On 13 June 1978, President Samora Machel visited the ‘First of May’ Communal Village in the Limpopo Valley and spoke at a large popular rally. Mozambique had been independent for less than three years, after a brutal ten-year war against the Portuguese colonial power, led by Frelimo, which was now attempting to transform itself from a broad front into a Marxist-Leninist party and was in the middle of a fierce struggle over agricultural policy. Colin Darch and David Hedges introduce the speech which is included in their forthcoming collection of Machel’s interviews and speeches.
By Colin Darch and David Hedges
In 1978 there was a sharp division within the Frelimo Party and the government between those advocating a technology-driven rural development policy supported by Soviet and East German mechanised equipment, and those who favoured a greater reliance on popular initiatives.
After the flight of Portuguese colonists at independence, most of the rice fields of the Limpopo valley were subject to an agrarian policy which put large state farms using hundreds of tractors and harvesters at the centre of operations. Lack of experience in such mechanisation led to a mismatch of grain, soils, and machinery. Moreover, there was resistance owing to the absence of land restitution by Frelimo after independence, and against compulsory relocation to communal villages after the extensive floods of 1977. In the rice harvest of mid-1978, the results of state investment were disappointing, and hundreds of hectares of rice were left unharvested.
The president’s speech at the ‘First of May’ Communal Village was dramatic, emotional, and apparently largely improvised. He concluded by insisting that everybody in Gaza Province – peasants, workers, students, government officials, and others – must all take part in the now manual rice harvest. This meant, quite literally, cutting the rice with curved scythes (see pictures). Machel himself set an example by leading a procession of government ministers and high-ranking officials into the fields, and in the end, he managed to mobilise over 30,000 people to participate in the effort.
Machel’s speech is astonishing for its frankness, and for its energy, impatience, and anger, apparent to the reader even in transcribed and translated form. Machel raises multiple issues, including the new government’s efforts to mobilise the broad masses around what development might look like after a victorious war of national liberation, and about how to sustain the people’s energy and work ethic over a continuing and prolonged economic and social struggle. At times he calls his listeners ‘blockheads’ and berates them for laziness; he asks them directly if they would expect a baby to walk and digest solid foods immediately after birth.
The speech is extraordinary not only for the bluntness of the language – in which he uses local Ronga expressions for forced labour, mine recruitment, and local alcoholic drinks – but also for the openness with which it addresses the difficulties Frelimo was facing in getting large sectors of the rural population in Gaza province to participate in the mobilisation to save the 1978 rice crop. Machel’s discourse hammers home the need for sacrifice in the process of national reconstruction in the post-colonial period, with constant reference to the experience of the armed struggle for national independence.
The spectacular rice harvest of July 1978 was an important moment in the evolution of agrarian policy: as the Frelimo Party and Machel began to recognise, what Marc Wuyts wrote in 1981 ‘… the question of choice of technique in agriculture is not merely a technical issue, but principally a political choice which affects the whole social structure of the rural economy.’ Indeed, it was not just a question of a ‘choice of technique under socialist transition,’ but of the need for careful investigation of the ‘structure of the inherited colonial rural economy as well as the nature of the crisis of the colonial capitalist economy after independence…’.
In August, barely a month after Samora’s speech, Frelimo’s Central Committee reprimanded the ‘technologists’, and Joaquim de Carvalho was sacked as Minister of Agriculture for systematically giving priority to technology. He was accused of scorning popular initiatives and contributions and criticised for seeking to block the creation of communal villages. In this context, Machel’s speech can best perhaps be read as a demonstrative political response to near-disastrous failures at the technical and organisational levels.
Machel begins in a minor key by saying he has been assigned the task of coming to Gaza to talk to the people. He eulogises Gaza Province as the ‘breadbasket of the nation’, with the potential to produce a vast range of food crops, as well as to support cattle, pigs, sheep, and other animals. Then he changes tone:
So why doesn’t the Province produce [all these things]? Can you work when you’re hungry? Can you ask hunger to lend you strength, on condition that you come to pay it back tomorrow or the day after? We talked about the struggle to provide clothing, but first there’s hunger. Everyone – men, women, children, and old people – their main task at this moment in any part of the People’s Republic of Mozambique is to fight to eliminate hunger.
Yesterday, from the Rovuma to the Maputo, our struggle was against the foreign occupier. Gaza, Inhambane, Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambézia, Cabo Delgado and Nampula were all involved in the struggle to expel the foreigner, the occupier, the exploiter, the oppressor. The concern of each one of us was how to liquidate the enemy […] It wasn’t about expelling the colonialist so as to be lazy.
