Remembering Samora Moisés Machel: Death of a Revolutionary


Samora Machel and his son

On the 19th of October 1986, at twenty-one minutes past nine, 28 years ago, a Russian built Tupolev 134, flying to Maputo from a summit of African leaders in Zambia crashed into Lebombo mountains near Mbuzini in South Africa’s Transvaal province, now known as Mpumalanga, killing the first Mozambican President Samora Moisés Machel.

His plane crashed in mysterious circumstances killing President Samora Machel and thirty-three members of his FRELIMO party and the Russian crew.

Only nine of the people onboard that plane survived.

The site where the plane crashed was at the confluence of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland’s borders.

Samora Machel‘s death was felt far beyond the borders of Mozambique.

It was about a month before my tenth birthday when I saw the news. It was a horrible moment watching the mangled wreckage and hearing my sister’s cries echoing through the house.

Samora Machel

Samora Machel flanked by Sam Nujoma (President of Namibia) on his right, and President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia to his immediate left and Prime Minister Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Machel would never make it back from this ill-fated meeting alive. It was one of the last times he was seen alive in public.

I walked out onto the streets of Harare, I was in Zimbabwe at the time, to get away from the horror of it but everywhere I turned, people were weeping and lamenting and throwing themselves onto the ground as if they had lost their favourite uncle or kinsmen.

That’s how I felt about him. I had grown up seeing his huge smile lighting up our television screens. He always appeared to be overwhelmed by the love and attention lavished upon him.

He always appeared to be uncomfortable in the glare of the spotlights and television cameras. As I was walking on the streets, I knew then as as I know now that we had lost something special, like a limb lost, that you’d always feel it’s presence yet it wasn’t actually there. And it was irreplaceable.

That is Samora Machel. He was and is irreplaceable. His death robbed us of a true revolutionary and leader. A leader who led from the frontline. A leader who led by example. A leader who remained humble until the end despite his heroic deeds, revolutionary credentials and his unquestionable integrity.

Samora Machel

Samora Machel flashing his familiar smile while meeting and greeting the people.

The respect and adoration he elicited from Zimbabweans and others made you forget that he was actually the leader of another country, the first president of Mozambique, and the revolutionary leader of FRELIMO.

It was impossible to believe that the man who brandished that disarming smile was a ferocious soldier on the battlefield respected and feared by foes. And the totalitarian and illegitimate Apartheid and Rhodesian regimes.

His humility lent him the appearance of a gentle and a meek man. He had the instant likeability quality that made you warm up to him even if you had never met him personally. There was an inexplicable aura about Machel. He had that rare human trait.

That made his death that much harder to digest. It was difficult to imagine that anyone would want to kill him.

The cause of the crash still remains a mystery. Questions were raised about the involvement of the Apartheid regime because the plane crashed over South African territory.

These suspicions have never died and have only been reinforced by statements made by some members of the military though they have been strongly refuted.

Samora Machel

” Only by freeing ourselves from this will we be able to understand the world and understand colonialism. Only, only, only understanding this, are we in a position to make the revolution triumph in Mozambique. First, let‟s be proud to be Mozambicans — to be what we are. Yes or no? (Yes). There is no inferior race in the world. There is no superior race in the world. All races are equal. All peoples are equal. There is an imbalance in development that is a reality. But if that‟s how we must classify the superiority of races, then the Portuguese race is the lowest of all the peoples, because it‟s the most backward, yes or no? (Yes). Do you hear, comrades? (We hear). With this, we want to say that we don‟t want — we don‟t want — racism here in Mozambique. White racism. Black racism. We don‟t want it here in Mozambique. We want harmony between peoples. Harmony between races. Because we are all equal. Do you hear, comrades? (We hear).” Samora Machel in action exuding vigour and charisma while addressing a rally of supporters.

The Apartheid regime’s fear of Samora Machel provided a motive to kill him.

