This year’s calendar of events is expected to include the opening of the Samora Machel Museum in Lobatse, which will celebrate the memory of one of Africa’s greatest freedom fighters and statesmen, while further serving as a reminder of the contributions of the many additional patriots, from Botswana, Mozambique and the wider region, who laid the foundations for Southern Africa’s liberation.
The peace and freedom we enjoy as a region today is a product of their collective struggle and sacrifice against the forces of racism, fascism and imperialist repression.
Between 1963 and 1966 over 100 freedom fighters of the Mozambique Liberation Front or Frelimo (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique), passed through Botswana, when we were still ruled by the British as the Bechuanaland Protectorate (BP) in order to reach their movement’s bases in Tanzania. Many more followed between 1966 and 1975, which is the period between Botswana and Mozambique’s independence. These movements were facilitated by the generosity and goodwill of many Batswana.
The passage of Mozambicans through Botswana was, indeed, part of a wider story of our country serving as a place of both refuge and onward transit for tens of thousands of “political refugees” from throughout Southern African between 1958 and 1990. This extraordinary development is today recognised as a long and critical chapter in the history of Africa’s liberation struggle against colonialism and white minority rule.
Prior to his becoming the first President of Mozambique, Samora Moisés Machel had distinguished himself as the leading military and political figure in Frelimo’s armed struggle against the continued colonial occupation of the Portuguese Estado Novo. His personal journey to become a freedom fighter began in 1963 when he left his country bound for refuge in Botswana.
What for Machel was a dangerous first step towards realising his destiny, has also proved to be a milestone in the enduring friendship and collaboration between the peoples of Botswana and Mozambique as personified by the shelter and support that Machel and his companions Matias Mboa and Angelo Vasoues de Lisboa received from the Kgaboesele family during the months they were forced to stay in Lobatse, while trying to reach Tanzania [then still Tanganyika].
Portugal was both the first and last European country to directly impose its colonial control over large areas of Africa. From its initial 15th century expansion into parts of North, West and Central Africa and subsequent 16th century seizure of parts of East Africa, including parts of Mozambique, the Portuguese exercised a profound albeit often debilitating influence in our continent’s evolution. For over four centuries the Portuguese presence on the continent was associated in particular with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Other resources such as ivory and gold were also plundered and
It was only after the suppression of slavery by the second half of the 19th century, that Portugal’s economic interests evolved towards a greater emphasis on the local extraction of labour as well as resources in Mozambique. This transition was accompanied during the 1890s by the so-called “pacification campaigns” against indigenous communities including the Gaza Kingdom of the Shagaane whose stout resistance under their last ruler Mdungazwe Ngungunyane Nxumalo, was actively supported by Machel’s grandfather [Malengani/Maghivelani Machele (died 1935)].
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Portuguese administration in Mozambique was to a greater extent exercised by large private companies, most notably the Mozambique Company and the Niassa Company, which in each case were largely controlled and financed by outsiders. These Chartered Companies enacted forced labour policies both within Mozambique and as providers of cheap migrant labour to the mines and plantations of the nearby British ruled territories in Central and South Africa.
The post-World War I collapse of the First Portuguese Republic, resulting in the establishment of the authoritarian Estado Novo [New State] dictatorship Oliveira Salazar, was accompanied by a shift towards a stronger Portuguese state control over its colonial empire. In 1951, Mozambique, along with the other Portuguese overseas colonies in Africa, were rebranded as Overseas Provinces of Portugal.
By the 1950s popular discontent was being increasingly voiced amongst indigenous Mozambicans, who suffered socio-economic marginalisation in their country due to the colonial regime’s institutionalised discrimination in favour of the interests the territory’s white settler population. This resulted in black Mozambicans being denied opportunities and resources to upgrade their skills and improve their economic and social situation.
While many European nations were granting independence to their colonies, Portugal, under the Estado Novo regime, sought to tighten its political and economic control over Mozambique and its other overseas territories.
On June 24, 1962 a number of nationalist organizations, including the Mozambican African National Union (MANU), National Democratic Union of Mozambique (UDENAMO) and the National African Union of Independent Mozambique (UNAMI), came together as FRELIMO to fight for Mozambique’s independence, with Eduardo Mondlane being elected as the movement’s first President. FRELIMO subsequently initiated a guerrilla campaign against Portuguese rule in September 1964, which over the next decade progressively expanded its operation, especially in the rural areas in the north and west. (to be continued)