Fábrica de Ladrilhos e Mosaicos

It was a home renovation job that brought me to the outskirts of the city a few years ago. The work involved restoring more than renovating and the team decided that terrazzo flooring would appropriately match the existing design. Such things are hard to come by in Mozambique today, where the market has “modernized” and promptly forgotten all that once literally made up the urban landscape and was one of the main touristic drawcards.

I was then surprised to find that there was still a factory in an area almost entirely devoured by African-style suburban sprawl that still produced terrazzo tiles. Terrazzo flooring which is probably a natural extension of terrazzo tiling was quite popular in the early 20th century. Terrazzo tiles, especially of the hidraulico type were popularized by the Portuguese across their colonies and Mozambique is no exception. You will still see both varieties in older buildings around the city and it seems like there is a resurgence of interest in terazzo flooring due to its more visually organic nature around the world. ‘Organic’ is the in thing of our age.

Unfortunately for us after several months of planning and testing, the project did not pan out. The tiles produced at the factory, had too great a variation in quality and were not accepted by the execution team. The old men who still ran the ramshackle factory, while comically enthused at the idea of our wanting these tiles conceded they could no longer produced the goods at the same quality as they once did many years ago.

The New & The Old

Mozambique is a land of contrasts. Even a leisurely walk in the capital city (now Maputo) is material evidence of a once arguably prosperous country, hard on the heels of building a modern metropolis. Brand new buildings designed in Europe sitting next to art-deco ruins from the previous century. One could say today the air and charm of a newer Havana is definitely omnipresent.

And more often than not, when one encounters such contrasts; accentuated differences between the present and the past; where the past is personified in the skeletal remains of old buildings, cobbled roads, churches and peeling paint one is thrown headlong into a search for existential answers.

Fábrica de Ladrilhos e Mosaicos

Wall for illustrative purposes of the various tiles produced

As we walked into the barren office that one must have been staffed by half dozen or so people taking orders, providing manufacturing support and coordinating deliveries we were met with a wall of various types terrazzo that the factory once produced. I say it once produced because as we were explained, over the last forty years during the which factory lurched in and out off production the casting units used to set the tiles had been lost. Today the bulk of the factory’s operation down to two people involved mostly corrective work.

Fábrica de Ladrilhos e Mosaicos

Only a fraction of these designs can still be made today

Joseph Hanlon who I often cite for his very candid retelling of the history of Mozambique explains that the withdrawal of the Portuguese was a messy affair:

The flight created dramatic economic problems…Most dramatic was the abandoning of businesses built up over several years. Suddenly, one day the owner would be gone, leaving behind a workforce without a clue as to how to manage the business. For example, waiters who have never been allowed to handle money or place wholesale orders found themselves running restaurants.

Without the necessary management in place, funds for operations and even demand for its products many industrial units such as this one simply became unsustainable and never saw the light of day again.

The Government of Samora Machel did introduce band-aid measures to reign in controls, prevent theft and keep them functioning but the writing was on the wall. Eventually, the state introduced a holding company (IGEPE) and took over the many abandoned businesses and their assets although assuming control did not mean getting back into production.

An automotive relic could be someone’s treasure

What we have here then is a shell of a company, hobbling along and raking in just enough to have few people fed and clothed. There is no talk of reviving the old machines which are considered unproductive by today’s standards; there is no prospect of upskilling workers who are now post retirement and therefore it is unlikely be a part of the country’s industrialization.

The factory (red overlay) boxed in by changing urban land use

All over Mozambique, across the various provinces one can find desolate industrial complexes. The deindustrialization is so acute that some commodities such as cotton and tea once grown and harvested are more viable for export. There is very little emphasis on local processing, distribution and consumption. It is hoped that some day, whether compelled by climate change or some other concern processing, domestic production and consumption will once again return.

The Cemitério de S. José de Lhanguene is not the oldest cemetery in Lourenco Marques / Maputo. It was preceded by the Cemitério S. Xavier and  the S. Timóteo – the former which is still in existence but in an unfortunate state. Alfredo Pereira Lima who was one of Mozambique’s foremost historians; researching and recording the history of the city wrote that subsequent to the 1st world war, there was a need for a new cemetery to be established which is how the S. José de Lhanguene came to existence.

