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Builders Of Botswana: Samora Machel In Botswana (Part 2)

Mozambique’s first president, Samora Machel, was born in the village of Chilembene in the Gaza district of Mozambique as the third born son of Mandhande Moises Machel and his wife Gugiye Thema Dzimba.

Samora had a dozen siblings, many of whom died young. Like most black Mozambican families of the era, the Machel’s struggled to survive through farming. 

At the time there were two classification for blacks under Portuguese rule - “assimilado” and “indigena” - based on their education and integration of Portuguese culture. As an indigena Mandhande Machel was forced to accept lower prices for his crops than white farmers; while being compelled to grow labour-intensive cotton, which took time away from the food crops needed for his family.

Despite these handicaps, Machel’s father became a relatively successful farmer: by 1940 he owned four ploughs and 400 head of cattle while farming some 30 hectares of land in the relatively rich Limpopo valley. However, from the mid-1950s, he and other successful farmers in the region lost land and had their economic opportunities curtailed as a result of the Portuguese Salazar regime’s policy of encouraging large scale European settlement in the region.

From 1942 Samora began attending a Catholic school in the town of Chonguene. In 1950, after completing his primary education, he became a health worker trainee at Xai-Xai. Thereafter, his name appears on a March 11, 1952 list of applicants who had passed examination to train and earn a living as an auxiliary nurse. Between 1956 and 1961 Samora was variously posted at institutions in Lourenco Marques (Maputo), Inhaca Island and his own Gaza district. During this period, he lived and had children with Sorita Tchaiakomo.

In March of 1961 he was promoted and admitted for training as a full nurse, while once more working at the Miguel Bombarda Hospital in Lourenço Marques; but he failed his examination for the normal nursing course at the end of the year.

By then Samora Machel was becoming politically active. A turning point was his February/March 1961 meetings with the future Frelimo head Prof. Eduardo Mondlane. His growing activism thereafter soon attracted the attention of PIDE (the Portuguese Secret Police) who interrogated him on at least two occasions in 1962.

By the beginning of 1963 Machel had become restless in his desire to take an active part in Frelimo’s emerging liberation struggle. On March 4, 1963, at the age of 30, he finally left Mozambique, after being warned by Joao Ferreira, a senior in the hospital he was working in, that he was wanted by PIDE.

Accompanied by Matia Mboa, Machel began his exile by making his way to eSwatini.

The two had become familiar while

attending night classes together. Mboa recalls that their conversations at the time often turned to politics. Both had officially become members of Frelimo together on July 20, 1962.

While others such as Frelimo’s first military commander Filipe Samuel Magraia, also fled Mozambique during the first half of 1963, Machel and Mboa, followed by a handful of others were the first to attempt to reach Frelimo’s base camps in Tanzania via Botswana.

Mboa would later recall: “Simeão Massango was a nurse and worked in northern Mozambique. He had come to Lourenco Marques on vacation and then returned. From there he managed to go to Tanzania.

We couldn’t go with him because we weren’t ready yet. Samora Machel already had children and needed to create minimal conditions for them. So, we went a little later. I arranged everything with Samora Machel, who was to introduce me to the troops, but as soon as the conditions were in place for us to leave Lourenço Marques, he would help me to get out for military service to escape…

“We managed to flee on March 4, 1963, with the help of an Anglican priest named Matias Xikhogo. We went via Catembe, Zitundo and then to Swaziland. In Zitundo, we had complications, because in the store where I tried to exchange Portuguese Escudos for British Pounds, there was the administrator, who sought to know what my purpose was. But he accepted my explanation that I needed the money to buy a cow from a Swati.”

During their brief stay in Mbabane, Machel and Mboa were assisted by Prince Dlamini and Dr. Zwane of the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress, as well as Dr. Nquku of the Swaziland Progressive Party.

Their Swati hosts gave them papers to support their cover story that they were Malawian migrant labourers who had been working in eSwatini. This was intended as a ruse to facilitate their rail passage through the then Central African Federation.

Machel and Mboa were also issued travel with documents by the British on March 7, 1963. This enabled them to proceed by bus to Park Station in Johannesburg where they boarded a train bound for Mahikeng. During their stopover in Johannesburg the pair were contacted members of the ANC including Michael Dingake.

From Mahikeng, Machel and Mboa boarded the north bound Rhodesia railways train for then Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) via eastern Botswana. Mixing themselves amongst other returning migrant workers they encountered no problem crossing the border at Ramatlabama.

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