Robin Wright
Robin Wright

Fellowship Title:

Mozambique: Six Months After Independence

Robin Wright
January 5, 1976

Fellowship Year

On December 25, Mozambique celebrated six months of independence from Portuguese colonial domination. While peaceful in comparison with Angola, another former Portuguese colony now torn by a bitter civil war, Mozambique is also facing serious problems that threaten its stability.

Robin Wright spent nearly four months in Mozambique during the transition and independence periods, touring the country and talking with officials of Frelimo, the movement that fought a ten-year liberation war and took over from the Portuguese an June 25.

Based on interviews with Mozambique officials encountered recently in Angola and Zambia, diplomats assigned to Lourenco Marques, and Mozambique contacts, Wright offers the following assessment of the southeast African territory six months into independence.

Signs of celebration at Mozambique's Independence: But there has not been much to celebrate during Frelimo’s first six months.
Signs of celebration at Mozambique's Independence: But there has not been much to celebrate during Frelimo’s first six months.

The bread lines are blocks long and meat is rationed. Agricultural production has declined dramatically despite the massive relocation of both rural and urban dwellers onto new collective farms. Technicians and professionals continue to flee the country. And growing political dissent burst into an ugly uprising in mid-December.

This is Mozambique six months into independence, a country so crippled by birth pangs that some observers now wonder whether the new militantly Marxist government that took over on June 25 will survive in the southeast African territory.

“We knew the problems would be great,” a Mozambique cabinet minister said in Lusaka in November. “But it is one thing to predict them and another to face them. We definitely are struggling.”

“Life is not as comfortable as it was under the Portuguese, and many of the people are not politicized enough to understand that we will have many short term problems in order to be strong in the long term. There must be changes in priorities and lifestyles, and such readjustment always hurts.”

Mozambique’s New Emblem.
Mozambique’s New Emblem.

Whether the new government can “buy” the time to affect reorientation and realize the results remains The Question in Mozambique today–one even insiders can not yet answer. Already there have been two expressions of restlessness: the recent uprising by 400 army dissidents in Lourenco Marques in December, and the skirmish between civilians and the army in Beira in early November. But it is difficult to tell just how deep the dissatisfaction goes.

There is no aspect of life unaffected by the tough new government, which has attempted to radically alter the country since the Portuguese ended nearly 500 years of colonial domination. But so far the costs are much more evident then the benefits. Among the problems:

In late December there were only 30 certified doctors to serve a population of approximately nine million. There were 50-plus physicians at Independence, but most have since rescinded their contracts with the government after nationalization of medical services made it impossible to operate normally.

One Portuguese resident tells of going to the hospital with acute abdominal pain and being given a ticket with an appointment three weeks away. Another complained about a toothache, which due to the lack of dental services, was treated by a nurse who pulled the tooth with pliers and without anesthetic.

Educational standards have declined since the nationalization of schools, revision of curriculum, and the exodus of qualified teachers. Children at all schools now spend part of each day cultivating plots of land–vacant lots, parks and roadside strips–as part of the new program emphasizing agricultural development. And all subjects–from math to literature–now have a political orientation, which one teacher lamented made learning “obtuse. Most of my students are not sophisticated enough to understand or relate to the political message. It just confuses them.”

Poster Advertising Agricultural Seminar: The key to Mozambique economic success, but also a growing point of opposition.

Poster Advertising Agricultural Seminar:

The key to Mozambique economic success, but also a growing point of opposition.

Government restriction on imports and the decrease in agricultural production has made many foods difficult to obtain. “I eat meat only once a week,” a United Nations staffer claimed. “The lines are long and you can get only one kilo per purchase, if there’s any to buy once you get to the head of the line.”

Constant checking of new identity papers and the refusal of vises to members of white Mozambique families who were sent to South Africa or Portugal for safety or to study has also made life unpleasant, especially for the small remaining Portuguese and white Mozembiquan community. As one former resident explained:

“They haven’t blatantly said the whites should leave, but recent measures make it unattractive to stay. The government has certainly made it appear that they want to got rid of the whites without saying a word.”

At Independence, there were an estimated 80,000 whites, down from approximately 200,000. But in the past six months, another 15,000 to 20,000 have departed, with more expected to leave in the near future.

The most telltale signs of trouble, however, are the economic indicators: Inflation and costs continue to skyrocket. Exports have slumped, thus creating a shortage of foreign exchange to pay for increasingly vital imports.

Development plans from the Portuguese era have been shelved for lack of funds and management. Housing and construction projects have all but stopped completely; many almost-finished facilities stand abandoned.

Political uncertainty has led South African businessmen to keep use of the Lourenco Marques and Beira ports to a minimum. Before Independence Lourenco Marques had at least 30 ships in harbor, but now the average is seven or eight. Ore is the main export, while general cargo has been rerouted to crowded South African ports. The harbor surcharge was lowered from 30 to 15 percent in August and recently eliminated completely to encourage traffic, but with no increase thus far. Bumbling and mismanagement of both port and railway facilities also led the government to bring in South African assistance, which is now “instrumental” in running and maintaining all transport facilities, according to one foreign diplomat.