A programme organized by the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Maputo was held earlier in the week. On the agenda was the offering of prayers and a small introduction of each of the members who lay buried there. A small group of community members gathered at the entrance of the cemetery at 9 o’ clock as had been planned. For a June day in the southern hemisphere it was sunny and not particularly cold.

It is interesting to note that there is now a new cemetery 30 kilometers away and that this cemetery is “closed” but burials continue, especially when they related to family and far exceed capacity of the cemetery. All semblance of order has been lost and since the independence of the country from Portugal in 1975, inadequate planning and upkeep has resulted in the unfortunate removal and replacement of tombs – that is to clarify that bodies have been dug up and plots reconditioned for new burials. At one point, space had become so limited that plots were made in places not appropriate such as the walkways and internal roads. A recent announcement in the newspaper this year provides some hope that the city council is working to remove unclaimed or abandoned plots in an effort to restore some dignity to the site.

There are only a handful members of the Baha’i community buried here. The friends were able to identify some of the sites and offer prayers but a small number of tombs could not be found. It is most likely that these at some point lay unattended and were removed and reconditioned for new burials.

As the old saying goes, “fortune favours the brave” and even this derelict and crumbling part of the city I could see remnants of what once was the very blissful resting place of so many of its citizens. It is quite common to see in southern Europe elaborate markers, monuments and vaults. Mozambique being a colony of Portugal (a southern European nation), it is not surprising that these traditions have been brought over.

At the front of the cemetery, one will find rows of family vaults supposedly of the wealthier families of the city who decided that their dead should be buried together and who could afford it. Each more beautiful than the next but equally befitting the celebration of life.

One of the many casualties of the revolution in Mozambique, the mass exodus of these families led the grave sites and vaults to be abandoned. The ensuing civil war for the next sixteen years sealed the fate and severed any possibility of allowing the families to return to Mozambique. Not long afterwards vagrants moved into the cemetery broke into the vaults and caskets looking for anything of value to be sold.

DSC_3039The official history of the cemetery begins in 1951 when the CMLM (City Council of Lourenco Marques) identified, formalized and opened to the public the new burial grounds. Alfredo Pereira Lima recounts,

Shortly after the end of the Great War of 1914-1918, to attend the mass burials of the many hundreds of indigenous victims of the pneumonic epidemic, the São José de Lhanguene Cemetery was opened. From the date of its establishment until 20 November 1951, this cemetery was reserved for natives who had to be buried in a common grave. From that date onwards, the City Council was compelled to provide the city with a new cemetery and the burial grounds of São José de Lhanguene was then enlarged and opened to the public on that date. The opening ceremony in 1951 was filled with solemnity. After the Catholic ritual of blessing the Campo Santo, followed the first official burial: that of the bones of the old settler Vitor José Milho da Rosa. This old settler who resided in the S José de Lhanguene Mission had expressed the desire to be buried there, even though at the time the cemetery only contained mass graves, and his wish was respected. The Cemetery Section of the City Council exhumed his bones [from the São José de Lhanguene Mission] placed them in a small urn and this was the first official burial in the new Cemetery, giving his grave Number 1.

So with that, the members visit a few more of the graves and offered prayers. Most of those buried had pioneering roles with the establishment and growth of the Baha’i Faith in Mozambique. Papa and Mama Sabapathy arrived from Malaysia in 1970s just as the country become independent; Papa Nduna whose grave could not be located was one of the founding members of Local Spiritual Assembly; Mama Charlotte arrived from the USA in the 1950s and was later deported for her activities not returning permanently to Mozambique until 1983.

The catalyst for this event was the rehabilitation of the grave site of Mama Charlotte which was completed in June. The site had over the last twenty years degraded and the gravestone had been damaged. Vandalism and theft are an on-going concern at the cemetery which has lead certain improvisations such as the installation of steel barriers and monthly payments to the staff to “stand guard”.