FRELIMO and Samora Machel

Written: 1974;
First Published: 1974;
Source: Introduction to Mozambique Sowing the Seeds of Revolution, by John Saul, Toronto, pp. 3-5;
Transcription: Liz Blasczak.
The biographical material in this introduction is drawn from an interview with Samora Machel carried out within FRELIMO in 1974.

In Mozambique, the drive to attain national independence has given birth to a revolution. Elsewhere, in much of now-independent Africa, the colonialisms of Britain and France began quite early to hedge their bets, moving to co-opt and tame nationalist leaderships and lay the groundwork for neo-colonialism. But Portuguese colonialism could permit no such smooth transition to political independence. As a result, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) was forced to launch an armed struggle in 1964. And once such a struggle had begun, it set in train a whole series of developments which slowly but surely transformed the very nature of Mozambican nationalism.

Most important, the need arose to involve the people the essential base for successful guerrilla warfare in the struggle in a new and more vital manner than had been the case with earlier expressions of nationalism on the continent. This, in turn, demanded that the movement exemplify, in the nationalist phase itself, the promise of a new kind of life – one in which the leadership was seen to avoid the easy paths of elitism and pursuit of entrepreneurial advantage, and one in which the people saw themselves to be gaining fresh and meaningful control over their own lives, through popularly-based institutions in the liberated areas. Such a struggle also dictated a deepening of ideological awareness at all levels: an understanding of imperialism, an eschewing of exploitation, a critique of racism and a redefinition of nationalism. Eduardo Mondlane, first President of FRELIMO, was only half joking when he said, shortly before his assassination by the Portuguese in 1969, that it would almost be a pity if Mozambicans were to win their war too soon, because “we are learning so much"!

Within FRELIMO the triumph of this revolutionary emphasis was not achieved easily or automatically. Basil Davidson has remarked that “there is a general rule by which all movements of resistance produce and deepen conflicts within themselves as the reformists draw back from the revolutionaries, and, in drawing back, fall victim to the game of the enemy regime.” The conflicts over the direction of FRELIMO’s development which racked the movement in 1968-9 can be understood precisely in these terms. The crucial role of Samora Machel, who then emerged as President of FRELIMO, also can be understood only within the context of these events. For Samora Machel represented, in his person, all those within the organization who were prepared to learn the broader lessons of the liberation struggle, and to move to a new level of consciousness and of commitment to the cause of the Mozambican people. Even more important, he has been able to codify these lessons and present them to his colleagues as components of their political education and as guidelines for their future work. Herein lies one of his greatest contributions to FRELIMO, and also the strength of his contribution to revolutionary theory. The speeches collected here provide some of the best evidence of this kind of contribution.

Samora Machel, born in Gaza province in southern Mozambique in 1933, learnt the lessons of colonial oppression early. His own grandfather had been wounded in earlier resistance to the Portuguese occupation. The day-to-day realities of economic exploitation were felt in the fertile Gaza region, where the Portuguese administration made the time-consuming cultivation of cotton compulsory for African families, and bought the crop at fixed, minimal prices. Moreover, for generations men have been forced to go to work in the South African gold mines. While some come home often maimed or blind or tubercular others, like Machel’s eldest brother, do not return at all. In Gaza, too, a dramatic example of colonial oppression occurred in 1950 when land in the Limpopo valley was seized to make way for a fresh wave of settlers and the Africans removed to infertile areas, their villages destroyed, without compensation.

Samora Machel began his education at a mission school but, like so many others, found the path to further studies effectively blocked. Only when he started work was he able to proceed with his secondary education, paying the fees out of his wages. But in employment, too, Africans suffer differential treatment racial discrimination in pay, in promotion, as also in social life.

In the late 1950s, as other African countries moved towards independence, the possibility of renewed resistance became apparent. In 1962 Machel left Mozambique, with others, to join FRELIMO in Tanzania. Convinced, correctly, that the Portuguese would not yield, would not open a real dialogue with the Mozambican people, without a fight, he immediately opted for military training, and was in the army when fighting began in 1964. He had risen to become the commander of this people’s army when he became President of FRELIMO five years later.

By this time, the struggle for independence had developed into a revolutionary one; it has become, as Machel says in the interview reprinted here, “an integral part of the people’s lives ... What we discuss with the people now is how to make our struggle a real revolution.” The speeches collected here therefore present the theory and practice of consolidating a people’s struggle under Mozambican conditions. They deal with such themes as the methods of political work most likely to advance the revolutionary process, the dynamics of co-operative agricultural production, the emancipation of women, the nature of genuinely innovative educational and health facilities, and the imperatives of international solidarity.

Readers will discover such themes for themselves in the following pages; there is no need to rehearse them further here. However, two points are worth emphasis. One is that no distinction is made between the task of destroying colonialism and the task of building a new Mozambique: they are two sides of the same coin. Thus, in Machel’s formulations and in FRELIMO’s practice, the collective spirit which sustains successful military activity becomes the essence of the new social and economic institutions. And the active involvement of the people which has premised military success becomes the guarantee of future progress without false decolonization or any subsequent trend towards authoritarianism.

Second, there is the balance struck between theory and practice in Machel’s speeches – between the specificity of day-to-day revolutionary activity on the one hand and the broader principles and strategies which give shape to such activity on the other. Some successful revolutionaries have come to revolution with theoretical preoccupations and have gradually tempered and refined these in the heat of action. In Machel’s case the development has been somewhat different: practice is now being theorized and thus forged into an ever more effective instrument of progress.

Yet one should not make too much of this distinction; in both cases a learning process is involved. The result, when a revolution is being successfully sustained, is an exciting blend of theory and practice. This is precisely what one finds in today’s Mozambique and this excitement is fully captured in these pages.

Toronto, April, 1974
John Saul