Footsteps of fallen freedom fighters

2012-06-08 09:35

I never understood why Gili, the Mozambican brother who worked in my father’s dry cleaning business, was reluctant to teach me his country’s national anthem.

I had begged Gili (Gildo Manuel) – a jovial man who always enjoyed a good laugh – to teach me the anthem and some Portuguese.

He was happy to oblige with the language of his country’s colonisers, but wouldn’t sing Viva Viva a Frelimo, Mozambique’s anthem, until 2007.

When he finally obliged, we stood at the big furniture upholstering table and his pleasant face transformed into a stony, mournful expression as he sang in a low distant tone pregnant with emotion.

It shook both the singer and the listener.

When he was done singing, he paused for a while, a distant, nostalgic look in his eyes, then disappeared to the bathroom.

This experience came back to haunt me as I stood on a hill at the Samora Machel Museum in Mbuzini, south of Komatipoort, in Mpumalanga.

It was not just the knowledge that a great son of the soil and 34 other comrades met their grisly end here on the edge of the Lebombo Mountains that stirred deep emotions.

It was the eerie sound made by the 35 rusty steel pipes symbolising the victims of the plane crash that reminded me of Gili’s mournful singing that day.

The pipes were designed in a way that when the wind blows up the hills, they give out a haunting sound that resembles the crashing of a plane and people screaming.

It leaves you lost in imagination, wondering at the final moments of Machel and his comrades.

It is no wonder that our guide Raymond Magagula says many a tear is shed by visitors to this memorial.

A guided tour of the museum takes you on a journey of Machel’s political and personal life, and Mozambique’s battles with apartheid South Africa.

The museum was built at the site where the wreckage of the Tupolev carrying Machel and his entourage was found.

Interesting works of art, including a statue of Machel in military fatigues, have been fashioned out of pieces of the wreckage.

Other pieces have been scattered around to simulate a crash site while others are preserved inside the museum.

On display inside the museum are luggage bags salvaged from the wreck, pictures and biographies of the deceased, and a brief history of Machel and Frelimo’s struggle to free not only Mozambique but southern Africa.

There is a section dedicated to the numerous inconclusive investigations into the crash.

The village of Mbuzini would probably have remained unknown to the world had it not been for the tragic October 19 1986 crash. Even now, more than 25 years later, it remains a rural backwater with not even a motel or filling station.

And the crash remains fresh on the memories of most residents, who recall seeing a big ball of fire falling from the sky that night.

The following morning, as they went out to inspect what had befallen their village, they were met by hostile bands of SA Defence Force personnel who chased them away.

It was only later, when news of Machel’s death reached them via radio news broadcasts, that they began to understand the reason behind the big ball of fire.

Driving from Mbuzini that afternoon, I felt deep anger at the knowledge that no one has been prosecuted for Machel’s death.

I thought of Gili again. I felt warm tears well up in my eyes, and there, I began to understand the emotion behind his rendition of Viva Viva a Frelimo that day back in 1990.

You need not be a relative or supporter of Machel to be touched, moved and angered by the circumstances around his death and the area where he met his end.

It is not an easy tour to undertake, but one worth every moment, particularly for anyone interested in the glorious history of our continent and the men who fought and died for Africa’s freedom.

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