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A History


new internationalist
issue 192 - February 1989

Simply... Mozambique~a history

Illustrations: Sérgio Tique


[image, unknown] The first inhabitants of Mozambique are nomadic hunter-gatherers. But from around 300 AD, waves of Bantu start to arrive from the south - bringing with them other skills such as iron smelting and agriculture. By 600 they are also regularly being visited by traders; Mozambican ports attract Arabs, Persians, Chinese and Indonesians in search of gold, ivory, amber, valuable skins and rhinoceros horn.

The Portuguese do not appear until 1498 when Vasco da Gama encounters a relatively sophisticated country: it already has multi-storey civic buildings and big ships fitted with navigational instruments. The Portuguese initially confine themselves to trading - dealing with the Mononantapa Empire. But by 1629 they have military footholds, have established a feudal system of ownership and are collecting taxes from the African population.


[image, unknown] In 1752 the Portuguese proclaim Mozambique their colony and in the same year begin a flourishing trade in slaves which by the 1820s accounts for 85 per cent of all exports. Two million people are shipped out to the sugar plantations of Brazil and Cuba. (The trade is to continue as late as 1912.)

But Portugal's dominance is threatened by Britain and Germany who plan to divide Mozambique between them. Portugal lacks the capital to colonize properly so it leases the country and its people to others. By 1891 one third of the country is handed over to two British companies - the Mozambique Company and the Niassa Company. They seize African lands, force peasants to work for them and prevent them from growing their own crops for sale. Native Mozambican resistance is crushed when the last feudal leader Gungunhana is defeated in 1895.

The colony's main export remains cheap black labour to neighboring British-ruled colonies - including South Africa.


[image, unknown] Mozambique's future as a colony is sealed in 1926 when Antonio Salazar comes to power in Portugal through a fascist coup. He wants to use the colonies more effectively as producers of raw materials for the 'motherland'. Landless Portuguese peasants are urged to migrate to Mozambique (this reduces the pressure for land reform at home). The European population of the colony rises steadily. It is 27,000 by 1940 and 97,000 in 1960. All able-bodied male Mozambicans are compelled to work for the colonists for six months of the year. Conditions on plantations or building sites are degrading, unhealthy and inhumane. Mozambicans are forbidden by law to trade or run their own businesses. By the late 1950s there seems to be no escape from a state of virtual slavery.


[image, unknown] But other African colonies are struggling for liberation. Mozambicans regularly, if illegally, cross the border into Tanganyika, where the independence movement is growing; they bring back revolutionary ideas. A start is made in Mozambique when cotton workers in the northern district of Mueda set up their own co-operative. There is a mixed reaction from the colonial administrators. Some see it as an economically viable proposition. Others see it as a base for something more political. As far as its members are concerned the co-op is highly popular: it exempts them from forced labour on sisal plantations and the region's cotton production increases three-fold in three years. Workers, encouraged by their success, start making demands of the local Government administrator. This leads to several arrests. On June 16, 1960 there is a large protest to the visiting provincial Governor. He orders soldiers to fire on the crowd and 600 people are killed.


[image, unknown] It is clear that Mozambique will not have a peaceful transition to independence. So Mozambicans in exile set up liberation movements - including Frelimo (the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) which is founded in Dares Salaam in 1962, with Dr Eduardo Mondlane as leader. Its first shots are fired in 1964. Frelimo's system of organizing communal villages, with collective farms and primary health tare, lays the practical foundation for its socialism. The Portuguese respond by reinforcing the secret police (who murder Mondlane in 1969) and sending in an extra 35,000 troops. But support for Frelimo is widespread by 1972 and the colonizers are left with only small islands of control.


[image, unknown] The Portuguese Government of Marcelo Caetano falls in April 1974 as a direct result of the expense ($6,000 million) and human loss (5,000 colonial soldiers) of Portugal's wars in Mozambique and Angola. The coup is led by young army officers radicalized by the African liberation movements. The Portuguese settlers in Mozambique are frightened of the consequences. They provoke outbreaks of interracial violence and there are fears of a bloodbath, but Frelimo firmly opposes all racism and soon restores calm.

Independence comes on July 25, 1975 after which about 90 per cent of the Portuguese settlers flee. There is a critical shortage of skills: the colonizers had not trained local people. About 90 per cent of Mozambicans are illiterate, the legal profession boasts just five trained people and the railways have only one black train driver. Of the country's 500 doctors only 80 remain. But Frelimo immediately nationalizes health, education and legal services and over the next two years vaccinates a million more people than the Portuguese even knew existed.


[image, unknown] The Frelimo Government soon has a guerilla force working against it. Its origins lie in the liberation struggle of a neighbour - white-ruled Southern Rhodesia. Mozambique allows the 'Zimbabwean' ZANU freedom fighters to operate from its territory. Rhodesian intelligence responds by creating Renamo (the Mozambique National Resistance - MNR) which consists of opponents to Frelimo. After Zimbabwean independence in 1981, South Africa takes over as chief backer for the MNR as part of its campaign to destabilize its black majority-ruled neighbours.

Renamo launches attacks in 1982 on transport routes, schools and health clinics. War and drought lead to a widespread famine and the Government is forced to appeal for international aid. In 1984 Mozambique negotiates terms with South Africa - the Nkomati Accord which says that South Africa will stop backing Renamo if Mozambique expels the African National Congress. The ANC are duly expelled but South Africa reneges and continues to supply Renamo. In 1986 Mozambican President Samora Machel dies in an aircrash when his plane is directed by a false beacon over South African territory.


[image, unknown] Joaquim Chissano is, in late 1986, appointed President of a Mozambique in chaos. Food and clothing are in short supply, a quarter of the population is displaced, and about 100 foreign aid agencies - including some which are aggressively right-wing - become involved in Mozambique's emergency. The Government strikes a deal with the IMF, promising to remove food subsidies, impose health charges and 'liberalize' the economy. Foreign credit controls are relaxed and investment is encouraged.

Renamo guerillas are offered an amnesty in January 1988 and Frelimo (with the help of Zimbabwean and Tanzanian troops) starts regaining enemy-held territory, in September 1988 President Chissano has a historic meeting with South African leader PW Botha. They discuss the Cahora Bassa dam which is to supply South Africa with Mozambican electricity. But South Africa continues backing Renamo and Mozambique's hopes for peace remain uncertain.


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