Mozambican War of Independence

Mozambican War of Independence
Mozambican War of Independence
Part of the Portuguese Colonial Wars
The Mozambican War of Independence, (clockwise from top left); a Portuguese supply convoy traverses the countryside; a foot patrol of Portuguese soldiers in the forest through which the insurgents were difficult to track; Portuguese troops embark surface ships on their way to Africa; a heavily armed Portuguese armoured column
Date September 25, 1964 – September 8, 1974 (cease fire) June 25, 1975 (independence)
Location Mozambique
Result Ceasefire and independence of Mozambique after the left-wing Carnation revolution in Lisbon.
Portugal Portugal MozambiqueFRELIMO
Commanders and leaders
PortugalAntónio Augusto dos Santos (1964–69),
PortugalKaúlza de Arriaga (1969–74)
MozambiqueEduardo Mondlane (1962–69),
MozambiqueFilipe Samuel Magaia (1964–66),
MozambiqueSamora Moïses Machel (1969–75)
50,000 on May 17, 1970[1] ~10,000–15,000[2][3]
Casualties and losses
3,500 killed[4] 10,000–35,000 killed[4]
Civilian casualties:
~50,000 killed[4]

The Mozambican War of Independence was an armed conflict between the guerrilla forces of the Mozambique Liberation Front or FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique), and Portugal. The war officially started on September 25, 1964, and ended with a cease fire on September 8, 1974, resulting in a negotiated independence in 1975.

Portugal's wars against independence guerrilla fighters in its 400-year-old African territories erupted in 1961 in Angola. In Mozambique, the conflict erupted in 1964 as a result of unrest and frustration amongst many indigenous Mozambican populations, who perceived foreign rule to be a form of exploitation and mistreatment, which served only to further Portuguese economic interests in the region. Many Mozambicans also resented Portugal's policies towards indigenous people, which resulted in discrimination, traditional lifestyle turning difficult for many African indigenes, and limited access to Portuguese-style education and skilled employment. As successful self-determination movements spread throughout Africa after World War II, many Mozambicans became progressively nationalistic in outlook, and increasingly frustrated by the nation's continued subservience to foreign rule. For the other side, many enculturated indigenous Africans who were fully integrated into the Portugal-ruled social organization of Portuguese Mozambique, in particular those from the urban centers, reacted to the independentist claims with a mix of discomfort and suspicion. The ethnic Portuguese of the territory, which included most of the ruling authorities, responded with increased military presence and fast-paced development projects.

A mass exile of Mozambique's political intelligentsia to neighbouring countries provided havens from which radical Mozambicans could plan actions and foment political unrest in their homeland. The formation of the Mozambican guerrilla organisation FRELIMO and the support of the Soviet Union, China and Cuba through arms and advisors, led to the outbreak of violence that was to last over a decade.[5]

From a military standpoint, the Portuguese regular army held the upper hand during all the conflict against the independentist guerrilla forces. Despite their disadvantaged position, FRELIMO insurgents were victorious, after a leftist military coup in Lisbon that overthrew the dictatorship in Portugal. Mozambique succeeded in achieving independence on June 25, 1975, after the coup d'état in Portugal known as the Carnation Revolution, thus ending 470 years of Portuguese colonial rule in the East African region. According to historians of the Revolution, the military coup in Portugal was in part fuelled by protests concerning the conduct of Portuguese troops in their treatment of some local Mozambican populace.[6][7] However, the role of the growing communist influence over the group of Portuguese military insurgents who led the Lisbon's military coup, and, on the other hand, the pressure of the international community over the direction of the Portuguese Colonial War in general, were main causes for the final outcome.[8]


Background to the conflict

A Portuguese colony

San hunter and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples, were the first known inhabitants of the region that is now Mozambique, followed in the first and fourth centuries CE by Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated there across the Zambezi River. In 1498, Portuguese explorers landed on the Mozambican coastline.[9] Portugal's influence in East Africa grew throughout the 16th century; she established a number of colonies known collectively as Portuguese East Africa. Slavery and gold became profitable for the Europeans; however, influence was largely exercised through individual settlers and there was no centralised administration[10] and, in the meantime, Portugal had turned her attention to India and Brazil.

