Naphtali Khumalo HISTORY CHECK: Samora Machel was anti-racist – quotes about white people ‘can only be considered false’

Dismissive quotes about white people have been attributed to Samora Machel and used in South Africa’s parliament. But experts – including Machel’s daughter – cast serious doubt on whether the late Mozambican leader ever said them.

It is easy to attribute false quotes to dead people. Africa Check has debunked widely shared statements falsely credited to Steve Biko, Winston Churchill, George Washington and Harriet Tubman.

A quote attributed to Samora Machel, former president of South Africa’s neighbour Mozambique and leader of anti-colonial armed group Frelimo, has been widely shared on social media.

It claims Machel said: “The day you hear the whites speak of me in good terms, don’t share your secrets with me, because that means I would have betrayed you already.”

Machel died in a plane crash in 1986.

Quote shared by Economic Freedom Fighters

A similar quote was used in South Africa’s parliament by Floyd Shivambu, the deputy president and parliamentary chief whip of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). 

In 2018 he told the national assembly that Machel “used to say if you are applauded by white people you must know something is wrong with you”. 

Shivambu also tweeted the quote, as did the EFF’s official Twitter account.   

Shivambu has not responded to Africa Check’s many emails asking him for the source of the quote. 

Did Machel actually say this? 

Statement is ‘totally uncharacteristic’

Sarah LeFanu, the author of a 2012 biography on Machel, said the quote didn’t sound like the former Mozambican president. 

I do not know of a single instance in which Samora Machel said anything remotely like this,” she told Africa Check. “I think it is totally uncharacteristic – to put it mildly!”

LeFanu said she suspected the quote might have been spread as part of a 1970s disinformation campaign against Machel and Frelimo by right-wing groups in Portugal, then Mozambique’s colonial ruler.

No source or reference given

LeFanu referred Africa Check to Paul Fauvet, editor of the Mozambique News Agency’s English service. He told us he was sure the quote was fake. 

“There is no source and no reference. Furthermore, it is in English. Although Samora spoke English pretty well, the vast bulk of his writings and speeches are in Portuguese. So is there a Portuguese original for this quote?”

Fauvet said it was well documented that Machel was a lifelong anti-racist. 

In 1972, Machel said in an interview with the Tanzanian Sunday News that white people born in Mozambique were welcome to join Frelimo’s struggle. 

“We do not consider [them] as foreigners who support us. Such a man is one of us and it is his duty, just as it is my duty, to liberate Mozambique.”

Fauvet said Machel appointed white people in his government, such as transport minister Luis Maria Alcantara Santos. Santos died with Machel in the 1986 plane crash.

Quote should be considered false

“I do not know this quote,” Machel’s daughter, Josina Machel, told Africa Check. 

She referred us to veteran Mozambican journalist Alves Gomes. He is a friend of the Machel family and contributes to the Machel Documentation Centre

Gomes said he covered events attended by Machel from 1975 onwards and had reviewed “hundreds of quotes… from Samora’s texts, speeches, rallies, press and TV interviews, cabinet meetings, and so on”. 

“After Josina passed on to me your interest in verifying if such quote was authentic I made various checks, including contacts with people who worked closely with President Samora, to find if there was any possibility that such a statement had been made,” Gomes told Africa Check. 

“The above referred quote or any other similar in content with it has not been found in any text, recording, or document, and therefore it can only considered to be false.”

UPDATE: After the publication of this article, Africa Check received comment from former South African Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs on the authenticity of the quote. “I’m not surprised that you couldn’t find that quote. It is totally alien to the way Samora spoke, and totally in conflict of his many denunciations of people claiming to be patriots who used language like that,” he wrote in an email to Alves Gomes. “All the evidence points to the statement being totally false.”

 

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