#100AfricanWomenWriters: 1. Lina Magaia

by - 08:21

I begin my journey in Mozambique - Maputo to be exact, or as it was called before independence, Lourenço Marques. This is where the Mozambican writer Lina Magaia was born in 1945. Writer, journalist, agricultural development specialist, activist and member of the FRELIMO liberation army, Magaia was a significant figure in post-independent Mozambique. 

Image Source: The Delagoa Bay Review

Learning about Lina Magaia's life is absolutely fascinating - from her three month stint in jail in 1965 for attempting to join the FRELIMO armed struggle in Tanzania, to her nine month FRELIMO training in 1974 to join the liberation army, to establishing Maputo's Organisation of Mozambican Women (the OMM) - agricultural cooperatives for women, and becoming the Director of Agricultural Development for Manhiça District in 1986. Hilary Owen has a brilliant chapter on Lina Magaia in her book Mother Africa, Father Marx: Women's Writing of Mozambique, 1948-2002, but as this is all about literature, I will focus on Magaia the writer.

Leaflet advertising a talk by Lina Magaia in New York in 1988. Source: African Activist Archive

In her chapter on Magaia, Owens writes that joining the youth movement Nucleo dos Estudantes Secundarios Africanos (NESAM) in 1957 is what eventually inspired her first oppositional writing activities in the 1960s with short pieces for the press, O Brado AfricanoA Voz AfricanaDiario de Mocambique, and Tribuna. As such, when she got older - in addition to her role in FRELIMO politics and agricultural development - Magaia continued writing with a weekly column reporting from Manhiça in the national newspaper Noticias in the 1980s, which 'was popular for its attacks on incompetent officials'; and a series of reports, chronicles and travelogues for the government-run weekly news magazine, Tempo.

A lot of Lina Magaia's writings focused on the horrors of Mozambique's civil war. Magia's first book, Dumba Nengue: Historias Tragicas do Banditismo, published in 1987 drew 'from [her] experiences and those narrated to her by peasants and plantation workers in Manhica'. Owens goes on to explain that the stories in the books come from a collection of chronicles that appeared in the 'Aspectos da guerra' (Aspects of the war) series of Tempo. These chronicles, along with others not originally part of the series, were published in a single expanded volume, Dumba Nengue, and appeared in 1987 in Tempo's 'depoimentos' or 'words of witness' book series. The English translation of Dumba Nengue,  was published in 1988 as Dumba Nengue: Run for your Life. Peasant Tales of Tragedy in Mozambique, and 'remains one of the best internationally known Mozambican texts about the war.' 

Magaia's second collection, also of eyewitness accounts, as well as reports and photographs, was published in 1989 - Duplo Massacre en Mozambique: Historias tragicas do banditismo II (Double Massacre in Mozambique: Tragic Stories of Banditry). It specifically documents the Renamo massacre of 424 civilians in the southern town of Homoine in 1987.

Lina Magaia also published two novels - Delehta: Pulos na vida (Delehta: The Return to Life) in 1994 and A cobra dos olhos verde (The green-eyed snake) in 1997. Delehta is a part-fiction, part-autobiographical, 'first-person account of the final years of the war, the build-up to the 1992 Rome Peace Accord, and the tentative vision of a post-war democracy'

Magaia passed away in 2011, but her final publication was Recordacoes da Vovo Marta (Memories of Grandma Marta) published in the same year, was based on interviews with one of Mozambique's oldest women, 99-year-old Marta Mbcota Guebuza, mother of former Mozambican president Armando Guebuza.

I end with a chilling excerpt from Dumba Nengue, which is an unflinching account of the terror of war, and might be difficult for some to read:
It happened at night, as it always does. Like owls or hyenas, the bandits swooped down on a village in the area of Taninga. They stole, kidnapped and then forced their victims to carry their food, radios, batteries, the sweat of their labour in the fields or in the mines of Jo'burg where many of those possessions had come from.   
Among the kidnapped were pregnant women and little children. Among the little ones was a small girl of nearly eight ... And the hours went by and dawn broke and finally there was a halt. They put down their loads and the bandits selected who could return home and who had to carry on. Of those who had to keep going, many were boys between twelve and fifteen. Their fate was the school of murder -- they would be turned into armed bandits after training and a poisoning of their conscience. Other were girls between ten and fourteen, who would become women after being raped by the bandits. Others were women who were being stolen from their husbands and children. 
To demonstrate the fate of the girls to those who were going back, the bandit chief of the group picked out one, the small girl who was less than eight. In front of everyone, he tried to rape her. The child's vagina was small and he could not penetrate. On a whim, he took a whetted pocketknife and opened her with a violent stroke. He took her in blood. The child died. 

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