Overseas Province of Mozambique's coat of arms until 1975.

By the 19th century, European colonialism in Africa had reached its height. Having lost control of the vast territory of Brazil in South America, the Portuguese began to focus on expanding their African outposts. This brought them into direct conflict with the British.[9] Since David Livingstone had returned to the area in 1858 in an attempt to foster trade routes, British interest in Mozambique had risen, alarming the Portuguese government. During the 19th century, much of Eastern Africa was still being brought under British control, and in order to facilitate this, Britain required several concessions from the Portuguese colony.[5] As a result, in an attempt to avoid a naval conflict with the superior British Royal Navy, Portugal adjusted the borders of her colony and the modern borders of Mozambique were established in May 1881.[9] Control of Mozambique was left to various organisations such as the Mozambique Company, the Zambezi Company and the Niassa Company which were financed and provided with cheap labour by the British Empire to work mines and construct railways.[9] These companies penetrated inland from the coastline, setting up plantations and taxing the local populace who had until then resisted encroachment by the colonists.

The location of Mozambique in Southern Africa

The resisting Gaza Empire, a collection of indigenous tribes who inhabited the area that now constitutes Mozambique and Zimbabwe, was defeated in 1895,[5] and the remaining inland tribes were eventually defeated by 1902; in that same year, Portugal established Lourenço Marques as the capital.[11] In 1926, political and economic crisis in Portugal led to the establishment of the Second Republic (later to become the Estado Novo), and a revival of interest in the African colonies. Calls for self determination in Mozambique arose shortly after World War II, in light of the independence granted to many other colonies worldwide in the great wave of decolonisation.[2][10]


Portugal designated Mozambique an overseas territory in 1951 in order to show to the world that the colony had a greater autonomy. It was called the Overseas Province of Mozambique (Província Ultramarina de Moçambique). Nonetheless, Portugal still maintained strong control over its overseas province. The increasing number of newly independent African nations after World War II,[2] coupled with the ongoing mistreatment of the indigenous population encouraged the growth of nationalist sentiments within Mozambique.[9]

A Portuguese propaganda flier, distributed from aeroplanes: "FRELIMO Lied! You Suffer"

Mozambique was marked by large disparities between the wealthy Portuguese and the majority of the large rural indigenous African population. Being largely illiterate and preserving their local traditions and ways of life, skilled employment opportunities and roles in administration and government were rare for these numerous tribal populations, leaving them few or no opportunities in the urban modern life. However, many indigenous peoples saw their culture and tradition being overwhelmed by the alien culture of Portugal.[10] Vocal political dissidents opposed to Portuguese rule and claiming independence were typically forced into exile. The Portuguese government forced the Mozambican farmers to grow rice or cotton for export, providing little return with which the farmers could support themselves. Many other workers—over 250,000 by 1960—were sent to diamond or gold mines.[2][9][10][12] By 1950, only 4,353 Mozambicans out of 5,733,000 had been granted the right to vote by the Portuguese colonial government.[10] The rift between Portuguese settlers and Mozambican locals is illustrated in one way by the small number of individuals with mixed Portuguese and Mozambican heritage (mestico), numbering a mere 31,465 in a population of 8–10 million in 1960 according to that year's census.[2]

The Marxist-Leninist Mozambique Liberation Front or FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) was formed in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in neighbouring Tanzania, on June 25, 1962. It was created during a conference, by a number of political figures that had been forced into exile,[13] by the merging of various existing nationalist groups, including the Mozambican African National Union, National African Union of Independent Mozambique and the National Democratic Union of Mozambique which had been formed two years earlier. It was only in exile that such political movements could develop, due to the strength of Portugal's grip on dissident activity within Mozambique itself.[10] A year later, in 1963, FRELIMO set up headquarters in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, under the leadership of sociologist Eduardo Mondlane, and began to call for independence from Portugal.[14] After two years of organisation and failing political manoeuvres in an attempt to seek a peaceful independence, Mondlane began in 1964 a campaign of guerrilla warfare in an attempt to achieve independence for Mozambique.

