Mozambique by Ricardo Rangel

His biographers note that Ricardo Rangel (1924–2009) was the first non-white journalist in colonial Mozambique. He was definitely one of four or five photographers working there on its independence in 1975, and he had indeed contributed some of Mozambique’s most iconic images, even though many of his colonial-era photographs were banned or destroyed by Portuguese censors.

His best-known work outside Mozambique was a series of evocative studies of bar-girls he made in the 1960s. Under Portugal, the Mozambican capital Lourenço Marques (named after Vasco da Gama’s navigator, who sailed into its broad bay in 1544) was a thriving port and a pleasant vacation spot — Bob Dylan was to croon about its aqua blue skies soon; its red-light district at the Rua de Araújo attracted South Africans and Rhodesians escaping their puritanical regimes at home. With tongue in cheek, Rangel called his work on the Rua de Araújo, “Pão Nosso de Cada Noite” (Our Nightly Bread), a pun on the Lord’s Prayer.

In 1970, Rengel co-founded Tempo with four friends, who left the daily Noticia, the main mouthpiece of the colonial government. Tempo, although initially subjected to colonial censorship, stopped submitting to censors after the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon. The coup that ended the legacy of the eccentric Portuguese dictator Dr Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was a godsend for Mozambique. After all, the reactionary Salazar was asked in 1968 (seven years into the Angolan revolt) whether he saw independence for Portugal’s African colonies, Angola and Mozambique, in the future; “It is a problem for centuries. Within five hundred years.” In many ways, small and backward Portugal could not afford to lose her colonial subjects: it extracted raw materials at highly extortionate prices from its colonies; Mozambique grew cotton for Portugal rather than food for its people, making a small plantation owner class rich, causing frequent famines, and making Marxist Leninist armed opposition Frelimo popular.

Soon even Portugal grew tired of an attritionary guerrilla war, which saw 60,000 Portuguese soldiers deployed to protect a European settler population that gradually dwindled to just 100,000. Independence was quickly granted, leaving the whole mess to Frelimo. As one observer noted, “No revolutionary movement can have come to power in a more favourable climate of public opinion than Frelimo did”. There was no organized opposition, and the media was compliant, with many leading journalists toeing the Marxist line. In Samora Machel, it had a charismatic leader, although Time magazine, ever acerbic ever cynical, called him “a one-tune medical orderly from Xai-Xai”. Machel arrived in Lourenco Marques (soon to be renamed Maputo) to a crowd of over 100,000 people, a scene vividly photographed by Rangel, who also documented the Portuguese troops and families packing their homes and departing (below).

But appearances were deceiving. The Portuguese retreat was hasty and petty. When the Carnation Revolution weakened the colonial government, many white settlers abandoned their plantations fearing a Frelimo assault. Now upon independence, the remaining settler farmers drove their tractors and farm equipment off the cliffs rather than surrendering to a potential communist takeover. The civil servants burnt schematics, maps, and government papers. Many took all of their possessions back to Lisbon, even lightbulbs. In a country of eight million, where natives were forbidden from most jobs (even from driving buses), there existed only 1,000 administrators (blacks and some whites who stayed on). Frelimo struggled to run a country twice the area of California, where 80% lived in rural areas and 90% were illiterate.

The government also overreached. Machel’s repeated denunciations of “demon alcohol” quickly made him unpopular, as did bans on discos and miniskirts, and confiscations of religious properties. The Frelimo thugs took control of factories and businesses. The country’s neighbours long relied on Mozambique for economic reasons: South Africa for its migrant mine workers and electricity from Mozambique’s Cabora Bassa dam, and landlocked Rhodesia for transit of 80% of its exports through Mozambican rail lines and ports. Now, with a Communist government imposing price controls, these links were threatened. Machel threatened to shut off Rhodesia’s transit trade, and the white settler regimes responded by funding an anti-Communist insurgency, instituting a disgruntled former Frelimo cadre at its head. The ensuing war would drag on until 1992, killing one million people and displacing five million.

For more, Norrie Macqueen’s excellent account The Decolonization of Portuguese Africa: Metropolitan Revolution and Dissolution of Empire.


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