Revolutionary Umbilical Cord Between South Africa And Mozambique
By Mr Nathi Mthethwa
It is in order to start by paying homage to all those who have lost their lives during the Cyclone Idai attack on Mozambican people including Zimbabwe and Malawi. As you mourn the dead and fly your flag at half mast, we are with you in solidarity. We applaud His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa for dispatching SANDF to help those still trapped in flooded areas without water and food. We thank the International community and Non-Governmental organizations from all over the world for responding to the crisis faced by our neighbouring countries.
The historical revolutionary umbilical cord which binds South Africa and Mozambique has been deliberately distorted just recently by unscrupulous tendencies from some quarters of our society. We have seen stereotyping attacks aimed at our brothers and sisters from outside South Africa. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly this prejudice is designed to target fellow African people and not nationals from any other continent. Yet we are brothers and sisters of the same African family.
In the wake of such practices which are predicated on the incorrect understanding of history, we have no option but to dispel this notion and put things into the correct perspective. One way of doing this is by demonstrating how we as African people lived in a borderless continent before the advent of colonialism and even during colonial times, where we would grid the continent for different reasons. People would move from one area to another as nomads who lived through hunting or because of territorial wars. These migrants would be accommodated by those they found in the area they migrate to. There was no resentment.
It is worth noting that just recently, in July 2018 a book titled Xenophobia in South Africa: Mozambicans as primary victims of the phenomenon was launched in Mozambique. This publication confirms the seriousness of the unprecedented scourge that has drawn the attention of the renowned journalist Mr Helio Filimone. In his book, Filimone speaks about the barbaric killing of people just because they were non-South Africans. However, what emerged from these sad episodes in 2008, 2015 and 2017 was evident lack of historical knowledge. It is essential to draw from the educative role of history to deal with this pandemic.
Soshangane was born in Zululand around the 1780s. He fled to Delagoa Bay, now called Maputo and later moved to Gaza, and founded the Nguni or Gaza Empire. That was after the defeat of Zwide at the hands of King Shaka during the Mfecane wars. Soshangane was the army general during the time of Zwide’s defeat. He engendered Mzila and his siblings who in turn produced Ngungunyane and his siblings. What is explicit is that Soshangane did not migrate with his family only but a throng of people who were his followers and his impis (warriors) also joined him.
These people were from KwaZulu but had to change their way of life including language to adapt to the new environments. These are the same people we now call by derogatory names and despise in South Africa. Among them we can count: Qwabe, Ngwane, Ndwandwe, etc. as an example. Amongst the people of Mozambique are also children, who were fathered by our revolutionaries who sought sanctuary in countries like Mozambique and other countries like Zambia, Angola, and Tanzania as they were fighting for our liberation. They left these children behind as they returned to South Africa after the unbanning of liberation movements in 1990 and our freedom in 1994. Some had their fathers and mothers originally from South Africa who passed on before our independence and they were left in Mozambique losing their South African descent but maintaining their African identity. It is a shame, therefore, to regard Mozambicans as “foreigners” and people worth killing when they find themselves in South Africa due to both pull and push factors.
As indicated above, Ngungunyane was the grandson of Soshangane, known as Mdungazwe, which was his birth name. Mdungazwe is a Zulu name which can be loosely translated to mean “ONE WHO CONFUSES PEOPLE.” This name was abandoned upon his ascension to the throne and was simply called Ngungunyane.
At his ascension, the Portuguese sent him envoys in 1885 who attempted to coerce him to sign treaties that would see his people’s sovereignty compromised. His astute and diplomatic handling and approach to a bid to make him a puppet thwarted all their advances. He refused to sign a decree that was going to see him sent a Portuguese agent to reside with him as his advisor. They also wanted him to have Portugal colors raised over his kraals and allow only Portuguese to exploit his mines. By all accounts, this was undoubtedly blatant disrespect of an African leader by the Portuguese.
The war between the Portuguese and Ngungunyane ensued and eventually, Ngungunyane sought refuge in Chaimite (This place had no trees and it looked like a desert. As a result, Ngungunyane asked the locals to plant trees. He commanded them in isiZulu to plant, telling them ‘’Tshalani imithi.’’ The place is now referred to as Chaimite, a name which seems to have been derived from a misunderstanding of the phrase “Tshalani imithi.” Many of his close confidantes and sons managed to escape into South Africa and lived in Transvaal. As mentioned earlier, Soshangane settled in present-day Mozambique. Now, we speak of Ngungunyane’s sons, the descendants of Soshangane. They were born in Mozambique but later moved to South Africa which was the land of their forefathers. This is one way of tracing our umbilical cord. It is resilient and indissoluble. Anyone who advances a different narrative to justify the persecution of Mozambicans in South Africa would be guilty of misrepresenting history.
