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Between 1200-1400AD Mozambique did not exist as a unified country, but as group of kingdoms. The region was divided by natural boundaries using two major rivers the Zambezi and the Limpopo. The area to the north of the Zambezi was dominated by the kingdoms of Makua, Yao, Maravi and other lesser groups. These groups were also organised into several more or less integrated sub-groups.

The Shona Empire ruled between the two rivers and this area became known as the kingdom of Zimbabwe. South of the Limpopo River several Thonga kingdoms controlled the area during the 1400's. Later the Zimbabwe kingdom was followed by the Monomatapa Empire which possessed rich goldmines that were later taken over by the Europeans.  These mines are believed to be the legendary mines of King Salomon. While all along the coastline of East Africa Arab traders were settling and passing on their Islamic faith that made a huge impact on the area.

During 1498 the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reached the shores of Mozambique with a fleet of four ships. They were well received in Maputo before sailing on to the town of Mozambique. He was surprised to find a developed society with organised trade, a monetary system, controlled by wealthy merchants and Arab sheikhs. However, what interested him most was that some of the local sailors possessed knowledge of a sea-route to India. The Portuguese wanted to trade, but they did not have much to trade with, therefore tensions grew between the Swahili people and their European guests. The town was eventually plundered and bombed as Vasco da Gama sails away. Far from being a diplomat he made more enemies than friends on his first visit in East Africa. Finally after visiting Malindi in Kenya he continued his exploration and sailed towards India.

In 1500 Vasco da Gama returned to Mozambique this time with more ships, men and weapons. His intention was to take control of the region. His fleet of ships arrived and within a few years the Portuguese were in charge of all trade taking place in the area. To achieve this he destroyed most of the Islamic-African civilisation during a brutal military campaign. Any town that was not willing to surrender on his terms were attacked and destroyed.

The Europeans justifies the violence and killings as a Christian crusade against the Islamic influence. At one time Vasco da Gama himself ordered the destruction of a ship carrying 380 Muslim pilgrims, men, women and children that were all unarmed. Stories of these hostile acts reached the Arab world and tensions grew between them.

By the 1600's after a long period of settlement along the coastal area, the Portuguese settlers finally ventured inland using the Zambezi River. As more land was discovered the Portuguese farmers were encouraged to settle inland. The Portuguese Government also allowed its people to grab whatever land they wanted, some even used private armies and called the  land they grab ‘Kingdoms’.  As long as they paid their "Prazo" a tax to the Portuguese crown, that was all that mattered. A farmer who paid the Prazo (the "prazeros") also gained the right to use the people from that area as labour. This was an effective way for Portugal to expand its influence in the area, but it also made Portugal dependent on the Prazeros.

It was also a time when the English and Dutch fleets fought the Portuguese settlers for control of the area. Treaties were eventually signed in the 1630's which strengthen Portugal's authority in East Africa.

During 1698 after losing Mombasa and part of the Northern Kenyan coast to the Arabs, Portugal concentrated on their possessions further south.

By the 1700's it became one of the few places in Africa where it was common for the Portuguese landlords to adapt to the local African culture. Many settlers married local African women. Then as the settlers became more Africanised they started to refuse to pay taxes to Portugal. This allowed the Arab and Indian traders along the coastal region, to regain some of their power as control from Portugal was weakened.

This was a time when Maize and Cassava was also introduced by the Portuguese to most of Africa.

In 1752 Portugal suddenly announced that Mozambique was to become a colony, a move that was to start the slave trade in the area.

By 1787 the Portuguese had built a fort in Lourenço Marques, and a town quickly sprung up around it.
1800's by this time slavery had become a major part of trade in the area. Most slaves from Mozambique were sent to the French sugar plantations in Reunion and Mauritius while some were sent to the Portuguese plantations in Brazil. The Portuguese slave trade suddenly grew after Great Britain banned it. It’s estimated that approximately 1 million slaves were shipped from Mozambique during the 1800's. This brought about a conflict between different African groups as some tribes were hunted, while other groups functioned as slave traders.

By the Mid 1800's the Monomatapa Empire finally collapses under continuing pressure from both Portugal and the new generation of Arab traders. The Nguni people from South Africa took over the Thonga Kingdoms (south of Zambezi) and formed what became known as the Gaza Empire.

Finally in 1869 Portugal officially abolished slavery, but the cruel trade of selling humans went on in Mozambique until 1900.

By 1878 Portugal was only in control of the Southern part of the country and chose to lease out large territories in the North to trading companies, many of which were British owned. Britain and Germany had threatened to take control of the colony, and this was the only solution for Portugal if they wanted to hold on to their power in the area.

Although Slavery had been banned, forced labour, known as "Chibalo", was still being used by many of these companies on plantations, and for construction of roads and later the railways.

