The Life Of Samora Machel: A Military Genius And Pan-Africanist


Samora Moises Machel was born on September 29, 1933 in the village of Madragoa modern-day Chilemebene in Gaza Province, Mozambique, to a farming family. His father was a successful farmer who owned four plows and a herd of 400 cattle by 1940. He had his elementary education in his village and was sent to a school run by Catholic missionaries who taught Portuguese and culture in Zonguene in 1942. Although having completed the fourth grade he could not complete his secondary education but had the required certificate to train as nurse anywhere in the Portuguese colonies.

Machel pursued nursing in the capital city of Lourenco Marques, today’s Maputo, in 1954. His brother who sponsored his education was killed in a mining accident and Samora was faced with the prospect of being unable to complete his training. Luckily, he got a job working as an aide in Miguel Bombarda Hospital where he was training and earned enough to take him through night education. He worked at Miguel Bombarda till he left the country to join the Mozambican nationalist struggle in Tanzania.

His decision to leave the Lourenco Marques was informed when he was warned by Joao Ferreira, the hospital’s pharmaceutical representative, that he was been watched by the Portuguese Political Police for his activism against the underpayment of black nurses. He slipped to Dar es Salaam via Swaziland, South Africa and Botswana to join Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique; FRELIMO (Liberation Front of Mozambique).
In Tanzania, he was put in charge of FRELIMO’s training camp at Kongwa after he volunteered for military services and going under guerilla training in Algeria. Machel soon rose to prominence after FRELIMO launched the independence war on September 25 1964. He climbed ranks of the guerilla army and became commander after the death of its first commander; Filipe Samuel Magaia in October 1966.

After the assassination of FRELIMO’s founder and first president; Eduardo Mondlane by a parcel bomb on February 3 1969. His deputy, Rev. Uria Simango was expected to takeover but instead the FRELIMO Executive Committee appointed a presidential triumvirate of Simango, Machel and a veteran poet; Marcelino dos Santos. Simango was ousted from the liberation front after he denounced the rest of FRELIMO’s leaders in the “Gloomy Situation in FRELIMO” pamphlet. This led to Machel being elected as FRELIMO’s president with dos Santos as his deputy.

Samora Machel identified himself the Marxism-Leninism ideology and under his leadership, FRELIMO evolved from a guerilla front to a more organized party with Marxist tenets becoming central to it.

General Kaulza de Arriaga the Portuguese army in Mozambique commander launched the largest ever Portugal colonial wars, Operation Gordian Knot, in a bid to eliminate FRELIMO within a few months. However Machel geniuses arose to the challenge as he guided FRELIMO army in a way which put fear in the hearts of white settlers in Mozambique. Portuguese soldiers tired of losing wars in Africa overthrew Prime Minister; Marcelo Caetano in Lisbon on April 25 1974. The Armed Forces Movement (MFA) took control of Portugal within a day.

General Antonio de Spinola who had been commander of Portuguese forces in Guinea-Bissau and was believed to have spearheaded the assassination of the nationalist leader; Amilcar Cabral, was allowed by the MFA to be post-coup president. He had no intention of letting Angola and Mozambique go and fantasied on a Lusophone commonwealth run from Lisbon and wanted a referendum on independence. Machel rejected these plan with a classic reply “You don’t ask a slave if he wants to be free, particularly when he is already in revolt, a much less if you happen to be a slave owner.”

Preliminary discussions between FRELIMO and the new Portuguese government held in June 1974 in Lusaka prove futile as it was apparent that the Portuguese foreign minister and Socialist Party leader; Mario Soares had no negotiation power. Aquino de Braganca an advisor to Machel was sent to Lisbon to inquire who actually held political power in Portugal and the answer was the MFA leadership particular colonel Ernesto Melo Antunes. Machel however refused a truce the Portuguese wanted as long as there were no actual commitment from them on Mozambique’s independence. FRELIMO continued to stomp on an already trodden Portuguese army.

The MFA finally had serious sittings with FRELIMO and an agreement was signed on September 7 1974 with constituted of a full transfer of power to FRELIMO with an independence day slated on June 25 1975. A transnational government was set up with ministers from appointed by both FRELIMO and Portugal headed by FRELIMO’s Joaquim Chissano as Prime Minister.

Machel finally returned home and addressed rallies in all major population centers in Mozambique in a meeting with FRELIMO Central Committee at a beach resort of Tofo in Inhambane Province, Mozambique first constitution was drawn and it provided the outline of the one-party socialist state FRELIMO intended to establish. FRELIMO was made the constitutional leading force in Mozambique and it was stipulated that the president of FRELIMO would automatically be president of Mozambique.

On June 25 1975, Machel proclaimed “the total and complete independence of Mozambique and its constitution into the People’s Republic of Mozambique. This People’s Republic he said “would be a state of People’s Democracy, in which under the leadership of worker-peasant alliance all patriotic strata commit themselves to the destruction of the sequels of colonialism, and to annihilate the system of exploitation of man by man”.

In Machel eleventh year as president, on October 19 1986, returning from a summit in Mbala, Zambia to put pressure on Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, over his support for the Angolan opposition movement UNITA. The aircraft carrying Machel crashed into a hill side at Mbuzini in South Africa killing Machel and 33 others. Numerous conspiracy theories were made concerning Machel’s demise with the official investigation concluding the crash as a result of piloting errors.

Machel state funeral was held in Maputo nine days after his demise. It was attended by numerous political leaders and notable personalities form Africa and the Diaspora , including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania , Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Heidar Aliyev and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Samora Moises Machel was buried in a star-shaped crypt at Mozambican Heroes’ Square, a traffic junction in Maputo.

Fun fact: Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela married Samora Machel widow making her the first ever woman to be first lady of two countries.


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