This year (2011) was declared Samora Machel year in Mozambique. A modest, not overly educated but charismatic man, Samora led the independence struggle against Portugal and became the first president of independent Mozambique in 1975 (unelected).
On 19 October 1986 Samora, along with his close government entourage, was killed in a plane crash in the Mbuzini hills in South Africa.
The circumstances of this event have never been definitively established, and this year, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Samora´s death, his widow Graca Machel (now married to Nelson Mandela) appealed for clarity and closure of this affair within her own lifetime.
However, the apparent mass killing by incineration of prominent political opposition figures shortly after independence has been allowed to fizzle out in the mists of time….
All this year regular spots on Radio Mozambique have aired Samora´s speeches and reported on his life… the same on a state TV channel that has Samora´s cameo permanently in the corner. A frequent on-air quiz has challenged young peoples´ knowledge of the minutiae of Samora´s public life. ”In 1979, on a visit to China, Samora Machel´s favourite food was a) sweet & sour noodles b) Peking duck c) pork ribs….” I jest, but you get the picture.
Usually the anniversary of Samora´s demise is celebrated, but this year, on 18 October, the government declared 19 October a public holiday so that “massive attendance” at commemorative public events could be assured.
When I asked colleagues what would happen in Chimoio, they told me to just go to Heroes´ Square around 8 am. Every town has a Heroes´ Square to commemorate the fallen in the independence and civil wars, and other national events. They all feature a horizontal concrete star in a flower bed, and a wreath laying plaque.
On the eve of the big day, a Samora Machel colloquium took place in Maputo, recorded live for TV and radio. Many a long-winded speech was given by former comrades-in-arms, featuring Samora in military action, as well as a few amusing anecdotes that a couple of his children told about their dad. The final word came from then military comrade and now President Guebuza, who always speaks in predictable formulas (he needs a better speech writer).
The crowd at Chimoio´s Heroes´ Square consisted mainly of school kids in their navy and white, playing rhyming, skipping and clapping games as they waited around, as well as women of Samora´s generation wearing jazzy capolanas emblazoned with his portrait. They sang old Frelimo songs, and the kids and other generations joined in the refrain… “Samora Machel, Samora Machel….”
The military stood to attention as flowers were placed on the plaque, then sat in rows on plastic chairs, sweating in their uniforms and hats, listening to the speeches. An exhibition of photocopied blow-ups of Samora with other erstwhile revolutionaries – Castro, Ceaucescu, Kaunda – attracted a few eager pupils with notebooks.
Later, the evening TV news was replete with clips of identical homage ceremonies from each and every provincial capital. The whole was capped off by footage of the installation in Maputo´s Independence Square of a massive bronze statue of Samora, just up the road from the smaller statue of himself on Samora Machel Avenue. This new statue was labeled a gift from the people of North Korea, well known for their strong line in personality cult imagery in honour of “great” and “dear” leaders.