This blog assumes no previous knowledge about the histories of Mozambique and Portugal, about African architecture and home construction, or about how cities and their shantytowns work. I’m figuring these things out myself. I’m a PhD candidate in African history at the University of Minnesota. My focus is Mozambique, and as of Sept. 2010 I’ll be spending a couple of years researching and writing about the history of the construction of its capital city’s shantytowns, the places where for most of the last century and a half most of the city’s African residents have lived. The bulk of my research will of course be in Maputo, but I start out with a few months in Lisbon and will be spending plenty of time in South Africa as well. When I was a reporter it frustrated me that a lot of good interviews remained trapped in my notebook for the sole reason that they had nothing to do with the matter at hand. In history, nothing sees publication for years, if at all. With blogging I can relieve my notebook of its burdens. If you’re looking for footnotes, you seek in vain.
A quick primer for the uninitiated:
Mozambique is a country twice the size of California spread out along Africa’s southeast coast. The latest estimate puts its population at about twenty million, with about two million or so living in its capital Maputo, known in colonial times as Lourenço Marques, and located in the country’s far south. Mozambique won its independence from Portugal in 1975 after more than 450 years of unevenly imposed though often brutal Portuguese rule. Frelimo, the nationalist movement that fought for Mozambican independence, has governed the country during the 35 years since. It has done so through thin and thinner. In the Mozambique the Portuguese left to Frelimo, there remained about thirty doctors in the entire country. One in every three Mozambican children died in infancy. More than a dozen languages are spoken in Mozambique, but when the new flag was raised more than 90 percent of Mozambicans did not read nor speak Portuguese, the one language that was to unite them.
The first president of Frelimo was Eduardo Mondlane, a UN research officer who earned his masters and doctorate at American universities. His The Struggle for Mozambique, written in limpid English years before it appeared in Portuguese translation (presumably to appeal to potential American sympathizers), is as good a place as any to start reading about racism and forced labor in Portuguese-ruled Mozambique. Mondlane was assassinated in 1969 in Dar es Salaam.
Mondlane’s eventual successor and the first president of independent Mozambique was Samora Machel, a former nurse and a dynamo at the lectern, who by force of personality led Mozambique through the food shortages and warfare of the most trying decade in its history. Under Machel, Mozambique built schools and health clinics at a dizzying pace. But Machel played his own part in the generalized collapse; Frelimo under his leadership instituted disastrous agricultural schemes and could be ruthless in its treatment of those considered to be “the enemy within”–Mozambicans who allegedly stood in the way of building the socialist society Frelimo envisioned. It was Machel who popularized the phrase “A luta continua”—the struggle continues—adopted the world over by those who raised their fist against persistent underdevelopment and Western capitalism and whatever else was deemed to be colonialism in disguise. In 1986 he was killed in a plane crash that many suspect was a South African act of sabotage.
The white minority regimes of southern Africa, Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, became Mozambique’s great tormentors following the Portuguese withdrawal, as they considered the existence just next door of an African majority-ruled, Soviet-friendly country–one that supported African liberation movements in their own countries–to be an intolerable threat. First Rhodesia and then South Africa funded, armed, and trained a guerrilla force of Mozambicans discontented with Frelimo’s one-party rule. Renamo, as this force was called, was given a straightforward mission: to create deadly havoc in every corner of Mozambique. This mission was accomplished to horrific effect. The sixteen years of civil war that began soon after independence cost an estimated one million Mozambican lives and displaced millions more. Almost two decades after the end of hostilities in 1992, Mozambique remains today one of the poorest countries in the world.
These few, blunt facts cannot give the full, vivid picture of modern Mozambican history. But they are the necessary frame.
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