Born into a poor family in the Chilembene village of colonial Mozambique on September 29, 1933, Samore Moisés Machel worked hard to achieve eminence as a nationalist, statesman, and intellectual. Under his leadership as a freedom fighter, Machel helped dismantle the Portuguese's colonial clutch on his people of Mozambique. In his position as the first president of an independent Mozambique, Machel also is remembered for his unflinching opposition to white minority rules in neighboring South Africa, and Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe).
In the 1940s Machel had his early education under the Catholic mission schools at his home province, then known as Adeia da Madragoa. With the Portuguese policy of assimilation, colonial education was under strict government control. Unlike some of his privileged comrades in the anti-colonial struggle, Machel was denied the privilege of a higher education because of his poor background. Nonetheless, he received good military training in several African and Western countries. The wider continental liberation struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, which corresponded with Machel's formative years, played a crucial role in his emergence as an African nationalist. Bitter from the exploitative Mozambican colonial experience, Machel, like the majority of African nationalists, equated Western capitalism with colonialism and oppression, whereas Soviet socialism stood for freedom and independence.
In 1962 Machel joined the left-wing Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO), which had launched a guerrilla movement against Portuguese colonial rule in 1961 under the leadership of Eduardo Mondlane (1920–1969). Machel would eventually rise through the ranks and become the leader of the movement six months after Mondlane was assassinated in 1969. Under Machel, the FRELIMO intensified guerrilla attacks against white settlers in Mozambique, especially around the Cahora Bassa and Vila Pery districts. As the popularity of FRELIMO increased among the Africans, the Portuguese national army started rethinking the repressive approach to the decolonization question in their African colonies, including Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde.
On April 25, 1974, the army overthrew the Caetano regime in Portugal and the incoming government of General Antonio de Spinola (1910–1996) immediately favored a ceasefire with FRELIMO. After about a year of negotiations, uneasy peace, and more bloodshed, Mozambique gained its independence on June 25, 1975. Samore Machel was sworn in as president of the People's Republic of Mozambique on July 1, 1975.
In accordance with his ideological beliefs, Machel advocated for the formation of a new Mozambican society based on Marxism. He established a one-party state, declaring that his country would be a "revolutionary base against imperialism and colonialism in Africa." Machel provided the basis for the African Nationalist Congress (ANC), and the Zimbabwean liberation movements. Troubled by Machel's pro-Communist policies, several Western powers, including the United States, collaborated with the apartheid regimes in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in funding an anti-Communist faction in Mozambique known as the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO). Mozambique had heavily depended on South Africa for its food and material needs. Therefore, the internationalized civil conflict amounted to a stranglehold that Machel needed to confront to keep his dreams alive. Heavy financial, material, and personnel contributions from the Soviet Union, Cuba, Tanzania, Zambia, and other African countries sustained the FRELIMO in the war, while Machel attempted to build a country tolerant to race and ethnic differences.
On October 19, 1986, Machel died in a suspicious plane mishap coming back from a meeting with President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia (b. 1924). Joaquim Chissano (b. 1939), the current President of Mozambique, succeeded Machel as the new party leader. In 1994 he initiated the region's transition into multiparty politics.
Cabrita, Joao M. Mozambique: The Tortuous Road to Democracy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Munslow, Barry, ed. Samore Machel, an African Revolutionary: Selected Speeches and Writings. Translated by Michael Wolfers. London: Zed Books; Totowa, NJ: Biblio Distribution Center, 1985.
Nelson, Harold D., ed. Mozambique: A Country Study, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Foreign Area Studies, American University, 1985.
Newitt, Malyn. A History of Mozambique. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995.