In 1884-85 a group of European countries got together and decided to divide up Africa between them during a conference held in Berlin. Portugal tried to claim all of the land between Mozambique on the east coast, and Angola on the west coast. However, they were not in a strong position compared with the other European countries and had to settle with less. The "scramble for Africa" had begun.

Portuguese East Africa at that time was dominated by the Bantu Kingdoms, who had mostly gained their wealth from the slave trade, while other groups in the area had been virtually wiped out. However, there were still a few Portuguese traders, officials and military groups settled in the coastal cities, but they did not have much power and had almost no contact with Portugal.

By 1886 a railway was being built to connect the Transvaal with the city Lourenço Marques, after gold had been found in the Boer-Republic of Transvaal in South Africa.

1891 Portugal and Britain signed a treaty which laid out the current borders of Mozambique.

1907 Portugal moved the colonial capital of Mozambique from Ilha de Moçambique (the Mozambique Island) to Lourenço Marques. The new capital had a population of approx. 5,000.

1915 After the fall of the Gaza Empire Portugal finally had military and political control of all Portuguese East Africa. For the first time all the kingdoms and territories of Mozambique were under the same rule.

Three big trading companies are managing half of Portuguese East Africa. The companies owned all the rights to agriculture and mining in their area. They can also collect taxes from the local population, who are forced to work on the plantations. Approximately 100.000 Mozambicans are forced to work in the gold mines of Transvaal in South Africa. Life and conditions in the colony are so bad, that many Africans choose to cross the borders to the neighbouring British colonies to live.

1926 A fascist coup turns Portugal into a military dictatorship. When António Oliveira Salazar comes to power, and this means an even tighter grip on the African population and a more widely use of forced labour.

The new Portuguese government had close ties with the white governments in the neighbouring countries of Rhodesia and South Africa. Roads and railways are built to give the neighbours access to the big ports in Mozambique. Due to the poor administration by Portugal, most of the profits are made by Rhodesia and South Africa. Portugal completely neglects to develop Mozambique or make any kind of social progress for the inhabitants. Schools and hospitals were only provided for Portuguese citizens.

1932 Portugal takes over a more direct control of the colony, and decided to cancel all agreements with the foreign trading companies. The fascists want to ensure that all possible profits to go directly to the Portuguese so-called "new state".

The Salazar government then encouraged primarily poor Portuguese people to immigrate to the Mozambican colony. The population grew rapidly in Mozambique, but most of the new inhabitants only brought even more social problems with them to the area.

The Portuguese government ruled the colony through a racist system similar to the South African apartheid. Schools were still only for the Portuguese population. It was forbidden by law for Africans to start and own any kind of business, and the majority was forced to work the farms, in mines and in cotton production.

11th June 1951 and Mozambique became an oversea province of Portugal.

1959-1960 and groups of African farmers in the province of Capo Delgado got together, and formed co-operatives to help run their own business. However, the leaders were immediately imprisoned.

16th June 1960 more than 500 people involved in a peaceful demonstration in Mueda (Capo Delgado) were killed by government forces. "The Mueda Massacre" as it became known only inspired more people to push for independence from Portugal.

During the early sixties many African nations were gaining their independence from western countries. However, both South Africa and Rhodesia were still being run by a white minority government. Portugal refused to give up its power over Mozambique and Angola, which at the time was the least developed of all the African colonies. Mozambican resistance movements were formed in the neighbouring countries of Malawi, Tanzania and Rhodesia.

By 1961 forced labour (Chibalo) was at last abolished in Mozambique. Although the decision was forced onto the Portuguese government, who was trying to keep their tight strangle hold on the country.

In 1962 and after independence is granted to Tanzania. The Mozambican resistance movement steps up a gear, with the full support of President Julius Nyerere. The newly formed organisation names its self FRELIMO (the Front for Liberation of Mozambique). The first President of Frelimo was Eduardo Mondlane, however internal struggles for power within the organisation continued during the following years. It was also the time when the organization agreed amongst them-selves that freedom for Mozambique could not be gained through peaceful methods.

On 25th September 1964 the first shots were fired in the freedom fight against the Portuguese regime which showed no sign of retreating from Mozambique.  A military post in the Cabo Delgado province was attacked. Then within a short period of time Capo Delgado and Niassa suddenly found themselves being threatened by Frelimo, more by propaganda than by a fight. At no time did Frelimo ever entirely dominate any territory in Mozambique.

1969 and Eduardo Mondlane was killed by a parcel bomb while in Dar Es Salaam. The assassinators are believed to be from PIDE, the secret police of the Portuguese fascist government. Samora Moïses Machel became the new president of Frelimo.

However, Portugal sent more soldiers to Mozambique to hit back at the resistance movement. By this time the Portuguese government was also receiving support and weapons direct from N.A.T.O. (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), during a time when both the Portuguese colonies and South Africa were considered to be friends of the west during what became known as the cold war era.