Originally, the United States offered support to the nationalist groups in Africa. This support was ostensibly in keeping with Wilsonian principles, which advocated self-determination and independence for colonised nations. The United Nations also put pressure on Portugal to move for decolonisation[11] Portugal, however, threatening to withdraw from NATO, put a stop to this support and pressure, and the nationalist groups in Mozambique were forced to turn to help from the Soviet bloc.[2]

Support from the Soviet Union

During the Cold War, and, in particular, in the late 1950s, the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China adopted a strategy of destabilisation of Western powers by disruption of their hold on African colonies.[15] Nikita Khrushchev, in particular, viewed the 'underdeveloped third of mankind' as a means to weaken the West. For the Soviets, Africa represented a chance to create a rift between western powers and their colonial assets, and create pro-communist states in Africa with which to foster future relations.[16]

Prior to the formation of FRELIMO, the Soviet position regarding the nationalist movements in Mozambique was one of confusion. There were multiple independence movements, and they had no sure knowledge that any would succeed. The nationalist groups in Mozambique, like those across Africa during the period, received training and equipment from the Soviet Union.[17]

Eduardo Mondlane's successor, future President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, acknowledged assistance from both Moscow and Peking, describing them as "the only ones who will really help us. … They have fought armed struggles, and whatever they have learned that is relevant to Mozambique we will use."[18] Guerrillas received tuition in subversion and political warfare as well as military aid, specifically shipments of 122 mm artillery rockets in 1972,[16] with 1600 advisors from Russia, Cuba and East Germany.[19] The Soviet Union continued to support the new FRELIMO government against counterrevolution in the years after 1975. By 1981, there were 230 Soviet and 800 Cuban military advisers still in the country.[16] Cuba's involvement in Mozambique was as part of a continuing effort to export the anti-imperialist ideology of the Cuban Revolution and forge desperately needed new allies. Cuba provided support to liberation movements and leftist governments in numerous African countries, including Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Congo-Brazzaville.[20]


Insurgency under Mondlane (1964–69)

The Aérospatiale Alouette III, one of the most common helicopters operating in Africa, but a rare sight in the Mozambican conflict

At the war's outset, FRELIMO had little hope for a conventional military victory, with a mere 7000 combatants against a far larger Portuguese force. Their hopes rested on urging the local populace to support the insurgency, in order to force a negotiated independence from Lisbon.[2] Portugal fought its own version of protracted warfare, and a large military force was sent by the Portuguese government to quell the unrest, with troop numbers rising from 8,000 to 24,000 between 1964 and 1967.[21] The number of local soldiers recruited for the Portuguese cause rose to 23,000 in the same period. 860 Special Forces operatives were also being trained in Commando Instruction Centres by 1969.

The military wing of FRELIMO was commanded by Filipe Samuel Magaia, whose forces received training from Algeria.[22] The FRELIMO guerrillas were armed with a variety of weapons, many provided by the Soviet Union and China. Common weapons included the Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle, SKS and AK47 automatic rifles and the Soviet PPSh-41. Machine guns such as the Degtyarev light machine gun were widely used, along with the DShK and the SG-43 Gorunov. FRELIMO were supported by mortars, recoilless rifles, RPG-2s and RPG-7s, Anti-aircraft weapons such as the ZPU-4 and from 1974 the Strela 2.[23] In the dying stages of the conflict, FRELIMO would be provided with a limited number of SA-7 MANPAD Shoulder-launched missile launchers from China; however, these would never shoot down a Portuguese plane. Only one Portuguese aircraft was lost in combat during the conflict, when Lt. Emilio Lourenço's G.91R-4 was destroyed by premature detonation of his own ordinance.[22]

General António Augusto dos Santos, commander of the Portuguese forces in Mozambique until 1969