It is no secret they formed, armed, trained, financed and provided material support to RENAMO, led by Alphonso Dhlakama, a rebel group without a policy, to undermine Machel’s government.

It is no secret they were also involved in various acts of sabotage in Zimbabwe and arming dissidents there to undermine the newly formed Zimbabwe.

Their objective was to make majority African rule so unattractive it would dissuade the liberation movements fighting Apartheid and their supporters to accept white colonial rule as the best form of government.

It was a vain gesture because the writing was on the wall: South Africa was the last remaining isolated bastion of white supremacy in Africa surrounded by hostile African countries constantly snapping at its heels.

Time, history, the world and inevitability were also against them. Consequently, they were temporarily prolonging the shelf life of a doomed regime.

Fidel Castro and Samora Machel

The meeting of two great revolutionaries and anti-imperialist fighters. Fidel Castro and Samora Machel.

The question many may be asking is why Samora Machel and not Robert Mugabe.

Maybe it was fate. Machel died and Mugabe survived numerous attempts on his life.

Alternatively, there were unsubstantiated rumours, you know how stubborn these things are, real or imagined, that Samora Machel had made a pact with Josiah Magama Tongogara, another much loved and revered revolutionary who died in a car crash during the liberation war, to turn their attention to South Africa once Zimbabwe got her independence and drive the Boers back into the ocean and back where they came from.

Don’t take my word for it. The two people who can verify that story are no longer here to give their account of that particular narrative.

The only truth is that Samora Machel left us too soon. The truth is that, whether the rumours were true or false, Mozambique’s independence was not enough for him.

He couldn’t see his country having the racist and totalitarian regimes of Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa for neighbours. He helped Zimbabwe gain her independence and then continued pressing South Africa to grant independence to the indigenous peoples of the country.

Samora Machel

“SALARIES AND WAGES MUST REFLECT THE REALITY OF THE ENTERPRISE’S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE; DEVIATIONS FROM THE PLANNED PERFORMANCE SHOULD BE REFLECTED IN PAY.” A quote by Samora Machel above in the picture holding a baby while surveying the devastation caused by RENAMO, the South African sponsored bandits.

Samora Machel dedicated his life to fighting for the independence of Africa as a whole, not only Mozambique, and he remained true to his spirit until the very end.

His leading role in the total decolonisation of the continent was seized upon by the imperialist forces who sought to stop him because he was a threat to their interests in Southern Africa.

They in turn did what they do best. They used their powerful network of news media to churn out propaganda and generate the single story demonising Samora Machel as a dangerous communist who had to be stopped.

So it is no surprise Rhodesia and South Africa and their backers (bankrollers) responded by sponsoring a civil war in Mozambique to discredit its independence.

Dr Kenneth Kaunda,  Julius Nyerere

The trinity of Zimbabwean Independence: Samora Machel on the right, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in the centre and Dr Kenneth Kaunda on the left.

Like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, who trained and supported African liberation movements, Samora Machel on seizing independence after defeating the Portuguese colonialists, he set his sights on Rhodesia to continue the struggle of decolonizing Africa and defeating the imperialist forces.

He turned his superior fighting party FRELIMO to fight the Rhodesian army. FRELIMO fought alongside ZANLA, the military wing of ZANU while ZIPRA (the military wing of ZAPU) attacked from Zambia.

This marked the turning point of the Chimurenga, opening a new chapter, the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle.

There are those today who try to underplay the role of FRELIMO in the independence of Zimbabwe in a vain attempt to upgrade their own liberation and revolutionary credentials. Their contribution is relegated to the footnotes or totally omitted.

However, those in the know, know the truth that Samora Machel was instrumental in bringing Smith’s regime of diehard racists to its knees. Mozambique and FRELIMO opened up a new chapter in the liberation struggle.

Not even the Rhodesians aerial bombing and usage of chemical weapons like napalm against unarmed refugees (women and children) and a few guerrillas (liberation fighters) at camps like Nyadzonya and Chimoio could stop the inevitable train of black anger from crushing the old jalopy of white supremacy.

