Josina Abiatar Machel (1945-1971)

Dossier MZ-0759


Josina Machel was born Josina Abiatar Muthemba on 10 August 1945 in Inhambane, into a well-known Mozambican nationalist family. She finished primary school in 1956, and later entered a commercial institute in Lourenço Marques, where she became politically active in clandestine student groups, joining a Frelimo cell in the early 1960s. In March 1964 she unsuccessfully attempted to reach Tanganyika, but was arrested by the Rhodesians, handed over to PIDE, and imprisoned. After she had been released she tried again, in early 1965, this time travelling via Swaziland, South Africa and Bechuanaland (now Botswana) to Dar es Salaam.

Josina Machel, smiling

After training, she was active in the liberation struggle in Niassa and later in Cabo Delgado. In May 1969 she married Samora Machel, then Frelimo’s military commander. However, she fell ill and died in Dar es Salaam, at the age of 25, on 7 April 1971.

Josina Machel was an important figure in Frelimo’s history both as a woman and as a militant who sacrificed everything for the struggle; she was and remains a ‘símbolo da mulher moçambicana combatente’, to quote one of the OMM’s leaflets. Much of the writing about her therefore emphasises her heroic qualities.

However, Nadja Manghezi’s biography of Janet Mondlane, O Meu Coração Está nas Mãos de um Negro (Maputo: CEA, 1999), reveals something of her human side in chapter 11 (pages 301-321; entitled Com Josina). The chapter focuses on the relationship between the recently-widowed Janet and Josina, who lived with her and supported her after Eduardo Mondlane was murdered; it also includes some frank comments by Janet Mondlane on Samora Machel as a husband [p.313]. On Josina’s illness, Janet Mondlane is quoted as saying that some time after her death «me disseram que ela tinha tido cancro do pâncreas ou coisa parecida» [page 311].

This dossier consists mainly of a selection of photographs, and a handful of documents and clippings, mainly from the weekly review Tempo and the Maputo daily Notícias. Click on any of the photographs below to view or download a better-quality but larger file.

Josina Machel in scarf

Above: a rare photograph of Josina Machel in civilian dress. Her status as a symbol of «woman-militant» requires, of course, that she be seen always dressed as a guerrilla fighter. Left, top to bottom: the cover of the issue of Tempo for 6 April 1975 in memory of Josina (see below for the texts); the cover of the TCLPAC reprint of Frelimo’s undated memorial pamphlet for Josina; a 1975 pamphlet marking women’s day; a 1981 pamphlet to mark the tenth anniversary of Josina Machel’s death; the cover of Nadja Manghezi’s life of Janet Mondlane (mentioned above). Below: Josina crossing rough terrain in the liberated zones [detail]. In the full-size photograph, Samora Machel is a few paces behind her.

Josina Machel marching

January 1971
Josina Machel. Intervenção da camarada Josina Machel, numa reunião realizada na Base Central do Niassa Oriental, em Janeiro de 1971, com o Departamento Feminino. Tempo [Lourenço Marques], no.236, 6 April 1975, p.9-11. Transcribed from a tape recording. Click here to view or download a PDF, size 1.9 Mb.

15 April 1971
Funeral de Josina. Tempo [Lourenço Marques], no.236, 6 April 1975, p.14-15. This article was originally published in the Frelimo periodical 25 de Setembro (15 April 1971). Click here to view or download a PDF, size 1.6 Mb.

Um ano depois. Tempo [Lourenço Marques], no.236, 6 April 1975, p.16. Messages from Frelimo structures to mark the first anniversary of Josina Machel’s death. Click here to view or download a PDF, size 531 kb.

Anniversary of the death of Josina Machel. Toronto: Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Portugal’s African Colonies (TCLPAC), undated, 16 pages. Click here to view or download a PDF file, size 1.5 Mb.

Cover of book on Josina Machel

Above: The cover of the monograph on Josina by Renato Matusse and Josina Malique, Josina Machel: ícone da emancipação da mulher moçambicana (Maputo: ARPAC, 2007) (Colecção «Embondeiro» no.29), 261 pages. The work is a rich source for photographs, facsimiles of documents and newspaper clippings, with some material printed in Shangaan (accompanied by Portuguese translations), and an índice remissivo or subject index.

6 April 1975
Dia da mulher moçambicana: 7 de Abril de 1975, quarto aniversário da morte de Josina Machel. Tempo [Lourenço Marques], no.236, 6 April 1975, p.2-8. Click here to view or download a PDF, size 3.8 Mb.

6 April 1975
Samora Machel. [Three poems about Josina]. Tempo [Lourenço Marques], no.236, 6 April 1975, p.12-13. Click here to view or download a PDF, size 2.1 Mb.

6 April 1975
A voz da mulher. Tempo [Lourenço Marques], no.236, 6 April 1975, p.59. Poems by Josina Machel, Rosália Tembe and Joana Nachake. Click here to view or download a PDF, size 312 kb.

Josina Machel on the parade ground

Above and below: The most famous pictures of Josina possess a literal iconic status, having been extensively used in posters, magazine covers and so on. These are two less well known photographs of her. In one she appears to be standing «at ease» during some kind of military parade. In the picture below she seems to be wearing a formal or dress uniform. No information was discovered about the circumstances in which these photos were taken.

Josina Machel seated

April 1981
Organização da Mulher Moçambicana. Secretariado Nacional. 7 de Abril de 1981: 10.º aniversário da morte da camarada Josina Machel, símbolo da mulher moçambicana combatente. Maputo: INLD, 1981. 26 pages. Click here to view or download a PDF file, size 1.1 Mb.

7 April 1982
Primórdios de uma biografia. Notícias [Maputo], 7 April 1982. Click here to view or download a PDF, size 173 kb.

9 April 1983
Pedro Tivane. Recordo-me de Josina como se estivesse a vê-la – Marina Pachinuapa. Notícias [Maputo], 9 April 1983. Click here to view or download a PDF, size 244 kb.

Josina Machel, with rifle

Above: there are at least two similar versions of this famous photograph, presumably taken within moments of each other but differing in minor details of the pose and the background.