In 1970, after Operation "No Gordio" (Gordian Knot) lead by General Kaulza de Arriaga,  Frelimo had virtually been wiped out, with 650 killed, 1840 prisoners taken  and 61 bases destroyed throughout the country. (The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander  the Great.  It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke.)

By April 1974 Portugal was weakened from the colonial wars taking place in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. This finally lead to a Communist lead military coup in Portugal. The changes taking place in Portugal helped Frelimo to gain more power in Mozambique and it became legal for Africans to form political parties. Frelimo finally convinces the new Portuguese military government that it is ready to take over control of Mozambique.

7th September 1974 Samora Machel of Frelimo agrees on a cease-fire with the Portuguese minister of foreign affairs. The agreement also included independence for Mozambique along with a Frelimo based transitional government.

The war in Mozambique was not won by Frelimo, Portugal was betrayed by the Communist lead revolution, which handed over the colonies to the liberation movements unrepresentative - in Mozambique. By this time Frelimo  had been reduced to approximately 500 men. The so called Frelimo troops that entered Mozambique to receive power in 1974, in fact were Tanzanian soldiers dressed as guerrillas who did not even speak Portuguese.

The overwhelming majority of Portuguese soldiers killed during the war were due mainly to vehicle accidents and drowning.

25th June 1975 Mozambique becomes independent, a country twice the size of California. Samora Machel becomes the first president in a Frelimo only single party system. 600,000 Portuguese farmers abandoned their farms and leave the country.  The capital city changes its name from Lourenco Marques to Maputo.

Inspired by the situation in Rhodesia, some Portuguese settlers try a coup d'etat against the Frelimo government. However, the coup failed having been put down by united forces from the Frelimo government and Portugal.

Portugal then pulled out of the country, leaving Mozambique in chaos. While Frelimo failed to convince the white settlers that the new republic would be fair to everyone. However, within a short period of time most of the white settlers had already left Mozambique and to what they saw as a terrorist government. Upon their retreat many settlers choose to destroy as much as they could (houses, livestock, cars, infrastructure and machinery) to prevent others from using it. It’s estimated that almost 250,000 Portuguese inhabitants fled the country.

The Portuguese settlers left a vacuum behind that could not be filled by a population that lacked education and an inexperienced government. Frelimo’s response was to try to prove that it was not an anti European or racist government by offering the few remaining white people posts in the government and administration.

March 1976 Mozambique closes its borders to Rhodesia and supports ZANU (Zimbabwean African National Union). ZANU at that time were fighting against Prime Minister Ian Smith and his white minority regime in Rhodesia.

Frelimo is by now a Marxist-Leninist based party basing its self on the Soviet model. Many of the new doctrines are in conflict with traditional African beliefs and society. Members of Frelimo are not allowed to belong to a church and the many traditional healers in the country are not accepted. These sudden changes to a very traditionally bound society come as a shock to many and in doing so made Frelimo new enemies. It had also become reliant on the Soviet Union as most other countries positioned around them would not accept Frelimo as a government.

The Felimo Government further upset its nieghbours by allowing the ANC to operate over the southern Border against South Africa and ZANU in the north to cross over the border with Rhodesia. The answer from Rhodesia is the formation of MNR also known as "Renamo" (the National Resistance movement of Mozambique). Renamo is controlled by the Rhodesian intelligence to fight back against ZANU inside Mozambique.

By 1979 The Renamo army numbered over 2,000 men.

1980 Many years of fighting in Rhodesia finally leads to the fall of the white regime. Robert Mugabe becomes president of the new republic of Zimbabwe. All Zimbabwean support to Renamo is stopped. The army, weapons and leadership of Renamo is transferred to South Africa shortly before the independence of Zimbabwe.

1981 With South African support, Renamo grows to more than 7,000 men and triples within the decade. For the South African apartheid government, this is a chance to destabilise the feared "black communists" in the neighbouring countries. South Africa cuts down on the use of Mozambican mine workers and finds alternatives to the big Mozambican ports.

More and more brutal attacks were carried out in Mozambique by Renamo. Targets were everything from farms, infrastructure and industry to schools and hospitals. Some attacks were carried out by soldiers from the South African army. Every effort was made to destroy the fragile Mozambican economy. Within a short time soldiers from both sides were plundering villages, killing, raping and kidnapping children and young men for their armies. There no heroes and no civilians are spared.

1990 A new constitution is drafted. It calls for three branches of government and affirms civil liberties.

1992 The government and rebels finally sign a peace treaty.

1994 Mozambique holds its first multiparty elections. Joaquim Chissano wins.

1990 to 1995 more than 1.7 million Mozambicans return to their homes in Mozambique after having fled the country during the civil war.

Terry Aspinall 2010

Compiled from various sources including

Pedro Marangoni





Article about Mozambique

Extract from ‘A Opcao Pela Espada’ a book by Pedro Marangoni of his early days in Mozambique during 1974