Maputo — Mozambicans should learn from the example of men such as Filipe Samuel Magaia, the first head of the Frelimo guerrilla army, "that victory in the struggle we wage is possible", declared the country's President, Armando Guebuza, on Tuesday.
Guebuza was speaking at a ceremony paying tribute to Magaia on the 40th anniversary of his death.
"To mark 40 years since Magaia was stolen from us forever is an unparalleled occasion to recall important aspects of our Mozambican identity, and the recovery of our self-esteem", said the President. "At this time, when we are making vigorous efforts to implement our national struggle against poverty, to evoke the name of Magaia is to seek an inspirational example for the fighters of today, the fighters against poverty, to commit themselves with the same enthusiasm as our heroes of the past".
Magaia was born in Mocuba, in the central province of Zambezia, in 1937. He served as a conscript in the Portuguese army from 1958 to 1960, and then took a job with Mozambique Railways (CFM).
By this time his nationalist convictions were already formed, and in Beira he came to the notice of the Portuguese political police, the PIDE, who arrested him and threw him in prison for three months.
In March 1962, Magaia slipped out of the country and made his way to what then was still Tanganyika. He joined the National Democratic Union of Mozambique (UDENAMO), one of the three movements that merged later in the year to form Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front).
Since all attempts to secure independence peacefully had failed, Frelimo prepared to embark on an armed liberation war.
Magaia was a member of the first Frelimo delegation, led by Marcelino dos Santos, that negotiated training facilities with the Algerian government. When the Algerians agreed, Magaia was among the first group of future guerrillas trained on Algerian soil.
Back in Dar es Salaam, Magaia was appointed head of the Frelimo Defence and Security Department, which effectively made him commander of the guerrilla army. It was thus Magaia who had to ensure that everything was in place for launching the independence war on 25 September 1964.
This work, Guebuza recalled, "included drawing up plans for politico-military training in friendly countries, inside and outside Africa; identifying suitable sites for training and transit camps on Tanzanian soil; appointing guerrillas to various tasks, notably reconnaissance operations within Mozambique; and mobilising the people to participate in the national liberation struggle".
Magaia was not among those who believed that the colonial regime would crumble. Guebuza said he was well aware that the regime had large armed forces, and was supported by external allies. He therefore had to convince the guerrillas "that this would be a prolonged war".
The military strategy defended by Magaia was aimed at "the gradual wearing down, morally, psychologically and materially, of the enemy forces, and of the entire machinery that sustained the colonisation of Mozambique", added the President.
Magaia argued that military operations should only be undertaken "after profound political work among the population, and reconnaissance to understand the capacity and routine of the enemy forces".
This, said Guebuza, laid the foundations "for a strong and patriotic popular army". From an initial embryo of just 250 guerrillas, a powerful Frelimo army, the People's Forces for the Liberation of Mozambique (FPLM), would grow - an army which, together with the liberation movements in Angola and Guinea- Bissau, would bring about the downfall of the Portuguese colonial-fascist regime in 1974.
Magaia died on 10 October 1966, as he was returning to Tanzania after inspecting the front in Niassa province. He was shot by another of the guerrillas in his column, a man named Lourenco Matola, described as "an agent of colonialism infiltrated within Frelimo".
After independence, Magaia was reburied in the Monument to the Mozambican Heroes in Maputo.
Men such as Magaia should be an inspiration for today's battles, stressed Guebuza. "Each one of us should accept that today's struggle is the continuation of those we waged in the past", he said. "More important still, we must convince ourselves that, just as in the past, victory in the struggle is possible, and that to speed up this victory, each of us must play his part".
And rather than simply praise the heroism of Magaia and his comrades, "we must ask how we are ensuring integration between Magaia's generation and the youth of today so that they can inherit, value and preserve the legacy of the liberation struggle, and draw inspiration from it for the fight we now wage against poverty".