The Portuguese forces, in contrast, were under the command of General António Augusto dos Santos, a man with strong faith in new counter-insurgency theories. Augusto dos Santos supported a collaboration with Rhodesia to create African Scout units and other special forces teams, with Rhodesian forces even conducting their own independent operations during the conflict. Due to Portuguese policy of retaining up-to-date equipment for the metropole while shipping obsolete equipment to the colonies, the Portuguese soldiers fighting in the opening stages of the conflict were equipped with World War II radios and the old Mauser rifle. As the fighting progressed, the need for more modern equipment was rapidly recognised, and the Heckler & Koch G3 and FN FAL rifles were adopted as the standard battlefield weapon, along with the AR-10 for paratroopers. The MG42 and, then in 1968, the HK21 were the Portuguese heavier machine guns, with 60, 81 and 120 mm mortars, howitzers and the Panhard AML, Panhard EBR, Fox and Chaimite armoured vehicles supporting the infantry.[23]

Although helicopters were not used in Mozambique to the same extent as they were in Vietnam, the Alouette III was the most widely used, although the Puma was also used with great success. Other aircraft were employed: for air support the T6 and the Fiat G.91 were used; for reconnaissance, the Dornier Do 27. In the transport role, the Portuguese Air Force used mainly the Nord Noratlas and the C-47. The Portuguese Navy also made extensive use of patrol boats, landing crafts, and inflatable Zodiacs.

Portuguese troops as they would have appeared in Mozambique during the conflict, many are carrying the FN-FAL or Heckler & Koch G3 rifles

In 1964, weak-hearted attempts at peaceful negotiation by FRELIMO were abandoned and, on September 25, 1964, Eduardo Mondlane began to launch guerrilla attacks on targets in northern Mozambique from his base in Tanzania.[12] FRELIMO soldiers, with logistical assistance from the local population, attacked the administrative post at Chai Chai in the province of Cabo Delgado. FRELIMO militants were able to evade pursuit and surveillance by employing classic guerrilla tactics: ambushing patrols, sabotaging communication and railroad lines, and making hit-and-run attacks against colonial outposts before rapidly fading into accessible backwater areas. The insurgents were typically armed with rifles and machine pistols, and the attackers took full advantage of the monsoon season in order to evade pursuit.[2] During heavy rains, it was much more difficult to track insurgents by air, negating Portugal's air superiority, and Portuguese troops and vehicles found movement during rain storms difficult. In contrast, the insurgent troops, with lighter equipment, were able to flee into the bush (the mato) amongst an ethnically similar populace into which they could melt away. Furthermore, the FRELIMO forces were able to forage food from the surroundings and local villages, and were thus not hampered by long supply lines.[24]

With the initial FRELIMO attacks in Chai Chai, the fighting spread to Niassa and Tete at the centre of Mozambique. During the early stages of the conflict, FRELIMO activity was reduced to small, platoon-sized engagements, harassments and raids on Portuguese installations. The FRELIMO soldiers often operated in small groups of ten to fifteen soldiers. The scattered nature of FRELIMO's initial attacks was an attempt to disperse the Portuguese forces.[2]

The Portuguese troops began to suffer losses in November, fighting in the northern region of Xilama. With increasing support from the populace, and the low number of Portuguese regular troops, FRELIMO was quickly able to advance south towards Meponda and Mandimba, linking to Tete with the aid of forces from the neighbouring Republic of Malawi, which had become a fully independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations on July 6, 1964. Despite the increasing range of FRELIMO operations, attacks were still limited to small strike teams attacking lightly defending administrative outposts, with the FRELIMO lines of communication and supply utilising canoes along the Ruvuma River and Lake Malawi.[2]

It was not until 1965 that recruitment of fighters increased along with popular support, and the strike teams were able to increase in size. The increase in popular support was in part due to FRELIMO agencies' offer of help to exiled Mozambicans, who had fled the conflict by travelling to nearby Tanzania.[2] Like similar conflicts against the French and United States forces in Vietnam, the insurgents also used landmines to a great extent to injure the Portuguese forces, thus straining the armed forces' infrastructure[25] and demoralising soldiers.[2]

