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

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”.