The Matola Raid Commemoration is a solemn occasion where participants pay tribute to the valiant individuals who selflessly gave their lives in the noble fight for freedom and justice, creating an unwavering atmosphere of reverence and gratitude. The event serves as a poignant reminder of the unwavering courage and determination displayed by those who defiantly stood against oppression. The legacy of the Matola Raid continues to inspire generations, serving as a powerful symbol of resilience and unwavering commitment to the ongoing battle against tyranny.

By Russell Baloyi

The Matola Raid Commemoration serves as a significant symbol of the enduring connection between the People’s Republic of Mozambique and the African National Congress (ANC). It also serves as a poignant representation of the severe consequences of military assaults intended to suppress the anti-colonial resistance movement.

The Matola Raid Commemoration prompts us to always remember the sacrifices made for freedom and justice and to pay tribute to those who courageously opposed oppression with steadfast determination. The enduring legacy of the Matola Raid serves as a beacon of hope and strength in the fight against tyranny.

Following years of colonial rule, Mozambique finally achieved independence from Portugal in June 1975. Under the leadership of President Samora Machel, the country transformed into a one-party socialist state. With its newfound freedom, Mozambique became a crucial hub for other liberation movements from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe’s ZANU and South Africa’s ANC, solidifying its position as a cornerstone of independence and unity.

After Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, its freedom fighters returned home, while the South Africans stayed behind to carry on their fight. On January 30, 1981, around midnight, the South African Defence Force (SADF) raided the ANC safe houses in Matola, a neighbourhood near Maputo approximately 70 kilometres from the South Africa-Mozambique border of Lebombo. These safe houses were used as stopover points for uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK), the military branch of the ANC.

During the attack, three houses were targeted and destroyed, resulting in the deaths of 12 South Africans and a Portuguese man named Jose Ramos, who was mistaken for Joe Slovo due to their resemblance. Initially, the SADF mistakenly celebrated Slovo’s death until the true identity of the Portuguese national was revealed.

In one of the houses, the ANC retaliated, killing two commandos and injuring others. Among the casualties was a British mercenary named Robert Lewis Hutchinson, who had previously served in the British Army and the Rhodesian Special Air Service before relocating to South Africa.

The MK members who were murdered include Lancelot Hadebe, Mandla Daka, Daniel Molokisi, Steven Ngcobo, Vusumzi Ngwema, Thabang Bookolane, Krishna Rabilal, Themba Dimba, Motso Mokgabudi, Collin Khumalo, Levinson Mankankaza, Albert Mahutso, and William Khanyile.

The SADF provided the rationale for the raid by asserting that it was in response to the bombing by the ANC in Pretoria, which resulted in injuries and fatalities.

Following the advent of democracy in 1994, combatants such as Sipho Thobela, John Dimba, and Mbulelo Musi, who survived the Matola raid, were assimilated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). These individuals played a pivotal role in recounting and documenting the events of the raid. Sipho Thobela, before he died in 2008, testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) regarding his firsthand experience during the Matola Raid. Thobela described being engrossed in a book when the sudden eruption of gunfire and explosions disrupted his peace.

Upon investigating, he observed assailants adorned in black paint firing at them. Thobela promptly retaliated with his AK-47, successfully repelling the attackers. Amidst the chaos, Mabena sustained multiple gunshot wounds, and Thobela noticed the hostile members of the SADF) retrieving the corpses of their dead whilst also cutting off the ears of his comrades.

Mabena was hailed as courageous and a hero for his actions in retaliating against the enemy, resulting in the elimination of several assailants. The exact count of the attackers remains undisclosed, as the apartheid regime was prompt in concealing any losses on their part while inflating the figures of alleged “terrorists” they purportedly neutralised during their missions.

The emotions of sorrow, shock, and anger were palpable in the heartfelt speeches given by Samora Machel and OR Tambo at the funeral. Despite their grief, they understood the importance of fostering relationships between their two nations. Thus, February 14 was chosen as the Day of Friendship between South Africa and Mozambique, a day to honour their bond and instil hope for a brighter future.

The Matola Raid Monument and Interpretive Centre, founded in 2015, is used for yearly events of remembrance. This year’s program featured a visit to the Matola cemetery where many victims are buried, a tour of the interpretive centre and the Ruth First Memorial site, as well as a memorial lecture at Eduardo Mondlana University.

The memorial lecture was presented by a veteran of our struggle Pallo Jordan who is considered not just a historian, but a reservoir of knowledge from which we should continue drinking. He was very thorough and extremely articulative of the political landscape around the era of the Matola Raid and went further to unpack the relevance of the South African government’s efforts to resolve the Palestine and Israel situation.

The 30 years of our Freedom was not Free

Lest we forget!

Russell Baloyi is an independent writer and Executive Director of Eco City Trust, an organisation that focuses on the Conservation of the Environment and Heritage

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *