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Mozambique

RadioClub7Setembro1974The 7th of September has been a public holiday in Mozambique for the last 46 years. For most people it is another day off, a moment for relaxation and if pressed hard for an answer something vaguely associated with the liberation of the country. Mozambicans will have difficulty in recalling the events in 1974 because it was actually the beginning and end of a series of events that lead to a change that few had expected.

In Joseph Hanlon’s book The Revolution Under Fire there is only one short chapter describing the events that led up to the 7th of September – the day on which Mario Soares the Portuguese Foreign Minister and Samora Machel agreed to the independence of Mozambique from Portugal. Private accounts released to newspapers however provide greater exposure to just how divided public opinion was on the matter and the reason why any other outcome was not viable.

Most of the events leading up to the 7th September Accord, the Acordos de Lusaka, actually had their beginnings in the Carnation Revolution of Portugal in April of 1974. Portugal had been fighting the guerilla movements in its colonies in Africa for more than 10 years and there was growing realization that the major wars in Angola and Mozambique were not sustainable. Angry conscripts and military officers, outnumbered and under resourced believed they could no longer fight the war. Alas, it was not just the futility of war but the larger significance of propping up a fascist regime that had long subverted the freedom of the Portuguese people that was hardest to swallow. 

PortugueseSoldiers1.1These men soon formed what was known as the MFA (Movimento das Forcas Armadas) that overthrew the Estado Novo regime and hastened the decolonization process. By forming agreements with independence movements such as FRELIMO in Mozambique, there was a tacit understanding between the new Portuguese authorities and the incumbent movements that there was no longer an interest to fight a war. In fact, both sides had much more to gain by putting their arms away.

MaputoStudentsDemonstrations1.1In Mozambique, however there were conflicting interests that both supported and rejected the idea of decolonization. Those who heavily supported Portuguese industrialization and capital bemoaned the growing threat that communism would bring; children of European settlers supported a democratic and nationalist perspective demanding autonomy from Portugal but with the right of Mozambicans to decide their own political outcome; Africans who had long been marginalized did not trust a leadership that was not African and for the vast majority of transient expatriates who neither had capital nor family interests in Mozambique it was about scrambling for safety; not getting caught in war that was essentially someone else’s problem.
MaputoSutdentsDemonstration1.2.1
And so in the months between May and June 1974, there were several bombings, strikes, demonstrations and spontaneous public gatherings which disrupted any possibility of normalcy as the various groups jostled with each other to put forward their opinion on how to move the country forward.

AcordosDeLusaka1.1The signing of the Lusaka Accord was the final straw for those could not accept a handover to FRELIMO. On the evening of 6th of February, a small group of African youth transporting themselves on a truck dragging a torn Portuguese flag in central Lourenco Marques were intercepted. The men were dealt with savagely and a FRELIMO flag they were waving was ripped and destroyed.

On the 7th of September, the headquarters of the national broadcasting service was occupied by an angry group of white settlers opposed to the FRELIMO regime’s undisputed takeover. They ceased the radio equipment and began broadcasting appeals to the settlers in other provinces to reject the accord. All these plans ran contrary to what had been decided and the troops from the Portuguese army were sent to deal with the “panicked whites”. FRELIMO soldiers were also sent to join the troops to ensure that order was restored.

In response to the disturbance, the Africans in suburbs surrounding Lourenco Marques were much less forgiving. In the next few days there were more reports of clashes; young African men stopping cars, setting them alight and attacking the passengers. There were reports of deaths and the central hospital recorded increases of patients. The road leading to the airport was also the site of many atrocities. 

It should also be mentioned that all these events were not perpetrated exclusively along racial lines. There were Africans who did not want Mozambique to be autonomous and supported the many whites. There were also whites who supported FRELIMO.

In the days following the 7th of September, a transition government was drawn up and finally independence – the effective handover of Mozambique to its people was scheduled to take place on the 25th of September 1975.

Credits to images: DW, RTP

 

2By the early 1980s Mozambique’s economy and its social fabric were in a dizzying spin towards obliteration. It was not a surprise, and even the venerable and much celebrated Samora Machel had admitted as much to his confidantes. The aura of 1975 that was to herald the beginning of the end of 500 years of colonial rule was fading.

In the capital, Maputo, hundreds queued in front of bakeries, food stalls and pharmacies. They eagerly expected to be a handful of the lucky few. Those who were unable to secure the goods however had to have other means of ensuring their survival. At the core, a shadow economy had gradually begun to replace the broken and unequal one that mostly served the elite.

Those who were unable to partake of the state’s meager provisions willingly turned to prostitution and all forms of crime under the sun. The government arguing the lack of a productive workforce and and the public’s waning allegiance launched in 1983 what was to become one of the most controversial of projects in the then young nation’s history.

Murky Waters

Urban poverty was thrust into the spotlight not long after independence. There were several factors including an economy that had been destroyed by white flight and the subsequent decree that allowed for people that previously lived in rural areas to inexpensively rent property in the city. Long standing residents were the first to decry the lack of security and the strain on public services.JornalNoticias190682 Many publicly denounced the governments failure. Calls came in for prerequisites to justify residency. Then, acutely conscious of its image, a government decree was issued on 20th June 1983 authorizing only those with resident cards and proof of employment to stay.

For the unfortunate few that could not produce the said documentation, they were picked from the streets and bundled into trucks that made their way to the North of the country where they were to engage in agricultural projects. The country was hungry and it needed food, it was said.

Failure

The programme came to an official end in 1988. By then, Samora Machel had perished in a fiery crash and Mozambique was sheepishly admitting that Socialism and Marxism had failed its people. The government gained significant notoriety for how it had handled the programme. Men, women and children were left in remote parts of the country to fend for themselves. There were no signs of  civilization in these areas let alone tools and machinery for farming. Through the grapevine, the rest of the country heard of rapes, tortures and and how people were set free only to be attacked by wild animals.

It was a good programme aimed at rehabilitating delinquents and marginal people. Today they make fun of us, they say it was a criminal programme, but it was full of humanism.

Moving Beyond Perception

While there is no shortage of negative press and conjecture about the programme, there are some who have advocated the programme in principal. Joaquim Chissano, the country’s second president has said, “It was a good programme aimed at rehabilitating delinquents and marginal people. Today they make fun of us, they say it was a criminal programme, but it was full of humanism.”.

The situation now is no better.  The major capitals are re-living the nightmare that started all this. Rampant crime, poor municipal services and uncurbed population influx are at the centre of urban disfunction in Mozambique. There is no evidence of having re-instated these controls since 1988.

The title of this post is from the song in a 1985 music album by Sting entitled The Dream of The Blue Turtles. The song’s lyrics tell of the strike by the coal miners in Northern England and the systematic shutdown of an industry to the detriment of millions