The Rebel, The Legend, Josina Machel

Written by: Esnala Banda

Before independence, and before Graca Machel become First Lady, there was another woman in Samora Machel and Mozambique’s life, Josina Machel. She is the reason Mozambican Women’s Day rests on 7th April on the day she died, as a celebration for her struggle for equal rights and that of many women in the liberation of Mozambique.

Whilst she may have died aged only 25, Josina Machel fought for women’s rights and encouraged other women to join the war pushing for her dream of an independent Mozambique that she never got a chance to see as she died in 1971 from Leukemia, 4years before Mozambique gained independence

Born Josina Abiathar Muthemba in 1945, in the southern province of Inhambane, she was encouraged to go to school, moved to the capital, then called Lourenco Marquand in 1956 to attend a secondary technical school.

She became politically active in student groups and became a member of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) which was founded in Tanzania in 1962 to fight for Mozambique’s independence from Portuguese rule.

From the time she was 18, Josina Machel fled Mozambique numerous times to join the liberation war against the Portuguese. She was captured on the first attempt,sent back home and imprisoned for several months but persistent until she managed to reach Frelimo headquarters in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam. 

There she received military training and rose in FRELIMO ranks, becoming head of the party’s Department of Social Affairs in 1969 at the age of 24. She went on to marry Samora Moises Machel in the same year, who would go on to become the first president of an independent Mozambique in 1975. 

Josina Machel is celebrated because of her dedication to the independence cause, and went as far as refusing a scholarship to study in Switzerland, opting and continue to fight in the guerrilla war against the Portuguese. 

As head of FRELIMO’s Department of Social Affairs, she dedicated herself to causes such as Women’s Rights, child care, education centers, and specifically, education initiatives for girls and is considered a key figure of the global feminist movement.

It is true that other women also committed themselves to the armed struggle. Many of them were encouraged by Josina’s success in the liberation movement. The mystique surrounding Josina Machel comes from a combination of her personal sacrifice, her early death and her marriage to the man who would later become Mozambique’s president. No wonder that the patronym she only bore for two years is the one she is remembered by.

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