On 30 January 1981, the South African racist regime violated international law by entering Mozambique without notice and without any provocation, and killed South African refugees and a Mozambique national.
The attack in Matola was not an isolated act but was evidence of the increasingly violent and inhumane nature of the racist apartheid regime. For the world it was another shocking reminder of the horrors of the apartheid regime. The United Nations Resolution of 1972 had declared that apartheid constitutes a total “negation of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and is a crime against humanity.”
The context of Matola raid was that the apartheid regime was shaken by the fact that the liberation waves were advancing even after two decades of banning of the liberation Movement. In response to the raid, Presidents Samora Machel of Mozambique and OR Tambo of the ANC said the following:
Let them come! (Que venham!)
“They want to come here and commit murder. So we say: Let them come! Let the racists come… Let them come! Let us liquidate war once and for all. Then there would be true peace in the region. Not the false peace we are now experiencing. Let the South Africans come, but let them be clear that the war will end in Pretoria. The war will end in Pretoria, for the majority will take power in Pretoria.” (President Samora Machel )
Let us reply! (Vamos Responder!)
“The experience of our people in South Africa, the experience of the people of Zimbabwe, the experience of the people of Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Polisario, PLO – all show that the struggle for liberation, a just struggle, feeds on the blood of its fallen martyrs and grows stronger and stronger. In the end it overwhelms the enemy and bring him down in the heap of ruins… The enemy is attacking – let us reply!” (President OR Tambo)
The Matola raid also happened at the time when the flags of liberation were being hoisted in the Southern African region – in 1974 in Mozambique, 1975 in Angola and 1980 in Zimbabwe. The first two events in Mozambique and Angola inspired the South African youth of 1976 to believe that their liberation was also around the corner. The youth had also been inspired by the then recently released leaders like Harry Gwala, Joe Gqabi and the now serving President Jacob Zuma. These leaders worked underground within the youth and guiding them in their efforts.
Sensing defeat, the apartheid machinery dubbed the popular resistance as total onslaught, hence the total strategy which was a military solution to a political problem. The raid made a mockery of the sovereignty of the Republic of Mozambique. Meanwhile in South Africa thousands who fought for freedom were either killed, detained, banned or forced into exile.
The world was awakened to the fact that as long as apartheid existed, life, peace and stability would be under constant threat, as was to be further proven by the raids, assassinations and other brutalities in Zambia, Lesotho, Botswana, Angola, Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world.The act was described as “barbarism personified and incomparable, and a violation of the United Nations charter”.
If the raid was justified, as apartheid apologists and ideologues would want us to believe, why then was it carried out under the umbrella of king of darkness? Those who come at night or dawn intend to commit dastardly, cowardly and barbaric acts.
Events like these exposed and demonstrated to the world the true nature of the racist apartheid regime.
All the Frontline States were prone to attacks from the apartheid regime resulting in many deaths, injuries and destruction and wide-scale destabilisation of their economies and their very fabric of life. But what drove them to defend us and fight for our freedom and not simply their own was an understanding that we are one people united in a common cause for freedom.
President Tambo articulated the situation of our region in 1981, in the following manner:
“This is the daily experience of Namibia; and Angola is in a permanent state of war. But the Botha regime is not acting in isolation. Its criminal role in Africa is an expression of the determination of international imperialism, led by the United States, to defeat the forces of progress and impose its will on the people. In pursuit of these goals, the Reagan Administration has entered into strategic alliance with the most reactionary regimes in the world. These include the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Zionist regime of Israel and the genocidal junta in El Salvador.
“United by their absolute contempt for human life and driven by the desire to ensure imperialist domination everywhere, these forces of reaction exclude no means or methods in the pursuit of their goals. Above all, brute force constitutes the centrepiece of their strategy. That is why today the Reagan government is busy reducing expenditures on social security while vastly increasing its military budget..”.
Despite the challenges and veil threats thrown at them, the Mozambican people, the frontline states and broader progressive humanity did not once kick us out of their countries. For this act of solidarity and humanity we salute the heroic people of Mozambique and the entire progressive humanity. During the course of the week, President of the Republic of South Africa, President Jacob Zuma together with his counterpart from Mozambique, President Felipe Nyusi opened The Matola Memorial Monument and Interpretative Centre which serve as a permanent reminder for future generations to never forget the sacrifices that were made to achieve a free South Africa.
The monument is a commitment to the everlasting friendship between the two countries and its peoples; a commitment to ensure that racist discrimination and oppression do not raise their ugly head in these two countries and, not least, in the world. We are proud to honour the martyrs of the Matola Raid.
The monument that the Presidents unveiled should be a place of pilgrimage and dialogue and should stand as testimony of our common triumph over oppression as we together, Mozambique and South Africa, hand in hand, say to the world that “We are Africa”.
The Matola Monument will contribute to the promotion of peace and integration on the African continent by encouraging dialogue and reconciliation. It must remind future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to work towards living in peace and harmony with their neighbours, and striving for a better Africa and a better world.
The unveiling of the monument took place during the heritage month in our country. Matola is our heritage, a critical pillar in the liberation of the people of South Africa and Mozambique. Last month, August 2015, the South African government adopted policy on Liberation Heritage Route, Matola is part of that route.
Matola Raid is an integral part of our story. The story of revolutionary militants. It must be told all the time. From the ashes of Matola Raid we affirm the fundamental principles of South African Constitution which enjoins us to:
“Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”.
The unveiling of the Matola Raid monument by the two Presidents of the people’s of South Africa and Mozambique is humane act in honouring those who fought for justice and freedom in our land. We cannot speak about the story of humanity’s fight for freedom without mentioning Matola.
Comrade Nathi Mthethwa is an ANC NEC member and Minister of Arts and Culture