independence. His first mistake was not trying hard enough to ask the whites to stay in Mozambique. And his second mistake was giving the factories and farms to the people of Mozambique — before they had the skills to run them.
President Machel was also a true leader in another way. When members of his government stole and cheated, he did not look the other way. When his army or police tortured people, he did not try to protect them.
In 1981 President Machel called his people to Independence Square. He told them that members of the army, police and security police were guilty of torturing people, rape and robbery. He told the people to arrest any policeman or soldier if they caught them in a criminal act.
At the meeting he told his people: “Beatings and torture are not allowed in Mozambique. We don’t want a secret police — we don’t need it.” Then he called members of his government and army on to the stage and told them to answer to the people for their crimes.
How many leaders do we know that have done the same? Yes, the smiling President who loved to sing was a special man, a great leader and a true son of Africa.