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By Pedro Rosa-Mendes

The news spread through the camp: Justino knew then that they would continue to hold him. The president was dead. His plane had crashed.

Justino is a free man. All his years as a prisoner – half his life – no power has been able to hold him up. No one can.

FRELIMO didn’t do this to me. Nor the Portuguese government. I wasn’t arrested by PIDE. FRELIMO didn’t lock me up. No. Yah… I have a fate, I do, that lights my way. It doesn’t mix well with politics.

Fate is something you accept – that’s what fate is. Justino knows this and accepts it. Otherwise, he’d find a way to mess with it. Like he did when the Portuguese arrested him the first time, in December 1964, for subversive activities. Three white guys showed up and threw him in a car to take him to headquarters. The car wouldn’t move. They all got out. The engine turned over. The cops and the prisoner got back in. The engine stalled. The Mozambican driver understood what was going on.

‘It’s because of this man the car won’t start.’

No, the driver can fix this.

The driver tried again. Again they all got out. The engine turned over. They got back in.

‘Watch this man. He knows why the car won’t start.’

I don’t know. I’m not at the wheel.

In the end, the car started. At headquarters, Justino was about to be questioned when the handcuffs


fell to the ground


‘Hey, you, planning to make a run for it?’

If I wanted to run I’d run and you wouldn’t catch me.

The head guy smacked him twice. Shortly, the head guy’s arms swelled up so bad he couldn’t get out of his uniform jacket. They quit beating up the prisoner and transferred him from Inhambane to Lourenço Marques.

Justino knows and accepts his fate. But first he had to learn it.

First, he was inducted into the Portuguese army. He stayed three years. Then he fled the colony, crossing the border illegally into Tanganyika. Dar es Salaam. Then Algiers. In Algeria he learned how to fire several types of weapons and joined the first battalion of FRELIMO guerrillas, FRELIMO of which he was one of the founders along with Samora Machel, Alberto Hispano, Osvaldo Casama, Francisco Maianga and Samuel Cancomba. In Algiers, there were other revolutionaries too. Though he never met them, Justino heard about Portuguese guys, about one Galvao, who had hijacked a ship…

Justino’s first mission for FRELIMO had been to accompany Admiral Américo Tomás to Mozambique, in July 1964. In Beira, he remembers, Tomás assured the Portuguese that Mozambique would never be a theatre for terrorist activity and that no one would impinge on Portugal’s age-old mission of sovereignty.

‘Where is he now?’


I can’t hold it against him, or against the men fighting with dignity in those years. They needed to make a living.

In Lourenço Marques, the inspector from PIDE had explained the situation to him in pragmatic terms and Justino had begun, very quickly, to accept it.

‘See this map? The Minister left it with us when he came to visit. The way Mozambique is cut up, all these provinces, it’s Mozambique because it’s Portugal. This northern part belongs to Madagascar. This one, in the North too, is Tanganyka’s. This one belongs to Swaziland and this one to South Africa. If this is Mozambique, it’s thanks to us, the Portuguese, who defend you against your neighbours.’

South Africa, maybe. And Malawi. But the others have no reason to occupy Mozambique.

‘You don’t believe it’s true?’

No, because I know Mozambique. I built this country.

‘I know you profess a different doctrine. But understand:  you are in PIDE’s claws.’

I don’t know the PIDE. All I know is what FRELIMO revealed in Portuguese and Spanish. We know that PIDE, when it arrests a FRELIMO leader, throws him into the lion’s cage, there in the yard, or bundles him into a bag, all tied up, and into a plane, and tosses him out, into the ocean. That’s what we know.

‘Never happened!’

I left this place when I was a kid. I realise certain things now. You say I am in PIDE’s claws. It’s the lion that has claws…

‘Why confuse things? Why try to indoctrinate the populace? What is FRELIMO?’

An organisation created by all Mozambicans around a single politics that the Portuguese government refuses to accept. FRELIMO wanted to negotiate, but Lisbon did not answer its first letter. And its second letter only indirectly: Salazar will never sit down to talk things over with a bunch of cobblers.