Do you hear? Do you hear? [The crowd responds: We hear].
Yesterday, before we won independence, when you were running away from xibalo [forced labour] you all slept in the bush, you slept in trees – crossing the rivers you were eaten by crocodiles and alligators [applause]. Am I right? Hah! All of you said it’s better to be eaten by a lion running away to South Africa on foot – not having money for a train ticket – than to stay and be ruled by a colonialist! Am I right? [You are right].
You’re blockheads! You’ve forgotten already, haven’t you? Yesterday, we proclaimed independence and you’ve forgotten about it. Yesterday, you were being eaten by mosquitoes… you, particularly the ones in Gaza, Inhambane and Maputo. Your children grew up not knowing their own parents, because the parents stayed in Jo’burg all the time […] You’ve forgotten already, haven’t you? It was only yesterday that you spent your time living in the bush, scared of forced labour, scared of being shackled. Do you remember that?
You women, you remember it. Many women here today lost their husbands because they died on the Nwandzeguele [mine labour]. Didn’t they die? Many woman hgere haven’t got husbands because they died in Guevane … in the mines of South Africa, in Nwandzeguele, in Xinavane […] am I right or not?
Blockheads! Blockheads! You’ve forgotten, haven’t you? Look, the ones who were victorious, the ones who liberated you, they are here. Are you listening? The ones who led the struggle to expel the Portuguese are here. They worked for many years, without receiving any money [applause]. So many years, not knowing what a salary was, so many years never knowing what money was, so many years never knowing a boss. Their boss was the povo [the people], it was independence, their boss was liberation.
To fight against poverty, everyone must feel responsible, must feel the need just like when colonialism was still here, when colonialism weighed heavily on everyone’s shoulders. Then everyone will be conscious and will struggle against deprivation. There are no miracles in the fight against deprivation – if everyone begins by asking ‘I’m going to work! What will I get? Who am I going to work for?’ That way we wouldn’t have independence even now! Do you understand? If everyone had had that spirit, had thought like that – ‘If I’m going to fight and I’m going to die, who will be around to see independence?’ – then up to today we wouldn’t even have started the war against the colonialists.
‘I’m going to die without seeing independence!’ It was that – ‘I’ll die before I see independence, so it’s not worth fighting’. Who would have taken up arms to fight colonialism, who would have fought, if everyone had had that kind of thinking: ‘Ah, I’ll fight, and then after independence what will I become, what will FRELIMO give me?’ Up to now, we wouldn’t have fought. The ones who beat colonialism weren’t as many as you all right here, right here in this meeting. The ones who beat colonialism, the ones who picked up guns to fight the enemy, they were so few that right here there are more of you than there were of them. Do you hear me?
[Now Machel comes to the main point of the meeting].
But you can’t complete the rice harvest here in Gaza. You won’t cut rice! Because you want money! Rice only grows in the Limpopo Valley […] It’s only in the Limpopo Valley – and the entire population of Gaza can’t harvest the rice in ten days, because you want money, money, money. Am I right?
The book your child uses at school comes from rice. The teacher, your son at school it’s rice that pays for it. The shoes your son needs – rice brings them – the scarves, the wraps [capulanas] and the blankets that your wife needs, it’s the rice that brings them – and you ask, ‘Who’s this rice for?
The medicine you need in the hospital, the injection, the bed you need in hospital and in the maternity ward, the nurse in the hospital, the midwife in the maternity ward, the doctor in the hospital – they are all paid for with money brought in by rice. And you’re still asking who owns the rice! You’re still asking who owns the rice. It seems that when you go to the hospital you won’t need a doctor or a midwife. Who pays them? You’ll pay, you have money, you have money! And why do you let the rice rot? Huh? Huh? You come here to ask how much you should be paid and when they tell you it’s fifty escudos, you go home and say you’d rather sit back in your house. You prefer to rest your heads on your arms, don’t you? You’re blockheads! […]
[…] Last year there were floods in Gaza Province, and the government wanted to save lives, the little money that the government had was given to a commission formed to save the population in Gaza, which was under water. They brought planes, they brought boats, they brought some food, they brought clothes to help the population of Gaza Province […]
Did the colonialists ever do that? Why didn’t they? Were you considered to be people? What were you? The colonialists needed you for forced labour, for xibalo. There were régulos [chiefs] – where are they? Were you the ones who got rid of them, or was it the government? What job did the régulos have? It was recruiting people for xibalo, to pay tax and for the palmatória [wooden paddle for beating people], wasn’t it? And to prepare girls to give to the administrators […] If you want, we’ll bring back the régulos [laughter]. Everyone is laughing. You weren’t the ones who ordered the régulos to be wiped out, do you hear? Here are the government ministers who studied and saw the need to do away with the régulos and the sepoys [African police]. Some of the sepoys are here – and now they’re looking down at the ground! […]
[…] If you want, we’ll get the régulos to make you do the work faster. We can do this because it doesn’t cost anything. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Those who are silent deep inside need it, don’t they? Those who want to, raise your hands [laughter].
