Stories in LM

The following is a historic account by David Grinnel of the life in the city of Lourenço Marques in the early in 1970s. It includes some reflections on the country after his departure.

It is presented for its many and accurate references to buildings, streets, people and the general activities at that time. The reader will find much value in this contribution in light of the material already published here.

Excerpt from Gringoismos: Bilingual Essays by Dave Adkins
Published 7/25/13: Xlibris Pub. Co.

I celebrated three Christmases in the city of Lourenço Marques, now called Maputo, in the African country on Mozambique in the extreme south of the African continent.  Mozambique was a Portuguese state then, but in 1975 gained independence from Portugal.  I worked in LM from 1971 to 1974 coaching basketball in a historic epoch just before the official separation of Mozambique and Portugal and during hostile political activity. When I was living there, there was a war of independence being fought in the north of the country.  I landed there when Edd Bowers, a Grinnell College coach at the time, spent his sabbatical in Mozambique, returned to Iowa and told me that the Academica Club was looking for a full time coach.  He recommended me on the basis of our friendship and his knowledge of my previous overseas work:  I was eventually hired after some tedious back and forth correspondence by “Air Mail” and then spent three eventful years in Africa, from September of 1971 until June of 1974.

Apart from the war and the daily news of the hostilities in the North, LM was a beautiful and tranquil city with a mix of the African and European cultures.  Each year there, the war fever intensified, but there existed a sense of normality during part of the 1970s.  At times, the people of LM were able to focus on their work, the beach, social life in the open air cafes in the downtown area of the city and the sporting competition including the popular basketball league.

In spite of that fact that daily life seemed to follow its normal routine, the threat of the war and of Frelimo, the African adversary, persisted.  At times, this threat was obvious and frightened the people.  Other times when the news of the North reached LM that the action was heating up, the people tried to forget it and denied the reality of the danger.  Looking back, I can see that the Mozambicanos tried to delay the hard reality of their lives.  They were involved in a game of self-deception in order to preserve their own sanity.

During the years for 1972 to 1974 in LM, which had a population of about 300,000 people, the city grew during the holiday periods during Christmas and New Year’s.  The tourists from South Africa and Rhodesia traveled to LM in plane, car and train.  The city center was thriving and full of new faces the week before Christmas until after New Year.  Some South African and Rhodesian women adored the young Portuguese.  It was common that they escorted the visiting women to the cafes and bars of the city.  Then the hosts would later compare notes on their adventures with the visiting women.  It was the main summer sport and one very popular in the bars and clubs of LM.

While the visiting Anglo-Saxon women were being accommodated by their new found loves, some South African men chose to pass time with African prostitutes in the streets of “má fama” in a barrio for sleazy night life.  (The U.S. Consulate was located in the heart of this area on Rua Salazar).  During these times, the politics of the separation of the races, which was called “Apartheid”, was in full swing in South Africa.  It was strange to see South African and Rhodesian men spending a great deal of time and money on the “forbidden black fruit” of their own countries.  When a South African left his hotel to seek some nightlife in the barrio of bars, he would use the term, “business” to describe an excursion and his purpose on a visit to that barrio.

After the Mozambique independence in 1975, the Marxist government closed the doors to these houses of ill repute and in doing so also cut off an important source of income in foreign currencies.  The South African Rand and the Rhodesian Dollar were viable international currencies, the Mozambique escudo was not.  The economy crashed under the Marxist rule and philosophy.  Mozambique had to fight to survive and sacrificed the economic security of many of its citizens in the process.

A Portugese journalist named Carlos Cardoso, born in Mozambique and educated in South Africa, experienced the full impact of independence and Marxism.  He did his best to promote a successful transition and gave his life for his country in the end. The government took his three story family home in their nationalization of private property scheme.  Living in Lourenzo Marques and Mozambique was reportedly particularly caotic in the first twenty years of independence.  Cardoso worked to bridge the gap with the Marxist government and President Samora Machel,  killed in an airplane crash left with many unanswered questions,  and later with his successor Joaquim Chissano.

In November of 2000 a small red car pulled alongside of the one driven by Cardoso and he was assassinated in Maputo by a thug called Anibalzinho using an AK47. The aggressive Portuguese journalist  had been in the middle of an investigation of the theft of 14 million dollars from the country’s largest bank. The shooter escaped somehow but was later apprehended while trying to enter Canada from Portugal. Carlos Cardoso was a cousin of Helena Nicolau, a 20 year old when this writer first met her through Bob McGovern, a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, at the U.S. Consulate. Mota Lopes, another important figure in the politics of this time as Director of Information in the ministry and editor of the popular magazine O Tempo, played on the Academica basketball team when he was a student and when this writer was coaching that team.  Fernando Lima, another principal in the politics and closely associated with Mota Lopes, was also a student at the University of Lourenzo Marques and manager of the Academica basketball team.