President Samora Machel
The above and below illustrations confirm the situation where wars separated us. However, in another context, wars against colonialism-built unity amongst us as Africans in general and as South Africans and Mozambicans in particular. Not only wars but life in general including the growth of both ANC and Frelimo. In the book, Oliver Tambo; Beyond the Ngele Mountains; President Machel and Oliver Tambo are said to have agreed that Mozambique was not able to offer military camps for MK. Over and above that understanding President Machel had asked Oliver Tambo for his help in the Province of Gaza, asking him to speak to the migrants who had laboured for years in SA and had come to know the ANC better than Frelimo. Tambo visited many villages, testifying to the close relationship of the two movements.
Again, the first time Oliver Tambo met Machel’s family in Xai Xai, Gaza, Mr Machel senior exclaimed when he saw the young man, “This is my son whom I lost in the mines of South Africa! Now he is restored to me.” President Machel’s relatives including his eldest brother (who died in a mining accident in SA) migrated to work in South African mines avoiding famine after the land belonging to his parents could not be used to farm edible crops like corn because Portuguese settlers forced them to grow cotton rather than food crops which they grew up accustomed to growing.
In 1963 President Machel who was an unknown entity then, embarked on a journey from Botswana in Lobatse to join Frelimo in Tanzania. He was in a mission but had no means to get there. Coincidentally the ANC had arranged a chartered flight to get its cadres to Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania. President Machel was brave enough to ask the ANC/SACP leaders, who were Joe Slovo and Uncle JB Marks for a lift. Uncle JB Marks immediately decided that one of the cadres should make way for him to board the flight.
Joe Slovo quoted in the book Samora Machel of Mozambique, by Iain Christie, p23 as having said at a seminar in Tanzania in 1983 about the life and times of Uncle JB Marks, “A short while before our departing, a thin, energetic young man asked if it was possible to get a seat on our plane as he wanted to join the Frelimo forces. JB Marks immediately decided that one of our cadres should be taken off the plane to make room for the Frelimo recruit to a board. The recruit who travelled with us (and he also remembers that very well, and he tells the story today) is Comrade President Samora Machel.”
In return, on assuming power in Mozambique, President Machel harbored the very same Joe Slovo and his comrades from the ANC and its military wing, Umkhonto WeSizwe. President Machel and his government even permitted the burial of our cadres in Mozambique, the likes of Moses Mabhida, Ruth First and the 13 Matola Raid victims. At this time the South African Government has built a Matola Raid Monument in Mozambique where the Matola Raid happened. Again, like South Africa, we have established the President Samora Machel monument in Mbuzini in Mpumalanga Province where President Machel perished under mysterious circumstances. This, too, demonstrates that the political history of Mozambique and that of South Africa are inextricably intertwined. Separating the people of the two countries is, therefore, a misnomer.
About 11 years before the launch of Umkhonto WeSizwe, there was a correspondence between Eduardo Mondlane and Nelson Mandela. According to the book; ‘The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela,’ edited by South African researcher, Sahm Venter in p201, Nelson Mandela wrote a letter to Sanna Teyise. He wrote about her Blue Lagoon restaurant being the institution around which people’s lives turned. It was where he would meet with Seretse Khama, Oliver Tambo, Eduardo Mondlane and Joshua Nkomo. This shows a strong relationship between Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Eduardo Mondlane in particular as a leader of Frelimo.
When Umkhonto WeSizwe was established in 1961, it became easy for its operatives to launch their bases in other African states. This had been made easy by the cooperation that had been started by leaders such as Mandela, Mondlane, Nyerere, Kaunda, Khama, Tambo, and many others. Though we did not have bases in Mozambique after their independence, the country accommodated Umkhonto WeSizwe operatives and made the country a conduit for MK operations in South Africa.
The Sasolburg bombing in South Africa between the 31st of May and 2nd of June 1980 was carried out by the MK operatives from their transit camps in Mozambique. Subsequently, SADF planned a revenge attack which took place on the 30th /31st of January 1981 which led to the killing of MK cadres in Matola, which destabilized the country as much as other raids in Lesotho, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. South Africa is what she is, and its people are what they are, enjoying the democratic order, away from shackles and bondage of apartheid, in pursuit of a non-racial, non-sexist, united and democratic South Africa because of the contributions made by brothers and sisters from Mozambique, the whole continent and the world. I am reminded of the death of Samora Machel and the letter written by Nelson and Winnie Mandela to Graca Machel and the response to it.
