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History, Control by the Concessions

Oliveira Salazar, Limpopo River, direct rule, planned economy, Zambezi River

In the early 20th century, Portugal continued to allow private concession companies broad control of the colony. A handful of concessions controlled almost all of Mozambique’s production of goods and supply of labor. Workers were often forced to labor under brutal conditions, with extremely low (and sometimes no) wages, and with few political rights. In the south, companies were given the rights to recruit people and send them to work the diamond and gold mines in South Africa. In 1907 the colonial government codified these abuses and established separate labor laws for natives and nonnatives. The growth of the forced labor economy was greatly aided by completion of two railroads in the late 1890s. By the early 20th century, the railroads and the ports to which they were linked became Mozambique’s biggest source of foreign exchange.

In 1916 Portugal entered World War I (1914-1918), and the following year a serious rebellion broke out in the province of Zambezia. The Barue Rising, as it is known, was quelled, but not without great effort. Later that year, in November, German troops further destabilized Mozambique by invading and overrunning most of the region north of the Zambezi River. The German troops were not expelled until near the end of the war in 1918.

After World War I, the Portuguese government continued to allow private companies to exert enormous power over Mozambique society, a condition that changed only after the 1926 coup in Portugal. In 1932 Antonio de Oliveira Salazar began a long dictatorship of Portugal, and under his influence the government established direct rule over Mozambique. Salazar ended the power of the private companies and in their place established a planned economy (a system in which the government controls every aspect of the economy). Such changes, however, often did little to improve life for the people of Mozambique. For example, Mozambican farmers were forced to grow crops such as cotton and rice for export, and very little consideration was given to the crops needed for Mozambique’s subsistence. The government also continued the practice of sending Mozambicans to labor in South African mines. Under Salazar, white settlement was encouraged, especially in the irrigated regions around the Limpopo River. Partly as a result, the number of white settlers in the country grew from a few tens of thousands to nearly 200,000 by 1970.

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