‘I’m going to tell you the truth. We know you are entitled to your land. Our arrival here spilled blood. Our departure too will cost your people, dearly. Endings spill blood; it’s their nature. What? Did you guys think you could just mop us up, that we’d just leave? Impossible. We must bring a close to the history we set on its course: with blood.’

Thank you, Sir, we are most grateful. We too want a page of history that shows our strength and our ability to take our country back.

They gave him reams and reams of paper, for three months, to tell his story. The judge read the pages and, at the hearing, Almeida Santos, the lawyer, wanted to know where Justino had written that in Kenya he had been trained by Mau-Mau to attack whites – or had this episode been added by PIDE?

In the end, the verdict. A maximum sentence of six years at Machava, with an additional year courtesy of the PIDE-DGS. When he was freed – on parole – Justino was sent to Nampulo, inducted into the Psychological Action Group of the Portuguese police. Entrusted with counter-propaganda – among the people to lie about FRELIMO. Say FRELIMO is the Chinese and the Chinese eat people. Or it’s the Russians. Nutty things.

Transferred, after that, to Inhambane, he wrote reports for PIDE saying such:

The population does not support FRELIMO. There are few hotspots. The district is not at risk. There is little interest in terrorism and the Mozambican people are in good spirits.

None of this crap worked.

After April 25th, Justino became an active member of FRELIMO in Inhambane and, following independence, pursued a life in politics in Morrubene. One day, he had the silly idea to ask if his wife could have lunch with him in the Party offices. No one knew the answer: the district commissariat sent him to the provincial commissariat who sent him to Maputo, to the national commissariat. At the Party liaison office, they checked who he was.

‘You worked for the enemy!’

He was arrested on orders from the Vice-Minister for Internal Affairs on October 14th 1977. He explained in vain that his time with the Psychological Action Group had been part of a judicial sentence, handed down to control an individual deemed dangerous to the order of things. Justino remained under surveillance at General Headquarters, then was sent to Machava penitentiary and, in the end, was permanently railroaded – dispatched to Ruarué re-education camp in Mueda, Cabo Delgado.

You spent your day in the fields. For punishment, you were sent to fell large trees. Dig, hack at the roots until the tree falls. If you don’t get the tree down today, you sleep there and go at it again the next day. They bring you food. If it takes two, three days, you stay there, you don’t go back to the barracks. It was a very hard life.

Every day, there were politics classes and classes to learn the alphabet.

‘a b c d e f g h i…’

Everyone had to attend, didn’t matter if one had a degree. The ones who were chosen to be capos didn’t know anything in particular. Idiots, basically.

Samora Machel came upon Justino on a visit to Ruarué in 1981 and didn’t understand why his old comrade from Algiers had been arrested. But even the president couldn’t exercise jurisdiction over the camp and Machel had Justino transferred to a camp in Niassa province, with a bunch of deserters. From Niassa, he could get him out. Justino was sent to Mussauize camp, Mavago.

There, he waited for the president. One day, they told him the president would come to visit Niassa with a foreign delegation and would drop by Mussauize. The prisoners took to polishing the place, but shortly they were informed that the president would go to Zambia first.

It’s during this trip Machel died. I was completely forgotten here. I went on working the earth, my machamba. I decided I’d take first rank in a banana and papaya plantation in Mavago district. I stayed until 1989 and left only when troubles began in the vicinity.

Justino, one of the founders of FRELIMO, owed his liberation to RENAMO, which, on August 11th, attacked the barracks where he and the deserters were quartered, in the old re-education camp.

Justino sought refuge in Lichinga. This is where I met him the first time, in 1995. He was working as a security guard for an NGO. His sentence had separated him from his family.

This family, I founded here. My family proper, I was bound to loose. They stayed in Maputo. I had two children, my two daughters. I don’t know anything about them anymore, nor about my first wife. I started a new family here and we have a good life. But I need to go to Maputo. I’ll be with my daughters and take care of my first wife: see if it can still work or not. If it can’t, too bad, that’s fate.


This story is in print as part of Chimurenga Vol. 15: The Curriculum is Everything (available here).

Presented in the form of a textbook, Chimurenga 15 asks what could the curriculum be – if it was designed by the people who dropped out of school so that they could breathe?

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