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.
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 September, 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



Joseph Hanlon is a journalist and academic who has been closely reading and writing about Mozambique for over 40 years, following the highs and lows since it became an independent nation in the 1970s, broke into a civil war for 16 years and after which it was finally the darling of international of aid organizations and governments around the world. In his 80s, he continues to work as an academic in the UK and is the author of a weekly email newsletter which many will surmise is the much coveted unadulterated, raw and unrelenting commentary on the country’s most critical issues that should otherwise have been doing the rounds in the local press.

He is also the author of several books which while out of print have recently been made available in a digital edition. It should go without saying that anyone interested in the history of the country should not overlook the wonderful opportunity. Mozambique: The Revolution Under Fire is then one of the earlier books released by Hanlon and an excellent introduction to the period just before the war of independence and to the middle the 1980s, the height of the civil war between FRELIMO and RENAMO.

Raison d’Etre of Mozambique

The population of Mozambique stands at about 29 million inhabitants. If the USA could be considered the land of opportunity, the same can be said of Maputo to which thousands of people arrive each year in search of better jobs and a better life from all over the country who could not make it as far as the USA. Some parts of the city are bursting at the seams with vendors who have on offer everything from adaptors to matches; notebooks to wallets. The city’s municipal council can barely contain the hustle and bustle without causing an even bigger uproar. But it was not always like this, ordinary Mozambicans participating in the so-called general trade are a relatively new phenomenon.

As Hanlon explains in his book Mozambique had been a reluctant colony of Portugal for 400 years before effective colonization began. Portugal was far too poor of a country to develop the colony into anything meaningful and so the principal trade was around exploitation of the resources, which unfortunately also included a vibrant trade in slaves. With the abolition of slavery, the highly lucrative trade would eventually come to an end and new sources of income had to be found. In the 1890s, large swathes of the country were given as concession to two British companies for exploration, exploitation of resources and production of cash crops.

A few years later with the gold rush in South Africa in full swing, the Portuguese found yet another source of income. Thousands of able bodied men were leased out to work in the mines in South Africa. Payment by the South African government to Portugal was made in gold and a significant amount of trade would go through the port at Lourenco Marques. The funds obtained from this and money made by miners was said to be 8 times that of what could be made through cash crops.


At the end of the 2nd world war and with Britain facing heavy rebuilding, the domestic industrialization plans by Antonio Salazar, a fascist leader who would go on to dictate Portugal for 50 years could not stimulate enough economic activity. There simply was not enough capital to expand the revenue generation from the various colonies including Mozambique. This meant that Africans continued to be paid very poor wages in favour of Portuguese capitalists. Income had to be supplemented by the forced development of cash crops by peasants which resulted in greater control over Africans.

During this time Mozambique still continued to function as cog in the region, as most other neighbouring countries. Besides the constant flow of contracted manpower to keep the mines in South Africa working, the late 60s saw the construction of the Cahora Bassa dam in Tete with the main objective of providing electricity to South Africa. In a very elaborately engineered system, the electricity would be transported hundreds of kilometers to South Africa and then back to Mozambique.

Colonialism in Modern Times

Between the 1940s and 1960s, the settler population continued to grow from 27,000 to 97,000. For the growing settler community, there was a minor boom in industrialization. New factories were built, cities were developed with modern conveniences and vehicles ownership was on the rise but still very modest in relation to other countries in Africa. The whole economy continued to be concentrated in producing just enough for the consumption of the local settler population and never to outpace the activities of the Portuguese motherland.


Many of the Portuguese that arrived in Mozambique did so because of economic problems at home or because they were sent abroad to look after the interests of Portuguese enterprises. There were remarks that it was not uncommon to find Portuguese waiters and cleaners which would have been unthinkable in apartheid South Africa. At this time, much of the investment was still focused on cash crops such as sugar, cotton, tea and sisal for export. There was very little motivation to stay in Mozambique and the arriving Portuguese were little more educated than their Mozambican counterparts. At the time of independence, the settler population was estimated to be about 250,000.

This concentration of power is a small but important factor because it became the crux of what was to be in store for Mozambique after independence. Africans continued to be largely marginalized and their development explicitly limited. The Catholic Church in exchange for support from the Portuguese government continued to promote the notion that it had a moral obligation to civilize the Africans. Education was provided usually up to the 4th grade for basic reading, writing and counting but little more for the vast majority. These Africans were never to become professionals in the same league as the white settlers. Much of the superficial development in the cities, rising tower blocks was bolstered by the relatively poor wages earned by the Africans and the policies that forced them to work in construction if they could not find any other gainful employment.

A Classist Society

Unlike the colonialism established by the British or the French, the Portuguese colonialism continued to evolve in the 20th century. New inventions were added to this otherwise outmoded form of social organization to make it appear more palatable at least to the casual observer. Africans were to some degree allowed to mix with European society if they were assimilados – Africans that had given up their native traditions and followed European culture and language. In fact so unusual was this arrangement that even an illiterate Portuguese peasant could sometimes be considered as inferior to the assimilado.

Dangling the idea of an evolved African that could share the same privileges with white society, provided some hope to Africans that just maybe the status quo could work and allowed the system of injustice place to continue for a few more years. But by the early 1960s, suffering and discontentment across Mozambique had become too severe to sweep under the carpet. The pan-african liberation movements across Africa as well international pressure and educated Mozambicans from abroad such Eduardo Mondale – founder of FRELIMO – hastened the change with the commencement of a guerilla war.

Shopkeeper Colonialism

All these examples show that Portugal did not put down its roots in Mozambique as it should have when compared to other colonial powers. It used Mozambique in such a way as to extract as much financial gain as possible while putting in very little investment. Hanlon calls this ‘shopkeeper colonialism’ principally because many of those that arrived from Portugal had invested very little of their own capital and were there to manage investments made by Portuguese companies. Secondly, the largest investments were made to serve South Africa was and still is a regional powerhouse and is Mozambique largest trade partner rather than to serve and develop Mozambique itself. A final reason is that many of the settlers were peasants and shopkeepers who did not have the financial influence to change the Portuguese government’s policies for the then called “overseas provinces”. It would not be a surprise therefore at independence, nearly 90% of the settlers fled Mozambique virtually overnight.

Cover Photo (C) Alex Weinberg: A FRELIMO soldier guards a bus during the years of the civil war – Maputo, 1985