Apart from the flesh trade in the streets of LM, other businesses in Mozambique made money during the early 1970’s, when the economy was growing under the Portuguese.   The cashew industry had shown a strong crop and made 20,000,000 Rand annually.  Other sources of income included the exportation of sugar, tea, rice, tobacco and bananas.  Also the seaports and the railroad system from LM and Beira were instrumental in the Mozambique economy and in other African countries.  There was a supporter of Sporting Club of LM, for whom I worked one year, who was involved in the exportation of bananas.  He was a Chinese and loved his business, his Mercedes and the Sporting basketball team.  Of course, his nickname was “Banana”.

During Christmas break, the popular and preferred pastime, in addition to the action of the bar district was to sip an espresso coffee in an open air café.  Because of the influence of the tourist business, there was much activity to be observed from a chair in one of the cafés, which were well positioned on the corner of the main cross streets of the city. “Que é boa” (that is nice) is an expression to describe the reaction of a Latin man seated at a café to the sight of an attractive woman passing on the nearby sidewalk.  In the summer season, the weather was perfect, the sun warm and streets were always jammed with people, including beautiful women.  The coffee served in a small cup was black and strong and was called “uma bica” – an espresso.

I lived in the Hotel Girassol, which was situated about 20 minutes walking distance from the city center and the popular open air cafes.  Daily, I used to leave the hotel and walk down the hill to the town center.  I continued walking another 15 minutes and would arrive at the corner of Dr. Brito Camanco Avenue and Augusto de Castilho Avenue, there I would turn to the left, walk down another hill until able to see the famous Avenida República.  When I arrived at this corner,  I turned to the right and continued making my way to my favorite café, La Scala.

In the city center, there were two very popular cafes on a busy corner directly across the street from one another.  The Scala and The Continental were the “twin towers” of café social life in LM.  In this era, the members of the Sporting Club occupied The Scala and those from the Desportivo Club favored The Continental.  The legend was that the supporters of the two clubs glared across the boulevard at each other – staring down their adversaries.  When they drank coffee at the Scala, the men showed more interest in evaluating the visiting women than in paying attention to the Desportivo supporters with “que é boa” heard frequently.

A popular attraction during the Christmas season was the bull fight, which was presented in LM for three consecutive days, the 24, 25 and 26th of December.  Therefore, many people attended this spectacle on Christmas afternoon.  I was impressed with the color and interest in this Portuguese tradition imported from Lisbon to the African continent.  The “Campo Pequeno” in Lisbon is the famous stadium where bull fights are held.  This event in Lisbon seemed more authentic than the African version.  I didn’t see the LM bull fight as particularly interesting after having seen it once there was no need to return. However, I seemed to forget the previous year’s disappointment and would return for another look the next year.

Another facet of the LM scene was the social life in the hotels.  I lived in the Girassol, a circular construction of five floors with a great view of the city and the bay.   It was built on a high hill overlooking the city below, the fifth floor of the hotel provided the perfect spot to watch the activities of the people below.  I used to eat in the hotel also enjoyed the occasion to interact with employees and with other guests, who I would see nearly every day.   The hotel was classified as “two star”, with the most famous hotel, The Polana, as a “five star”.  Considered an historic institution with a world-wide reputation, Allied military officers and also those of the Axis, bitter enemies of WW II, used to stay in the Polana at the same time during R and R from combat and they shared the pool, the dining room, the garden, the bar and the hotel in general.  Mozambique maintained its neutrality during the war, but served as a common ground where enemies could relax during leaves, it seems, without conflicts.

LM became a special city for me.  In September of 1974 I met Geneva, who would become my wife two years later.  She was a State Department employee working in the U.S. Consul General office.  We spent a lot of time together and eventually returned to the U.S. to marry in July, 1976 in the Simpson College Chapel.  Looking back,  I can see that the experiences in Mozambique have become an important part of the story of our relationship.  When we planned to leave LM, Geneva did not have permission to sell her car because her employer, the U.S. Department of State, did not permit employees to sell their material possessions for a profit while on duty in a foreign country.  Then, she sold me the car and I found a buyer, an African mulatto named Sergio.  Then in the 1970’s, the car was most unique, the only Thunderbird to be seen on the streets of LM. Prior to the sale of Geneva’s car, we made good use of it traveling to Kruger Park, a two hour drive from LM on several week-ends and then taking a three week drive down the coast of South Africa to Durban, Port Elizabeth and on to Cape Town.  We made our way back in the dependable Mustang through Petermeritzsburg to Johannesburg and Pretoria, then to Swaziland.  Two weeks later, back in LM, we flew to Salisbury, Rhodesia – now Harare, Zimbabwe, a beautiful country since ravaged by the pagan leader, Robert Mugabe.