In a book, Machel of Mozambique, X1, Nelson Mandela from his cell in Pollsmor Prison and Winnie Mandela from her home in Soweto had asked for permission to leave South Africa temporarily to attend Machel’s funeral and the apartheid government refused them such permission. I understand this to be a sign of defiance from them. Implicit in their request was the statement that we as a country felt the grief the President Machel family and Mozambicans were feeling. When they were refused permission, they sent a telex message to Maputo, which was handed to President Machel’s widow, Graca. The extract of the message read thus,
“Never before have we made application to leave South Africa. Today we believe that our place was to be with you physically. Each one of us is imprisoned in different jails. We were prevented from being present with you today to share your sorrow, to weep with you, to lighten your grief, to hold you very close. We must believe that his death will strengthen both your and our resolve to be finally free, for you, victory over immoral surrogate bandits. For us, over oppression. Our struggle has always been linked and we shall be victorious together.”
In her response Mrs. Graca Machel had this to say:
“My dear sister Winnie Mandela, my dear brother Nelson Mandela, how can I express my admiration for you both? From within your vast prison, you brought a ray of light in my hour of darkness. To you, in particular, Winnie, I express my sincere admiration. My husband was murdered in just one fateful moment; your husband is being killed every day, every hour. My sister thanks you for having the strength to console me. Dear Winnie, Dear Mandela, Samora, your brother, fell on the battlefield. The world will never see Mandela and Samora in a triumphant embrace on that glorious day when the flag of freedom is hoisted in South Africa. Your brother has left us on his last great journey, a journey that began in Mbuzini, who would have believed it? Who would ever guess that little village would become the focus of unity between the peoples of our two countries?
Every day, so many men and women die for freedom in SA. Now Samora Machel’s blood is mixed with the blood of those heroes. He gave his mind and his action to the freedom of South Africa. Who would have imagined that he would also give his life? This blood is the mortar that cements the substantial unity of our peoples.”
Admittedly, it is from these letters’ spirit that the Cabinet Resolution of June 2011 decided to implement the 2005 UNESCO General Conference 33rd session resolution held in Paris in October and supported by six heads of political parties of former liberation movements in 2010. The conference examined 33 C/DR.28 as submitted by the United Republic of Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe and supported by Seychelles. From there the Roads to Independence:
The African Liberation Heritage project was agreed upon as a program by Southern African Development Communities and African Union. African Union Assembly in its 16th Ordinary Session on the 30th-31st of January 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia resolved to engage in this project and moved to support Tanzania as pioneers of the project. South African Cabinet decided in August 2015 to change the route name to the Resistance and Liberation Heritage Route (RLHR).
The Roads to Independence: The African Liberation Heritage is not an isolated project but a concerted effort from different stakeholders. The late Brigadier Hashim Mbita from Tanzania was the Executive Secretary of the African Liberation Committee for 22 years. The committee was established by the Organization of African Unity in 1964 and was dissolved in 1994 in August after South Africa gained independence as the last African state to achieve independence. He was instrumental in immortalizing a legacy of African Liberation Heritage. He initiated and published the documentation of Southern African National Liberation struggles which was officially launched by SADC on the 17th of August 2014 in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe during the 34th ordinary summit of SADC Heads of States and Governments. They all unanimously agreed that these chapters as developed by Brigadier Hashim Mbita are for the benefit of future generations not only from Southern Africa but also from the rest of Africa and the entire world.
The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) as the custodian of Culture and Heritage finds its expression in such programs. The Mbuzini site in South Africa where President Machel perished with 35 others in a plane crash and Matola where Umkhonto WeSizwe cadres were ambushed and killed by the apartheid forces, will always play a pivotal role in showing these two countries and their peoples how this umbilical cord which is revolutionary in nature was built. It was through sacrifices, dedication, shedding of blood and sweat that freedom in both countries was achieved. It would be a disgrace, therefore, to ignore this history and make opportunistic decisions simply for political expediency while distorting history in the process.
For this reason, we are committed to developing a program together with the Mozambican government which will sustain this relationship and benefits the current and future generations.
Mbuzini and Matola monuments should reverberate across the whole world and we encourage South Africans, Mozambicans, Africans in general and the world over to visit these sites and get our own story as told by ourselves, through shared experience. The onus is on each of us to read the face of history correctly and do make the right decisions.
Kanimambo Mozambique, Kanimambo Africa!
Mr Nathi Mthethwa is the Minister of Arts and Culture in South Africa