[Machel spends some moments asking people from different districts who are participating in the harvest to raise their hands, one group after another].
Now, let’s go to those who don’t harvest rice – stand up. If you don’t want to, I’ll tell all the ones who have been cutting rice to stand up, and then you’ll see how you’ll be exposed, and then you’ll be alone. Those who do not harvest rice, raise your hands. You are ashamed. And so? I will ask those from Macia, Xai-Xai and Guijá to participate in the harvest. Get up then. Get up all of you. All the ones who cut rice! Okay, that will do!
Let’s move on to another point. Who’s going to sensitise the population, who will explain to the povo the value of rice being cut in twenty days? It’s FRELIMO, political commissars at district, locality, communal village levels, administrators who belong to FRELIMO, district administrators, administrators of the locality, the Grupos Dinamizadores. In December we elected the People’s Assemblies – these are jobs for the deputies of the People’s Assemblies, and they didn’t carry them out […] Do you hear me? Do you think money grows on trees? Have you all paid taxes? Not yet! And where do we get money to pay you if you haven’t paid taxes yet? […]
[Changes line of argument] Let’s go back a little bit […] the provincial government of Gaza should have held a bigger meeting than this one to explain to you the amount of work. Do you hear? Do you hear? As we are doing today. After this meeting, we’re all going to cut rice.
When we started to talk to the povo, at the time of the war, we already knew that we were going to defeat colonialism. The population that was going to carry the materials – the materials that allowed the enemy to be liquidated – didn’t get food, or clothing, and nobody received money. They carried loads of materials to fight the enemy. They carried materials for the schools, for the education of the children. They carried medical supplies. They carried medicine to treat our sick and wounded. We didn’t have cars. Our ‘cars’ were two legs that we nicknamed «car no.11». Two legs to transport material from Tanzania to Beira and Chimoio.
From Tanzania all the way to Beira and Chimoio, we marched for three months without resting, planes overhead, enemy mines underfoot. That is to say, we marched as if we were going from here, even farther than Maputo, about two hundred or three hundred kilometres, we were marching – men, women, children, and old people.
Now we’re here, and we don’t want to cut rice because we want money! […] how will we get tractors, ploughs, hoes, if you can’t produce rice for export or to buy these things? We want to provide clothing for everyone, but Gaza Province doesn’t have clothing factories. What allows you to buy blankets and clothes, to bring sugar to your province? What allows you to bring medicine, notebooks, pencils, and pens – it’s the sale of rice. Because it allows us to bring foreign exchange for the purchase of materials and goods to supply Gaza Province and the other provinces as well. It isn’t only Gaza province that benefits from rice, but the entire population from Rovuma to Maputo – the entire country.
The tomatoes you produce in Gaza are sold in Maputo, where the workers in the factories produce ploughs, sweaters, handkerchiefs, sneakers, and footballs, and then they’re sold in Gaza province – an exchange between peasants and workers. That’s why we talk about the ‘worker-peasant alliance.’ Our mistake was not bringing our ideas to you. Do you hear? Our mistake was not making you all participate in the discussion. And your mistake is that you put money first.
Those who incited you, those who stirred you up are the old ones. You know, you know the ones who say, ‘If they don’t give us money, we’ll leave and go home.’ You know the ones who said that. Those who cleaned and swept the yards of the régulos. And some of them are here. They’d wake up in the morning and collect a hundred escudos from people who came from South Africa. Do you know about those situations? Do you know that when a complaint was made to a régulo, the individual who complained brought a goat with him for the régulo? Do you know this? The ones who’d wake up in the morning and do those things are the ones who tell you today that money should come first […] Our government doesn’t have any ximole [a local alcoholic drink; laughter], and the ones who are here, where are they going to find ximole? Do you also want ximole? You don’t accept our system of government? You prefer the régulos and the sepoys! Is that right?
