MAPUTO– Samora Machel Junior (known as Samito), the son of Mozambique’s first president, Samora Moises Machel, has entered the race for Mayor of Maputo, as an independent candidate.

Machel heads the list of candidates for the Maputo Municipal Assembly submitted by Ajudem, a coalition which has been set up by a variety of Maputo civil society organizations (CSOs).

Machel had hoped to be the candidate of the ruling Frelimo Party, the Party which his father had led to victory against Portuguese colonial rule in 1974, but his name was not included on the short list of three candidates, drawn up by the Frelimo Maputo City Committee.

His exclusion, and that of other relatively young Frelimo members, such as the actor Gilberto Mendes, from the short list, led to an outcry, with accusations that the Frelimo City Committee had behaved in a non-transparent manner.

Civil society organizations in Ajudem asked Machel to head their list (and thus become their mayoral candidate) at a meeting last Friday. He asked for some time to think the matter over. I am going to consider this very carefully, because I put the people first, he said.

His definitive answer is now known – and the Frelimo leadership cannot say it was not warned. When the City Committee drew up its short list in July and sent it to the Party’s Political Commission, Machel warned that he might run as an independent.

The short list consisted of a former mayor and former Finance Minister Eneas Comiche, former Tourism Minister Fernando Sumbana, and Razaque Manhique, the Deputy Chairperson of the Maputo Municipal Assembly.

Out of these three, Comiche won the nomination. He certainly has experience as he was mayor of Maputo from 2004 to 2009. He was well respected for his competence and integrity but there were those who were made uncomfortable by Comiche’s drive against corruption, and in 2008 he did not win the Frelimo nomination for a second term.

Instead, former Minister of Youth and Sport David Simango won the nomination and was elected mayor in 2008 and 2013.

Now, at age 79, Comiche, who is a member of the Frelimo Political Commission, is making a comeback but in a context where the support for Frelimo in the capital, has fallen sharply. In 2008, Simango became mayor with about 85 per cent of the vote but in 2013, his share of the vote fell to 58 per cent.

Machel’s decision to head the Ajudem list could throw the mayoral contest wide open. The magic of the name of Samora Machel may well win many voters to Ajudem. The Ajudem list also means that many disillusioned supporters of Frelimo now have somewhere to go other than the established opposition parties, Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).