This October should be Zimbabwe’s Samora Machel Month.
By Takura Zhangazha.
We all cried on October 19, 1986. I was nine, my brother was eleven and my sisters were seven and three years old. It had just been announced that Samora Moises Machel, President of the Republic of Mozambique, had died in an aeroplane crash in an area close to the border between his country and then apartheid South Africa. Too young to be knowledgeable on the extent of how Zimbabwe grieved, I experienced the impact of the death of Samora via my family and the black and white Phillips television set. The Mutare based ‘Run Family’ musical group brilliantly composed two songs that forever remind us of Machel (one of the songs has since been self appropriated by Zanu Pf when it commemorates its heroes). Even though I was too young to be politically conscious, I have since been told by my elder brothers, sisters and friends that that year on October 19 and 20, the whole of Zimbabwe wept. They wept for Samora and they wept with Mozambique. Our then Prime Minister in what I remember to be a visibly emotive speech promised that Zimbabwe would ‘never-ever allow the MNR (Renamo) to take over Mozambique’.
In the years that have passed since, Samora Machel is revered by those that knew him and vilified by those who argue that his socialist leadership of Mozambique was a failure. In Southern Africa, it is the South African government that regularly demonstrates commitment to the memory of Machel. Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma (when he was still vice president) have given moving speeches at the cite of the plane crash in Mbuzini, South Africa. Zimbabwe’s government has done no such thing to remember Machel even though our liberation history with Mozambique is more direct. This in itself is not to take away the significance of the solidarity that was demonstrated by the people and government of Zimbabwe during the civil war in Mozambique which also affected parts of our country. The big issue is how our government (inclusive or otherwise) has opted for amnesia as regards the political legend that is Samora Machel and the historical triumph that is the solidarity between our two countries. This article is therefore meant to be a reminder to those in government and those that care for our collective history of the necessity of remembrance.
Whereas some of my peers have expressed misgivings about seeking to remember Machel in a country that is still struggling for full democracy, I have insisted on doing so for three primary reasons. The first reason being that we, as citizens of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, must avoid falling into the trap that academics have called, ‘organised forgetting’. Governments have a nasty tendency of wanting to determine what is to be remembered as ‘history’ by citizens that they preside over. In Zimbabwe’s case our collective history is beholden to what our past and current government want us to recall. Be this in relation to the liberation struggle or to post independence struggles for full democratization of our societies. They even tell us who to call a hero and who not to call a hero.
The second reason why we must remember Samora Machel is because of the fact that in him we had a great and committed African amongst us. And such individuals are rare. Other countries/regions will celebrate their Bolivars (Latin America), Lincolns (North America), Maos (South East Asia), Churchills (Europe) based on what they perceive to be the historic contributions of these individuals. Machel’s leadership role in the Frontline States together with his insistence that Mozambique cannot be free until Zimbabwe and South Africa are free is the stuff of legends. Machel was a liberator without an equal in Southern Africa. And he deserves specific recognition beyond having his name evoked by our ageing nationalists. In fact, if I was in government I would insist on making October 19 an officially recognized Samora Machel Day.
The third and final reason why it is necessary to remember Machel is that of posterity and the passing on of knowledge from one generation to a successor one. The particular solidarity between the people of Zimbabwe and Mozambique is something not only to be celebrated but to be told to those that have come and will come after us. This is in order that they continue with a solidarity that is organic and grounded in positive historical experience. Where we fail to do this, we will be witness the horrific and ahistorical xenophoibic attacks that are similar to those we have seen in South Africa over the last two years.
To conclude, it is imperative that we, from the Southern African region, and in particular from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, continue with the solidarity of yesterday. It must become a solidarity that is grounded in our shared histories of the struggle for freedom, democracy and justice. And this October, it begins with us recognizing and remembering Samora Moises Machel of Mozambique, Southern Africa, Africa and of the World.