S is for Samora

A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream

October 2012 9781849041942 224pp
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Samora Machel led FRELIMO, the Mozambican Liberation Front, to victory against Portuguese colonialism in 1974, and the following year became independent Mozambique’s first President. He died eleven years later in a mysterious plane crash. Drawing on stories, speeches, documents, and the memories of those who knew him, this biography presents the many different faces of the man Nelson Mandela called ‘a true African revolutionary’.  Machel was a trained nurse who became a consummate military strategist, a farmer’s son with the diplomatic skills first to tread the tightrope between China and the Soviet Union and then to charm Margaret Thatcher, a man of the people who found himself utterly alone, a dedicated seeker of peace who never saw anything but war.

The book examines the discourse of equality, liberty and comradeship that flourished during the 1960s and 1970s in the liberation struggles of the countries of southern Africa, in the face of the dominant rhetoric of the cold war. It meditates on the different languages through which the Mozambican dream was articulated: the linguistic currencies of anti-colonialism, of anti-racism, and of Marxism- Leninism, while exploring the gaps between then and now, between Mozambicans and the western idealists who wanted to be part of their new society, and between the polyglottal Mozambicans themselves.


‘This is a fascinating book about Mozambique’s recent history and transition from colony to republic, and the role of Samora Machel in that process, written from a unique, personal viewpoint by a former cooperante. […] It is attractively, frankly, and engagingly written … a genuinely innovative contribution to the literature on Mozambican history and society.’ — African Studies Bulletin

‘Sarah LeFanu first visited Mozambique as a solidarity worker soon after its 1975 independence. Now, so many years later, she has returned to the subject. In a very personal way, S is for Samora combines what LeFanu sees today with the memory of what she experienced in the late seventies. Vivid and clear-eyed, it tells the exciting story of the “Birth of a Nation” — a story that should be of interest to more than just those who have their own direct experience of Mozambique. Profoundly interesting and highly recommended.’ — Henning Mankell, bestselling author and Maputo resident

‘a cracking biography of the “Mozambican dream”, highlighting the political importance of the first president alongside personal insights into his idealism. LeFanu carries us through an alphabet of exhilarating anecdote, giving the reader a fragmented yet always engaging account of a life curtailed too soon.’ — The Independent

‘This A to Z of Samora Machel, the first president of Mozambique, looks at first like an extended index but the device works brilliantly. Whether you want to read from beginning to end or dip in, it is packed with history and many new and fascinating details. It should become a classic and could start a new trend.’ — Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

‘This is an arresting and original “biography” of Samora Machel. The Mozambican leader emerges as a complicated human being, combining an uncanny ability to relate to people with an implacable commitment to the construction of a new Mozambique. Mixing journalism, diary and academic research, Le Fanu succeeds in offering one of the most wide-ranging accounts of Machel available to date. Under the guise of an a-to-z dictionary, the author offers a gripping insight into the personal and political mix, which made Machel the outstandingly successful leader he undoubtedly was.’ — Patrick Chabal, Professor of African History, King’s College London

‘A beautifully-written and fascinating insight into the recent history of Mozambique. … LeFanu’s coverage of Samora is even-handed: he emerges as a gifted, good and charismatic man motivated by the principles of social justice and a form of nationalism that cut across colour, race and tribe. But she also portrays him as a human being, flawed at times by contradictions and failures. … LeFanu explores the mythology around his significance and legacy in Mozambique today and those of Josina, his freedom fighter wife before her untimely death. … A brilliant book.’ — Susan Williams, author of Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, The Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa

‘This insightful, well-researched and unorthodox book offers a set of interesting narratives about both the character of Samora Machel and the early years of the ‘Mozambican Dream’ — the radical attempt to build an African socialist revolutionary state in the wake of Portugal’s brittle and violent colonial rule. […] The author’s detailed descriptions of people, events and places carry a rare power to evoke the period vividly in the mind of the reader, capturing elements often effaced in other scholarly work. […] It is highly recommended for anyone at all interested in Mozambique, as well as those curious about the histories of leadership and decision-making in African politics.’ — Meera Sabaratnam, Journal of Modern African Studies

‘An important and readable rediscovery of Mozambique’s revolutionary history.’ — Joseph Hanlon, author of Do Bicycles Equal Development in Mozambique?

S is for Samora demonstrates definitively [LeFanu’s] seriousness and insight as both a researcher and a writer. A rich and inspiring narrative … tells multiple stories: of a country coming to independence and liberation after Portuguese colonial rule; of revolutionary energy and activism being converted into established government; of the connections between activism, enfranchisement and freedom, resistance and dominance; of struggle and war in a world of vested interests and politics both visionary and tactical, bent and honest.’ – Huffington Post


Sarah LeFanu's books include Rose MacaulayS is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream; Dreaming of Rose: A Biographer’s Journal and Something of Themselves: Kipling, Kingsley, Conan Doyle and the Anglo-Boer War. Formerly an editor at The Women’s Press, and artistic director of the Bath Literature Festival (2004–9), she regularly chairs events for the Bristol Festival of Ideas and Bristol Women’s Literature Festival and blogs at www.sarahlefanu.com.

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