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History, Resistance and Independence

Renamo, Eduardo Mondlane, Mondlane, Frelimo, Libertacao

Salazar’s Portugal kept tight control over all aspects of African life. Until the late 1960s blacks were routinely denied opportunities in education, employment, and government, and political dissent was met with swift imprisonment or exile. In 1962 a group of exiled Mozambicans led by Eduardo Mondlane met in Tanzania and formed the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo, from Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique). Two years later, Frelimo launched a guerrilla war against Portuguese Mozambique. The Portuguese countered the insurrection with arms and, in an attempt to pacify the people of Mozambique, a major development program. Many roads, schools, and hospitals were built, stimulating rapid economic growth. In 1969 work began on the Cabora Bassa Dam, which was to be the showpiece of Portuguese development policies.

These efforts notwithstanding, the war with Frelimo continued, even after Mondlane was assassinated in 1969. By the early 1970s the war reached a stalemate. Only after Portugal underwent a tumultuous revolution in April 1974 did the colonial regime in Mozambique begin to crumble. In July 1975 power was formally transferred to Frelimo, and Mozambique became independent.

The Frelimo government introduced far-reaching reforms, including rights for women and the collectivization of agriculture. It also introduced a Marxist-Leninist constitution that brought the economy under the control of the state, and it supported the liberation movements of blacks in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. In return, Southern Rhodesia and South Africa sponsored an anticommunist Mozambican guerrilla movement seeking the overthrow of the Frelimo government. This guerrilla group became known as the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo, from Resistencia Nacional Mocambicana). Beginning in 1980 Renamo targeted and destroyed government installations, industries, schools, and infrastructure. Within a short time, the government could be certain of control over only a few cities, and travel about the country could be undertaken safely only by air. In time Renamo gained control over much of the country as increasing numbers of Mozambicans grew disaffected with government policies or were intimidated by a wide range of Renamo terror tactics.

In 1984, with his country’s economy in ruins and tens of thousands of his citizens killed, President Samora Moises Machel sought to end South Africa’s logistical and military support for Renamo by signing the Nkomati Accord. Under the accord, Mozambique agreed to end its support for the African National Congress, which was battling South Africa’s rigid policy of racial segregation known as apartheid. In return, South Africa vowed to stop supplying Renamo. Machel also began to move Frelimo away from its outright Marxist orientation that had antagonized Western and internal critics. The war continued nonetheless, and thousands of people died yearly in the fighting or from associated disease and malnutrition. In 1986 President Machel died in an airplane crash, and Joachim Chissano, the foreign minister, was elected to succeed him.

In 1990 the government adopted a new constitution that firmly disavowed Marxism-Leninism, established Mozambique as a multiparty democracy, and guaranteed the freedom of expression. The new constitution paved the way for peace talks between Frelimo and Renamo, and in October 1992 the two groups signed an accord that ended the civil war. In the 1994 elections that followed the accord, Frelimo won by what many observers believed was a surprisingly narrow margin, and Chissano was reelected. Renamo, to the relief of many, agreed to recognize Frelimo’s victory. Since 1994 the government has tried to rebuild the ravaged economy with the help of foreign aid. Reconstruction has been slow, and Mozambique remains among the poorest of the world’s nations. In December 1999 presidential elections Chissano defeated Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama. Legislative elections held at the same time renewed Frelimo’s hold on the Assembly of the Republic. Dhlakama and Renamo claimed that electoral fraud had tainted the results of both elections, but the Supreme Court of Mozambique disagreed and certified the elections in January 2000.

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