Lourenco Marques Port: Inactive due to political uncertainty.
Lourenco Marques Port: Inactive due to political uncertainty.

In fact, one foreign economist claims “mismanagement and incompetence is the story of the first six months of independence.” Worker productivity, as a result, has generally slipped due to management inexperience. Workers’ groups also have been given a voice in company policy, and there are many reports recently of demands by these “dynamization” groups for the ouster of supervisors with different personal or political philosophies. And many companies have had to keep unneeded or undesirable workers on the payroll to avoid being charged with economic sabotage by the government.

crowd of peopleBut while political participation has increased, so has political dissent. The chief complaint has come from villagers who have been relocated on the new collective farms based on the Tanzanian “ujamaa” scheme. The Makua, one of nine major tribes but accounting for nearly 50 percent of the population, have become the focal point of dissent. Never supporters of Frelimo–due to general political apathy this northern tribe could present formidable opposition.

Unemployment, higher then at any point in recorded history, has also created dissension, many stevedores, for example, have been laid off, and those still employed have had their wages lowered. Domestics employed by the Portuguese have generally been without regular work for six to thirteen months. The government labor office recently reported it had been able to place only 159 of 11,000 applicants. And the situation has not been helped by the estimated 100,000 refugees returning from Tanzania.

Even the Frelimo army has displayed restlessness because of low pay scales and the disincentive of only three possible ranks. This, plus recent stern warnings from President Samora Machel against army “privileges,” led to an uprising of an estimated 400 soldiers in mid-December that sputtered on for several days.

President Samora Rachel: Still strong, but accountable to the increasingly dissatisfied masses.

President Samora Rachel:

Still strong, but accountable to the increasingly dissatisfied masses.

The government has attempted to squelch opposition by regular purges of both civilian and army personnel, which began in July–just one month after Independence. The mayor of Lourenco Marques was one of the early casualties.

A special secret police unit–the National Service of Popular Security or SNASP–was recently formed to provide additional protection for “interests of the state.” Responsible directly to the president, SNASP is allowed to act on any grounds it chooses to “detect, neutralize and combat all forms of subversion, sabotage and acts directed against the People’s Power and its representatives, the national economy or against the objectives of the People’s Republic of Mozambique.” As one Mozambique resident complained, “It is Frelimo’s PIDE (the dreaded Portuguese a secret police). There is no habeas corpus or means of appeal. If they pick you up, that’s it.”

Residents of Mozambique talk in private of the uneasy tension and the undercurrent of fear that pervades all aspects of life. Lourenco Marques, once a lusty spirited city, has become “lethargic,” claimed one Frelimo-supporter. Women Walking alone at night are often picked up as prostitutes and sent for rehabilitation to the collective farms. Soldiers irregularly check people leaving cinemas or cafes for identity cards. In one case a man had his with him, but his wife and daughter had left theirs in the car a few feet away, so were taken off to detention for two days.

There are, however, still several hopeful signs for the fledging new nation, indicators that make it unfair to be totally pessimistic about Mozambique. Among them:

Substantial amounts of foreign aid have been promised, including 56 million dollars from The People’s Republic of China, 20 million dollars from the United Nations, and ten million dollars from both Portugal and Sweden.

Export crops have benefited substantially from higher world prices. A United States Department of State survey claims sugar, coconut, copra, cashew nuts, timber, tea and sisal generated more in the first six months of 1975 than during the entire previous year.

Training centers and national seminars have been established to increase the number of teachers of school “monitors,” many or whom have been sent to the rural areas where education was not available during the Portuguese period. The few doctors have also been dispersed to the far corners of the country rather then allowed to remain only in Lourenco Marques and Beira, the two urban centers.

Within the Central Committee, Frelimo has managed to present a united front. “This is one of the most impressive aspects of the Independence period,” a foreign resident observed. “There is no feeling of internal dissent within the party. There may be problems among the masses, but at least the government is united.”

Dissension among the masses, however, may be more important than unity within the government–in the short term anyway.

The fruits of freedom have failed thus far to reach the masses. Just how long The People’s patience will hold out is unpredictable at this point. But it is clear that the Frelimo government will have to work hard and fast to prove the benefits of a socialist system–and rally people to support the effort.

A Lourenco Marques-based journalist summed up the situation: “It is difficult for these people to comprehend the long term; they think only of material benefits now. Anyone with sense would realize that Independence alone could not change their condition overnight . We must work for it. Too many think that since Frelimo fought the war for them, Frelimo will now–alone–make them rich. Until they realize they too must work and sacrifice this government can not succeed.”

Received in New York on January 5, 1976

©1976 Robin Wright

Robin Wright is an Alicia Patterson Foundation award winner on leave from The Christian Science Monitor. This article may be published with credit to Robin Wright, The Christian Science Monitor, and the Alicia Patterson Foundation.