The story is quite popular that Samora Machel was forced into political activism by the fact that while a hospital aide at Miguel Bombarda Hospital in Mozambique, he joined others to protest the wage discrimination against Black African workers at the hospital.
But like in a superhero’s origin story, the momentous call to action often clouds the more pertinent person-making facts of the to-be-hero’s life. We seem to forget the humanity that was formed and how it was formed before our hero decided they had to wear a cape.
In Machel’s case, political activism cannot be conflated with political consciousness. Born on September 29, 1933, he was a Black African child of the 1940s and 50s who saw the subjugation of his kind by white Portuguese and South Africans, who had colonized southern African lands.
His grandfather was called an indígena, or native, a term that summarized the sentiments of condescension the Portuguese reserved for the Africans. Machel’s family of farmers, just like other Black farmers in the colony, were offered less for their cash crops than white farmers.
Most of the time, choosing to plant for cash was an uneasy choice for African farmers as it meant they had to forgo food crops on which families subsisted. Bu this was only one of the many facets of the endemic unfairness Machel was moulded by.
Looking back, what became of the man deeply upset by the fascism in his homeland seemed written in the stars. Machel joined the Mozambican anti-colonial paramilitary and nationalist movement Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, or the Mozambican Liberation Front, popularly known as FRELIMO.
The group had been marshaling forces and training in Tanzania, hundreds of miles away from Portuguese eyes in Lourenço Marques, now Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. FRELIMO’s agenda was sponsored by its powerful friend the USSR who had been compelled to pick the Marxist-Leninist nationalist group in the Cold War of the 1960s.
Cuba also sent help to FRELIMO from the Caribbean, as Fidel Castro dared to incur the wrath of the Americans after success with his own communist revolution just in the backyard of the United States. The communist ideology was not lost on Machel, who spent some time in training in Algeria, a nation that welcomed anti-colonial fighters to training having fought for their own independence against the French in 1962.
Indeed, when FRELIMO declared a war of independence against Portugal on September 25, 1964, Machel was four days shy of his 31st birthday. But he had been readied for that war by the facts of his background and by the workings of international politics.
Mozambique’s war of independence was fought for nearly 10 years. Through it all, the man who had joined FRELIMO by the dint of righteous indignation against racism and fascism, rose to become the head of FRELIMO in 1970 after internal bickering among the group’s leadership.
A peace accord was signed in 1974 in Lusaka, Zambia between FRELIMO and Portugal’s military government which had overthrown civilian leadership in Lisbon. The accord also set June 25, 1975 as Mozambique’s independence day.
Machel’s immediate concerns after independence were not directly about Mozambique. Like the anti-fascist he was, he saw the colonial administration in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and the apartheid government of South Africa as unavoidable threats and voted resources and personnel into upsetting their efforts both within those countries and regionally.
Perhaps, nothing encapsulated his feelings about anti-colonialism than his own words, according to writer Paul Fauvet: “They (apartheid government want to come here and commit murder. So we say: Let them come! Let all the racists come!… Let the South Africans come, but let them be clear that the war will end in Pretoria”.