An F-84 of the Portuguese Air Force (FAP) in Africa. F-84's like these were the mainstay of the Portuguese air support in Mozambique before the introduction of the G.91R-4 in December 1968.[22]

FRELIMO attack groups had also begun to grow in size to include over 100 soldiers in certain cases, and the insurgents also began to accept women fighters into their ranks.[26] On either October 10 or October 11, 1966,[27] on returning to Tanzania after inspecting the front lines, Filipe Samuel Magaia was shot dead by Lourenço Matola, a fellow FRELIMO guerrilla who was said to be in the employ of the Portuguese.

One seventh of the population and one fifth of the territory were in FRELIMO hands by 1967;[28] at this time there were approximately 8000 guerrillas in combat.[2] During this period, Mondlane urged further expansion of the war effort, but also sought to retain the small strike groups. With the increasing cost of supply, more and more territory liberated from the Portuguese, and the adoption of measures to win the support of the population, it was at this time that Mondlane sought assistance from abroad,[2] specifically the Soviet Union and China; from these benefactors, he obtained large-calibre machine guns, anti-aircraft rifles and 75 mm recoilless rifles and 122 mm rockets.[29]

In 1968, the second Congress of FRELIMO was a propaganda victory for the insurgents, despite attempts by the Portuguese, who enjoyed air superiority throughout the conflict, to bomb the location of the meeting late in the day.[2] This gave FRELIMO further weight to wield in the United Nations.[30]

Portuguese development program

The Cahora Bassa dam (as seen from space), was built by the Portuguese colonial government during the war as part of a major development plan and helped to win support of the populace. It was, however, a target of frequent FRELIMO attacks – no direct guerrilla attacks were ever successful.

Due to both the technological gap between civilisations and the centuries-long colonial era, Portugal was a driving force in the development and shaping of all Portuguese Africa since the 15th century. In the 1960s and early 1970s, to counter the increasing insurgency of FRELIMO forces and show to the Portuguese people and the world that the territory was totally under control, the Portuguese government accelerated its major development program to expand and upgrade the infrastructure of Portuguese Mozambique by creating new roads, railways, bridges, dams, irrigation systems, schools and hospitals to stimulate an even higher level of economic growth and support from the populace.[5][31]

As part of this redevelopment program, construction of the Cahora Bassa Dam began in 1969. This particular project became intrinsically linked with Portugal's concerns over security in the overseas colonies. The Portuguese government viewed the construction of the dam as testimony to Portugal's "civilising mission"[32] and intended for the dam to reaffirm Mozambican belief in the strength and security of the Portuguese colonial government. To this end, Portugal sent three thousand new troops and over one million landmines to Mozambique to defend the building project.[2]

Realising the symbolic significance of the dam to the Portuguese, FRELIMO proceeded to spend seven years attempting to halt its construction by force. No direct attacks were ever successful, but FRELIMO had some success in attacking convoys en route to the site.[2] FRELIMO also lodged a protest with the United Nations about the project, and their cause was aided by negative reports of Portuguese actions in Mozambique. In spite of the subsequent withdrawal of much foreign financial support for the dam, it was finally completed in December 1974. The dam's intended propaganda value to the Portuguese was overshadowed by the adverse Mozambican public reaction to the extensive dispersal of the indigenous populace, who were forced to relocate from their homes to allow for the construction project. The dam also deprived farmers of the critical annual floods, which would otherwise re-fertilise the plantations.[33]