Samora Machel and Dr Kenneth Kaunda

Samora Machel and Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

Unlike some revolutionaries who come to power and overstay their welcomes and lose their people’s respect, Samora Machel remains greatly loved and revered.

He joined the ranks of legends like Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Josiah Magama TongogaraHerbert Chitepo, Dr. Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa.

Despite leading Mozambique for 11 years, from 1975 to 1986, people still cry or get emotional when they recall the memory of one of Africa’s most respected and revered revolutionaries.

Samora Machel is not judged by the same standard as some leaders or revolutionaries who went on to lead or failed to lead the countries whose freedom they fought for.

Samora Machel never got to tarnish his legacy, not that I assume he would have, or revolutionary credentials. His untimely death secured his lasting and unblemished legacy. At the time of his death, it seemed he couldn’t do anything wrong.

Death made him an African martyr and guaranteed him a prominent seat at the table of rendezvous where Africa’s most revolutionary and truest sons gather at the dusk of their illustrious careers fighting the beasts of white supremacy and Devils of neocolonialism.

Samora Machel the leader of FRELIMO and first president of Mozambique

“We are here because we are the people with responsibilities. We are here because we merit the political confidence of the party. We have the task in our sectors of smashing the structures, working methods and mentality of colonial-capitalism. We have the task of building a new state apparatus that in character, content and working methods serves our interests.” Samora Machel captured during a speech in 1980. Above is an artist’s impression of the revolutionary leader of FRELIMO.

A commission consisting of representatives of Mozambique, South Africa and the Soviet Union was brought together to establish the cause of that fateful crash.

A multiplicity of reasons were put forward. Bad weather was cited. A mechanical cause was cited too. Pilot error.

The investigations failed to establish the exact nature of the crash.

Counteraccusations flew between Maputo and Pretoria for over a decade without shedding light on the exact cause of the crash. However, the residue of a conspiracy of the Apartheid regime’s involvement has never been put to rest and will probably never die.

The release of Nelson Mandela and independence of South Africa brought renewed hope to establishing the cause of the crash. However, like the Apartheid regime before it, Mandela’s government fared no better.

For a boy who came from a village in Mozambique, he travelled a long journey to become a maverick guerrilla strategist who pledged his life to defeating colonialism in Southern Africa and Africa as a whole.

His charisma, integrity and vigour transformed him into a psychologically resourceful leader who led from the frontline and never asked his followers to do what he couldn’t do himself.

Nonetheless, no one can accuse Samora Machel of being a revolutionary who can’t handle a gun or who never fought, as some other revolutionaries who claim liberation credentials are constantly accused of falsifying their liberation credentials. He was there in the battlefield.

He came, he saw and he conquered.

Machel was a leader who couldn’t be corrupted and till the end he died a man of high principles. Africa and the world lost a champion of freedom. We all lost to the detriment of the human race and world peace.

Samoral Machel

“So we must build a strong Mozambique, and prosperous. Do you hear? We must build a free society, a society of good relations amongst us all — we must create a spirit of cameraderie. Brothers aren‟t enough, no. It‟s not enough to be brothers. A spirit of cameraderie! Above all, because we have a big task, which is the task of the liberation of Mozambican women. The task of creating a new mentality among the youth, so that they can serve the whole people, so that they can serve the whole world. Do you hear, comrades? (We hear).” Samora Machel

Samora Machel’s obituaries and tributes painted a picture of a truly remarkable leader. The snapshot below illustrates this point.

Death dealers cannot kill Machel spirit. Herald [Harare] (29 October 1986).

Guardian viewpoint: a stunning loss. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986).

Driving spirit of a nation’s struggle. New Nation [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

Enormous implications for Southern Africa: tributes pour in for Maputo leader. Citizen [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

His dream: man, a world renewed. New Nation [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

Machel: fiery and charismatic leader. Citizen [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

President Samora Machel. Times [London] (21 October 1986).

