Revolutionary force meets immovable object

I don't know who this ghostly presence from the Portuguese past is, or was. He's on display at the fortress at Maputo's waterfront.

Beginning in May 1975, Samora Machel and his entourage headed south through Mozambique on a triumphal tour of the country they were scheduled to take charge of on the 25 of June. Just before their arrival in Lourenço Marques for the independence ceremonies, at a meeting in Inhambane, the Frelimo hierarchy signed off on a draft constitution and officially designated Machel president-to-be. With the most important business out of the way, they got around to discussing some of the symbolic changes that would have to be made in the capital city. Some of them barely knew Lourenço Marques. Those who knew it well were especially eager to get rid of the statue of Mouzinho de Albuquerque.

Mouzinho had been the no-nonsense cavalry officer who in the 1890s led campaigns of “pacification” against the powerful Gaza empire north of Lourenço Marques. His victories on the battlefield and his calls for a more systematic exploitation of African labor intensified Portuguese colonization of southern Mozambique. For Frelimo, no single figure more fully embodied the arrogance of colonial rule. The bronze version of Mouzinho, mounted on horseback, commanded downtown from a prominent spot in front of City Hall, and on the statue’s pedestal were bronzes portraying scenes of the defeat and capture of Gungunhana, the Gaza king. You can still see the Mouzinho statue, along with many other bronze and marble Portuguese figures, in the courtyard of the old fortress by Maputo’s waterfront. Last year I asked José Luís Cabaço, a former Frelimo minister, about this open-air museum. I was particularly interested, though, in the few colonial-era monuments and statues that didn’t go anywhere at independence—that remain where they stood in 1975. He had a great tale to tell.

Before: Mouzinho in 1968 (Luís Boléo, panoramio.com)

Demonstrating the new order of things meant that Mouzinho and other statues of course had to go. But they would be treated with a measure of care. One reason, Cabaço said, was that Machel was keen to preserve evidence of the colonial past—it was Mozambican history that ought not be forgotten. And any kind of celebration of destruction (like the widely televised toppling of Lenin and Saddam statues in future decades) would have been a gratuitous punch in the gut to those Portuguese who had chosen to stay behind and be part of independent Mozambique. “We knew the psychological effect it would have,” said Cabaço, who is himself the son of Portuguese. The writer Luís Bernardo Honwana, who was once Machel’s chief of staff, told me that the mounted Mouzinho was so much a part of the image of Lourenço Marques, that even African couples frequently took their wedding pictures in front of it.

After: Mouzinho in 2009, at the fortress

Just after independence, firemen and soldiers were dispatched to dismantle Mouzinho in the middle of the night, and while the city slept the monument was moved to a plot next to the art museum before eventually finding a permanent home at the fortress. Today in front of City Hall you now find a steel-framed monument to peace. Over the years, bronze figures, cast in North Korea, of Frelimo’s first president Eduardo Mondlane, killed in 1969, and of Machel, killed in 1986, were placed on pedestals in other parts of the city.

Despite Frelimo’s deliberate approach to monument removal, however, many people at independence took matters into their own hands. I’ve been told that in Lourenço Marques some took to chiseling away the Portuguese crests and crosses that encrusted so many downtown buildings. The Manueline orb that symbolizes the universal scope of Portuguese power (and that adorns the Portuguese flag) remains balanced atop the spire of the university’s administration building because no one could reach it to take it down. Once it became known that monuments throughout the country were being vandalized and destroyed willy-nilly, Frelimo sent orders to provincial commanders to get things under control.

At least two major memorials in the capital survived in place and essentially intact. One is the memorial to Louis Tregardt, the South African voortrekker—a startling sight for anyone who happens upon it on Avenida Josina Machel and who also knows something of Mozambique’s relations with its apartheid neighbor in the 1980s. I’m preparing an article on the Tregardt memorial, and how it weathered independence and the years of Mozambique’s civil war, so I’ll save that story for another day.

The other major survivor is the mammoth World War I memorial by the train station. Not enough has been written about Africans in African theaters of that war, though Africans bore almost all the losses on all sides. Hundreds of thousands in East Africa served as barefooted porters for the British, Germans, and Portuguese, hauling components of artillery and riverboats through the bush. I’ve read that casualties among porters in the British ranks (due mostly to exposure and malnutrition) piled up at a rate comparable to that in the trenches of the Western Front.

A not-so-great picture of Maputo's Great War memorial. Maybe someone can send me one that shows just how big it is? (visitusinmaputo.com)

In any case, though the memorial in Lourenço Marques references the contribution of Africans to the war effort, it clearly emphasizes the sacrifices of white Portuguese in repelling the German invasion of northern Mozambique. It is essentially a Portuguese memorial, which in 1975 presented a problem for Cabaço, who had become minister of transportation, and was therefore responsible for the plaza in front of the train station. The problem was that, unlike the Mouzinho statue, this memorial was a multi-ton hunk of steel-reinforced concrete. You couldn’t just remove it from its pedestal.

Cabaço consulted with the president. He informed Machel that there were few options. You could dynamite the memorial, but that would likely damage the buildings around the plaza at the same time. You could have men chisel away at it, but that would be like removing a mountain with a spoon. Machel thought about it, and then reasoned that the memorial was a monument to the territorial integrity of Mozambique. And so it stayed.

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11 Responses to Revolutionary force meets immovable object

  1. John Marrone says:

    Thank you for the information about the statues. Why do they leave the Salazar statue (which used to be in front of the Salazar school) derelict in the building next to the Mozambique State Printing Press on the Avenida 25 de Setembro?

  2. Eduardo Bueno says:

    Dear David, great words, as always. I´ll try to remender to take a picture of the Great War memorial and send you.
    See you in december?
    Cheers!

  3. DINIS MARQUES says:

    David, thanks, you are doing a good job wrighting about Moçambique history.

  4. Benedito Machava says:

    A good note on the “memorial side of Mozambique´s history”, which is not that different from others. In Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), the statues of Cecil Rhodes and others lie down in the backyards of the National Muzeum. It´s quite obvious that Portuguese statues in LM, now Maputo, were to be victims of a new authority, the one that fought against Portuguese colonialism. And Maputo was the capital. If one looks at other cities in the country will see that not all statues were removed. For example, in Ilha de Moçambique, the capital of Mozambique until the late 1880s, one can still see the memorials of Vasco da Gama and Luis de Camões. I can share with you some of the images of statues in Ilha de Mozambique that I took in 2007.

  5. Rachel says:

    I enjoyed reading this piece…quite fascinating!

  6. arceuseragon says:

    As a Portuguese, I’m very happy to see that you also care about Mozambique’s history. Thank you, Mr. David! God bless you!

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  10. Nuno Castelo-Branco says:

    But the statue honouring the Portuguese – black and white – in the WWI, it’s different: you can see black men there.
    By the way, my family was in Moçambique since 1885. My great-grandmother born there, my grans-mother, my father and my mother, all my brothers and cousins, myself, gran-uncles an so on.
    37 years passed away since the 1975 and it’s curious to verify the situation of the country. It’s yet far, very far for the situation that the “bad portuguese” left it. For all the bad reasons in all sectors. that’s the inconvenient true.

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