Assassination of Eduardo Mondlane

On February 3, 1969, Eduardo Mondlane was killed by explosives smuggled into his locale. Many sources state that, in an attempt to rectify the situation in Mozambique, the Portuguese secret police assassinated Mondlane by sending a parcel to his office in Dar Es Salaam. Inside the parcel was a book containing an explosive device, which detonated upon opening. Other sources state that Eduardo was killed when an explosive device detonated underneath his chair at the FRELIMO headquarters, and that the faction responsible was never identified.[34] The original investigations levelled accusations at Silverio Nungo (who was later executed) and Lazaro Kavandame, FRELIMO leader in Cabo Delgado. The latter had made no secret of his distrust of Mondlane, seeing him as too conservative a leader, and the Tanzanian police also accused him of working with PIDE (Portugal's secret police) to assassinate Mondlane. Kavandame himself surrendered to the Portuguese in April of that year.[2]

Although the exact details of the assassination remain disputed, the involvement of the Portuguese government, particularly Aginter Press or PIDE, is generally accepted by most historians and biographers and is supported by the Portuguese stay behind Gladio-esque army, known as Aginter Press, that suggested in 1990 that they were responsible for the assassination. Initially, however, due to the uncertainty regarding who was responsible, Mondlane's death did create great suspicion within the ranks of the FRELIMO itself and a short power struggle which resulted in a dramatic swing to the political left.[13][35] : Mondlane's immediate successor was, in fact, the moderate Rev. Uria Simango, who had served under him, as FRELIMO's vice-President, from its formation until 1969. In the post-assassination power-struggle, Simango was ousted by the more hardline Samora Machel and Marcelino dos Santos, expelled from FRELIMO and eventually arrested and executed, post-Independence, in 1975.

Continuing war (1969–74)

In 1969, General António Augusto dos Santos was relieved of command, with General Kaúlza de Arriaga taking over officially in March 1970. Kaúlza de Arriaga favoured a more direct method of fighting the insurgents, and the established policy of using African counter-insurgency forces was rejected in favour of the deployment of regular Portuguese forces accompanied by a small number of African fighters. Indigenous personnel were still recruited for special operations, such as the Special Groups of Parachutists in 1973, though their role less significant under the new commander. His tactics were partially influenced by a meeting with United States General William Westmoreland.[2][25]

By 1972, however, there was growing pressure from other commanders, particularly Kaúlza de Arriaga's second in command, General Francisco da Costa Gomes, for the use of African soldiers in Flechas units. Flechas units (Arrows) were also employed in Angola and were units under the command of the Portuguese PIDE. Composed of local tribesmen, the units specialised in tracking, reconnaissance and anti-terrorist operations.[36] Costa Gomes argued that African soldiers were cheaper and were better able to create a relationship with the local populace, a tactic similar to the 'hearts and minds' strategy being used by United States forces in Vietnam at the time. These Flechas units saw action in the territory at the very end stages of the conflict, following the dismissal of Kaúlza de Arriaga on the eve of the Portuguese coup in 1974 – the Carnation Revolution. The units were to continue to cause problems for the FRELIMO even after the Revolution and Portuguese withdrawal, when the country splintered into civil war.[37]

There were, in fact, a number of Portuguese special forces units that were unique to either the Mozambican conflict or the Portuguese Colonial War as a whole:

  • Special Groups (Grupos Especiais): units similar to the ones used in Angola
  • Paratrooper Special Groups (Grupos Especiais Pára-Quedistas): units of volunteer black soldiers that had paratrooper training
  • Combat Tracking Special Groups (Grupos Especiais de Pisteiros de Combate): special units trained in tracking
  • Flechas: Local tribesmen and rebel defectors specialised in tracking, reconnaissance and terrorist operations. They sometimes patrolled in captured uniforms and are rewarded with cash bounties for every guerrilla or guerrilla weapon they capture.