Quest for freedom was life’s goal. Herald [Harare] (21 October 1986).

Albin Krebs. Samora M. Machel, man of charisma: he held impoverished nation together by personality. New York Times [New York] (21 October 1986).

The arch-enemy of racism. Star [Johannesburg] (24 October 1986).

Iain Christie. The Machel I knew: what Frelimo’s leader taught me about racism. Weekly Mail [Johannesburg] (24 October 1986-30 October 1986). Iain Christie was the author of a biography of Machel published in both English and in Portuguese.

A great man. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986).

Machel as South Africans saw him; Machel as the world saw him. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

People’s president. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Mono Badela. Machel the healer. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

John D’Oliveira. Africa has lost a shining son. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

People’s president. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Mono Badela. Machel the healer. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

John D’Oliveira. Africa has lost a shining son. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

Gerald L’Ange. Machel leaves painful legacy. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Davison Maruziva. Mozambican president died at crucial time. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986). 

Percy Qoboza. The noblest of them all: Percy Qoboza pays tribute to President Samora Machel. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Messages of condolence on death of Samora Machel. Summary of World Broadcasts [London] no.FE/8400/A5 (27 October 1986), p.1-2. Messages of condolence from China, North Korea, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia.

We’ve lost the champion of freedom: Muzenda. Herald [Harare] (October 1927). 

Comment: death of a hero. Herald [Harare] (28 October 1986). 

Andrew Mutandwa. Guerilla [sic] leader who radiated dignity. Herald [Harare] 

Death dealers cannot kill Machel spirit. Herald [Harare] (29 October 1986). Report of a speech by Canaan Banana, then president of Zimbabwe.

Guardian viewpoint: a stunning loss. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986). 

Paul Fauvet. Mozambique mourns. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986). 

He challenged colonialists from start. Herald [Harare] (30 October 1986). 

Machel’s big role in freeing Zimbabwe. Herald [Harare] (30 October 1986). 

Andy Higginbottom. Samora Machel: son of the Mozambican revolution. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! [London] (15 November 1986), p.7. A tribute in the newspaper of the British Revolutionary Communist Group

Gerald L’Ange. Machel leaves painful legacy. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Davison Maruziva. Mozambican president died at crucial time. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986). 

Percy Qoboza. The noblest of them all: Percy Qoboza pays tribute to President . 

Messages of condolence on death of Samora Machel. Summary of World Broadcasts [London] no.FE/8400/A5 (27 October 1986), p.1-2. Messages of condolence from China, North Korea, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia.

We’ve lost the champion of freedom: Muzenda. Herald [Harare] (October 1927). 

Comment: death of a hero. Herald [Harare] (28 October 1986). 

My tribute to a great revolutionary and remarkable man would be incomplete without the videos of Journeyman Pictures, Wellington Ziwenga, Afravision and the numerous photographers and organisations whose photos appear in this article.

Thank you for taking the time to peruse this blog and I hope you have been equally rewarded reading this article and watching the documentaries as I found compiling it.

Tell your friends and share this article and let us tell our own stories. As Chinua Achebe wrote in Things Fall Apart, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

It is our duty to remembering these stories and our heroes so that we don’t forget where we are coming from and no one can turn back and erase our past as what happened during colonialism.

This is why I wrote this article to remember a type of time, a place and a man that might otherwise be forgotten with the passage of time.

He gave us our freedom. He sacrificed his life in the way Jesus Christ is alleged to have done. Therefore, the likes of Samora Moisés Machel live on in everyone of us through our collective remembrance of this gallant shining son of Africa.

Viva Revolution! ALUTA Continua!

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5 Comments

Filed under Great African Leaders, Under The Spotlight

5 responses to “Remembering Samora Moisés Machel: Death of a Revolutionary

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