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Josina Machel - Mozambique's female freedom fighter

June 7, 2018

A heroine of Mozambique's freedom struggle, Josina Machel fought for women's rights and encouraged other women to join the war. She died at 25 without seeing her dream of an independent Mozambique become a reality.

DW Comic Republic - Josina Machel
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Josina Machel - Mozambique's female freedom fighter

Who was Josina Machel?

She was born Josina Abiathar Muthemba on August 10, 1945 in the southern province of Inhambane. Unusually for an African woman of the time, her family encouraged her to go to school, and in 1956, she moved the capital, then called Lourenco Marques, to attend a secondary technical school.

There, Machel became politically active in clandestine student groups and became a member of an underground cell of the Mozambique Liberation Front, more commonly known by its Portuguese abbreviation, FRELIMO. Currently the dominant political party in Mozambique, FRELIMO was founded in Tanzania in 1962 to fight for Mozambique's independence from Portuguese rule.

How did Josina Machel contribute to the struggle for independence?

When she was 18, Josina Machel decided to flee Mozambique to join the liberation war against the Portuguese. On the first attempt, she was captured in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), sent back home and imprisoned for several months. On the second attempt, she managed to reach Frelimo headquarters in Tanzania's capital, Dar es Salaam - a 3,500 kilometer (2,175 mile) journey.

Josina Machel - Mozambique's female freedom fighter

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. The same year, she married Samora Moises Machel, who would go on to become the first president of an independent Mozambique in 1975. But Josina never lived to see her country liberated from the Portuguese. After a serious illness, she died in Dar es Salaam in 1971.

Why was Josina Machel famous?

Because of her dedication to the independence cause - she even refused a scholarship to study in Switzerland, preferring to stay and continue to fight in the guerrilla war against the Portuguese. She also fought for the right of women to take part in the liberation struggle, from bearing arms to being politically active.

But she wasn't the only female freedom fighter?

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.

What is Josina Machel's legacy?

Josina Machel's legacy is evoked each year on the day of her death on April 7. On this day, Mozambique celebrates its National Day of Women, honoring her engagement for equal rights.

Glória Sousa, Leonel Matias and Gwendolin Hilse contributed to this package. It is part of DW's special series "African Roots", dedicated to African history, a cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

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