We left Mozambique for the U.S. in May, 1974 and a short time later a group of Frelimos assassinated 75 Portuguese citizens in a surprise ambush during after work rush hour near the LM Airport.  Independence was conceded by Portugal in 1976 and since then the last 30 plus years have been a struggle for the country to survive economically.  Under the system called Marxism, everyone, except the leaders, have the same materially – which is nothing.  Two terrorist groups, Frelimo and Renano fought to control the country.  Genocide in the outlying areas and the death a large number of innocent people in the hands of the two adversaries brought this African war to the attention of the entire world.  The people had been short of food from 1976 – 1990, when the leaders made the decision to change the system of government.  Nevertheless, the president, Joaquim Chissano, has maintained a link with Russia, another country in economic and political turmoil.

Even though there is a 50-70% unemployment index in Mozambique, I have learned from friends in Lisbon, those with families in Mozambique, that things have improved somewhat with the change from Marxism to open markets.  Media reports say that the country now sees it economy in a growth cycle.  However, the news of this growth is of little value for Mozambique until the people themselves receive the benefits.  It is a complicated situation with a lack of an educated public and illiteracy rampant.

The comments respect to the economy seem somewhat optimistic, yet the problem of street crime and the lack of security and order in general in the city, now called Maputo, destroy the confidence of the people.  As a result, they hesitate to invest in businesses and it damages tourism.  It still can be  dangerous to walk through the streets at night in the downtown area of the city.  When I lived there, I spent a lot of time at night alone in restaurants, bars and movies without being concerned about my personal safety.  These days, that could be dangerous.  It is common among the street thugs to attack tourists in their cars stopped at stop lights and I have heard that is it difficult to decide if the police respect the law or violate it.  The police have established a policy emphasizing the use of maximum force without interest in the rights of the people.  I don’t know if all of those negatives will turn around soon.  It seems that if the situation in Maputo was a reflection of the moral direction of the country’s leaders, their reputation is one of being corrupt.  What a shame that is.

I imagine that Christmas of the 2000’s will be very different from the 1970s.  My memories of LM do not correspond with the reports from Maputo, those sent by friends on the internet.  I recall that Avenida Republica with its open air cafes and streets where tourists and local people passed freely.  Also, I remember well the beautiful beaches frequented by families.  Also, the social and political events that occurred during this time basketball played an important part, which became a symbol of the bad blood that was beginning to show up there.

BasketballPavillionLourenzoMarquesAbove, Sporting Basketball Pavillion in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique.  Player closest to camera on right in black uniform is Mota Lopes,  at the time a student at the U. of Lourenço Marques, later an important figure in the first government formed proclaiming independence from Portugal.  Lopes was editor of O Tempo magazine, a Mozambique version of Time.  Player to left of Lopes is Kit Jones, Beloit College, and next to Jones is Dale Dover, who captained Harvard and later became a Foreign Service Officer.

I coached  Desportivo in my third year in LM.  We were playing in a Sporting Club Festival on a very hot African summer Saturday evening.  The Sporting Pavillion was packed full of fans.  In the first game of that night, a fight broke out between an Italian from Mahangalene and an American from Ferraviario.  When the rivals, Sporting and Desportivo, began their game the atmosphere in the building was nearly out of control.  My team was playing very well at the time and was winning by 20 points just before the half time break.  Suddenly someone shut off the lights in the stadium and almost simultaneously a fire broke out at one end of the stadium.  Manuel Lima, a veteran player from Desportivo, was working for the secret police at the time and on seeing the fire he told me to follow him from the darkened basketball court and outside through a door close to our team bench.  I recall well the sinister atmosphere and was relieved to get out of the building safely.  My fiancée, Geneva, attended the game also and was able to get out of the stadium without issues with the help of another member of the club.

That night, later, we were relaxing in the bar of the Girassol, my residence.  Geneva, who was an employee of the U.S. Consulate, received an urgent call and had to go to the office of the Consulate on Rua Salazar.  The following day, she told me that she had been advised that Frelimo had threatened to blow up the principal port of the city.  From that evening on, the war seemed to intensify and had begun to reach the capitol city itself, no longer contained in the bush of the North.  It was April, 1974, four months after my last Christmas in LM.  Looking back, I see my years in Africa as an important part of my life.  I still maintain contact with the basketball community who now live in Portugal.  I hope that they are going to be able to overcome the social, economic and political issues in Maputo to assure a more optimistic future for the people there.  Ironically, in a recent election, Mozambique turned its back on Marxism and accepted the concept of free markets.  The change has already improved the economy and the news from Maputo sounds better.