In-depth: Why Zimbabwe still loves Samora Machel

By Political Writer

Zimbabwe is set to honour the late Mozambican President and liberation icon, Samora Machel, again.

Per reports, visiting Mozambican leader Filipe Nyusi will preside over a ceremony to signal commencement of the construction of a monument in honour of Machel at the Museum of African Liberation being constructed in Harare, near the National Heroes Acre.

This latest honour typifies why Machel is among the most celebrated and loved foreign icons.

Already, he has an important street named after him – Samora Machel Avenue in the capital Harare – and he is immortalised in many liberation struggle songs, including by the eminent Chimurenga music guru, Thomas Mapfumo.

Machel, the first president of Mozambique, died on October 19, 1986, when a Soviet-crewed Tupolev 134A carrying his entourage back from a regional summit crashed on a hillside in Mbuzini north-eastern South Africa. There were only nine survivors among the 44 people on board.

The cause of the air crash has remained a mystery, amid indications of a conspiracy by apartheid South Africa which is said to have interfered with, and doomed the flight to silence the vocal liberator for good.

But why is Samora Machel so revered in Zimbabwe – probably more than any other country in Africa?

The reason lies in his contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe as he offered military bases, training and refuge for Zimbabweans that fought the Rhodesian settler rule of Ian Smith.

Machel made it a mission to liberate Zimbabwe from the moment he became President, arguing that his country would not be truly free if Zimbabwe remained in colonial hands.

Historian Phyllis Johnson, among many others who celebrate Machel points out that the firm and active support from Samora and his party, Frelimo were critical to Zimbabwe attaining 18 April 1980.

“That support included the provision of rear bases and camps in Mozambique, and providing materials including those from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Liberation Committee, which was based in Tanzania. “When the war in Rhodesia escalated to the extent of several rounds of negotiations, Mozambican officials were present on the sidelines,” writes Johnson.

A nunber of accounts point to the pivotal role of Machel at Lancaster, often intervening to force mostly the Zimbabwean sides to make concessions that would lead to Independence.

According tonthe accounts, Machel did this because he knew that the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) would win the proposed transitional elections, and he believed the British government would deliver on their commitment on the land issue, to provide significant resources for purchase and resettlement.

Silk and steel: Mugabe and Machel

It is President Machel who received then ZANU leader Robert Mugabe and his comrade Edgar Tekere to Mozambique in April 1977.

Those in the know claim that the two did not always go along – because of differing character traits and backgrounds – but they got the job done, eventually.

Much like silk and steel.

Historian Trevor Grundy supports that it was Samora Machel who ordered Mugabe to return to the Lancaster House Conference after he had walked out protesting loudly about a British plan to safeguard European land rights for ten years after Independence and for farms to be transferred from one to another on a willing seller, willing buyer basis.

Grundy writes, “Machel told Mugabe to fall in line with Lord Carrington’s demands or come and live at a small rather remote cottage at a place called Quelimane, Mozambique for the rest of his days.”

In his innumerable historical accounts and anecdotes during addresses as President, Mugabe would recount the crucial role of Machel and other African leaders in Frontline States that assisted Zimbabwe to get Independence.

Machel was emotionally invested in the cause of liberation.

According to one account, Machel was eloquent and outspoken on the subject of liberation in southern Africa (he called Ian Smith a tabaqueiro, a tobacco seller), and especially against apartheid in South Africa. Having won Mozambique, he believed that anything was possible, including a victory over apartheid in South Africa.

This put him in danger of the apartheid government, which also forced to sign the Nkomati Accords that prevented Mozambique to directly support South Africa’s liberation movement.

Beyond mere understanding

President Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s aide in Mozambique and may have witnessed fully the extent to which the two interacted in particular, and how Machel contributed to Zimbabwe’s cause, in general.

In 2022, at an event marking Machel’s passing Mnangagwa said: “He was one man we in Zimbabwe revered beyond mere understanding. Mozambique became independent, surrounded by South Africa and Rhodesia. We were fighting to liberate ourselves, despite the fact that Mozambique was an infant independent country President Samora Machel took the bold decision to allow us to come to Mozambique and wage our armed struggle from Mozambique taking the risk of bombardment from Rhodesian air force and South Africa air force.

“Mozambique attained its independence from Portugal in 1974, and under Cde Machel it soon assumed the role of providing a launch-pad for the liberation of its neighbours.

“He felt that as long as Zimbabwe was not independent the independence of Mozambique was not complete, this was a man whom the imperialists in Salisbury and in Pretoria did not want, they wanted to remove him by any means and on the 19th of October they diverted his plane, as he was flying from Mbala in northern Zambia, where they had gone for a meeting with President Kaunda. “We therefore revere and continue to remember him as a gallant hero for our country, for the region and the continent,” said the President.

Machel visited Zimbabwe at Independence as well as in 1986 where he spent three working days.

His death in 1988 brought a dark cloud over Zimbabwe, but he is still revered and considered Mozambique’s finest and greatest sons loved in Zimbabwe.

And, so, he shall live. Immortally.

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