I was speaking a little bit about what the war was like, and about the participation of the population, because I had a clear objective. Now we have the rice harvest in Gaza province. We bought a hundred lorries, and we want to pay for them with that rice. We bought 500 tractors, of which 220 came to Gaza Province to support the campaign, to prepare the Limpopo Valley, the ‘breadbasket of the nation’, following the guidelines and decisions of the Third Congress. It’s rice that will pay for the vehicles, for the tractors, it’s potatoes that will pay for the tractors. We have no other source.
It will be necessary for you to participate, to work, to become agricultural workers – that is, we will have to build factories in Gaza province, which is not enough. Your province is rich, you’ll need to grow a lot of cashew trees to manufacture… to build cashew processing factories. It will be necessary to build factories for the production of clothing in Gaza province. Not needing Maputo but producing clothes here. And to produce clothes, it will be necessary for you to produce enough cotton to supply your factories. It will be necessary to build factories for the production of oil – cooking oil. It will be necessary to build soap factories for you to be self-sufficient.
Now, if you are lazy, where will we get people to run the factories, where will we get people to drive the tractors, where will we get people for the economic development of your province?
Your province has the capacity to produce oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons – all the citrus fruits, and you need juice for your consumption, that’s not a dream. When we started to fight against the colonialists it was not a dream, it was a reality and today we have won. You never thought that the colonialists would be defeated in Mozambique. Nobody thought, they said that the colonialists have warships, they have planes, and they have a lot of money – and therefore we would not be in a position to fight colonialism. But the truth is this, when we planned, when we thought that our ideas could be realised, we launched the struggle.
What do you want? I know what it is, you want a child to be born today and to start walking tomorrow. How many months does it take in the mother’s womb, and then how long does it take to get up and stand up? It’s a year, it’s twelve months, isn’t it? And then to be weaned? Huh? It’s a year and a half, isn’t it? Eh? If you don’t have a cow to give you milk, can you wean a child in a year and a half? Can the child eat cassava, sweet potato at one and a half years old? Can the child eat roasted corn, cassava? If you weaned the child at a year and a half, what do you expect to give it? Answer me, you mothers! Do you give the child mealie pap, is that it? No? If she is weaned at a year and a half, what do you expect to give her, eh? You, the mothers, answer me, what do you give the child? And now to start going to school and start talking, how many months is it? Eh?
You proclaimed independence in 1975 and you want everything right away, today. Sometimes you want shoes, sometimes you want blankets, or motorbikes, how is that possible? Where do all these things come from, where does all this come from?
Now, all the administrators, from now on – listen carefully – will have to bring to the rice harvest – each administration, 5,000 people. Each administration – Chicualacuala, Massingir, Guijá, Macia, Limpopo, Manjacaze, Chibuto and Xai-Xai – must bring 5,000 people here to cut rice and finish the job in ten days. Do you hear me? Do you hear? I’m speaking here on behalf of FRELIMO, in the name of the People’s Republic of Mozambique, and on behalf of all the people from the Rovuma to the Maputo. Do you all understand? In ten days, finish the harvest, starting on Saturday, the day of greatest concentration. In ten days, all the rice should be cut in the Limpopo Valley. And those who participate who are already there, tomorrow we will all be there together and the day after tomorrow the whole government will be with you. But from Saturday, the concentration should be 5,000 from each district, to participate in rice cutting. Today the governor of Gaza province will get in touch with all the structures of the party, of the government, and of the People’s Assemblies. In this republic watered with blood, a republic weighed down with sacrifices, the lazy have no place. In this country. Do you understand me?
Khanimambo to everybody [applause and singing].
This translation by Colin Darch and David Hedges is an abridged version of a speech included in the forthcoming collection of Machel’s interviews and speeches, Voices of Liberation: Samora Machel (Cape Town: HSRC Press, in preparation). The collection focuses on lesser-known texts that reveal different aspects of Machel’s thought and personality. The Portuguese text from Notícias (16 June 1978), is available here.
Colin Darch worked in Mozambique from 1979 to 1987, and is the founder of the website Mozambique History Net. With Amélia Neves de Souto he’s the author of A Dictionary of Mozambican History and Society (HSRC Press, 2022).
David Hedges has worked as a professor of history at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo since 1978, and has published extensively in both English and Portuguese on the period immediately before and after Mozambican independence.
Featured Photographs: images of Samora are by Kok Nam and Macedo Matavela, from Tempo no.403, 25 June 1978. Woman in field is by Naita Ussene, from Tempo, no.400, 11 June 1978.