During the entire period of 1970–1974, FRELIMO intensified guerrilla operations, specialising in urban terrorism.[2] The use of landmines also intensified, with sources stating that they had become responsible for two out of every three Portuguese casualties.[25] During the conflict, FRELIMO used a variety of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, including the PMN (Black Widow), TM-46, and POMZ. Even amphibious mines were used, such as the PDM.[23] Mine psychosis, an acute fear of landmines, was rampant in the Portuguese forces. This fear, coupled with the frustration of taking casualties without ever seeing the enemy forces, damaged morale and significantly hampered progress.[2][25]

A memorial service for fallen Portuguese soldiers

On June 10, 1970, a major counter-offensive was launched by the Portuguese army. The Gordian Knot Operation (Portuguese: Operação Nó Górdio) targeted permanent insurgent camps and the infiltration routes across the Tanzanian border in the north of Mozambique over a period of seven months. The operation involved some 35,000 Portuguese troops,[2] particularly elite units like paratroopers, commandos, marines and naval fusiliers.[22]

The Portuguese had excellent coordination between light bombers, helicopters and reinforced ground patrols. They utilised American tactics of quick airborne (helibourne) assaults supported by heavy aerial bombardments of FRELIMO camps by the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa or FAP) to surround and eliminate the guerrillas. These bombardments were accompanied by the use of heavy artillery. The Portuguese also used cavalry units to cover the flanks of patrols and where the terrain was too difficult to motor transport, and units of captured or deserted guerrillas to penetrate their former bases.

Problems for the Portuguese arose almost immediately when the offensive coincided with the beginning of the monsoon season, creating additional logistical difficulties. Not only were the Portuguese soldiers badly equipped, but there was very poor cooperation, if any at all, between the FAP and the army. Thus, the army lacked close air support from the FAP. Mounting Portuguese casualties began to outweigh FRELIMO casualties, leading to further political intervention from Lisbon.[2]

Portuguese soldiers on patrol, illustrating the difficult terrain they encountered

The Portuguese eventually reported 651 as killed (a figure of some 440 was most likely closer to reality), and 1,840 captured, for the loss of 132 Portuguese. Gen. Arriaga also claimed his troops to have destroyed 61 guerrilla bases and 165 camps, while 40 tons of ammunition had been captured in the first two months. Although "Gordian Knot" was to remain the most effective Portuguese offensive of the conflict, weakening guerrillas to such a degree that they would no longer be a significant threat, the operation was still deemed a failure by some military officers and the government.[2]

By 1972, the Portuguese military had changed its strategy, adapting the British/American search and destroy operations utilising small shock troop sweeps. They also initiated a hearts and minds campaign, named the Aldeamentos Programme, which was a forced relocation program. But on November 9, 1972, FRELIMO – not numbering more but 8,000 fighters – launched a large offensive in Tete Province. The response from the Portuguese military was fierce, leading to reprisal attacks in an attempt to unbalance the local population's continuing faith in FRELIMO.

Reportedly, on December 16, 1972, Portuguese troops killed the inhabitants of the Mozambican village of Wiriyamu, 30 kilometers from the city of Tete.[2] Referred to as the 'Wiriyamu Massacre', it is alleged that Portuguese soldiers killed between 60 and 400 villagers accused of being FRELIMO sympathizers. Many of the victims were women and children. The massacre was recounted in July 1973 by the British Catholic priest, Father Adrian Hastings, and two other Spanish missionary priests. However, later counter-claims have been made in a report of Archbishop of Dar es Salaam Laurean Rugambwa that alleging that the killings were carried out by FRELIMO combatants, not Portuguese forces.[38] In addition, others claimed that the alleged massacres by Portuguese military forces were fabricated to tar the reputation of the Portugese state abroad.[39]

By 1973, FRELIMO were also mining civilian towns and villages in an attempt to undermine the civilian confidence in the Portuguese forces.[2] "Aldeamentos: agua para todos" (Resettlement villages: water for everyone) was a commonly seen message in the rural areas, as the Portuguese sought to relocate and resettle the indigenous population, in order to isolate the FRELIMO from its civilian base[40] Conversely, Mondlane's policy of mercy towards civilian Portuguese settlers was abandoned in 1973 by the new commander, Machel.[41] "Panic, demoralisation, abandonment, and a sense of futility – all were reactions among whites in Mozambique" stated conflict historian T. H. Henricksen in 1983.[25] This change in tactic led to protests by Portuguese settlers against the Lisbon government,[2] a telltale sign of the conflict's unpopularity. Combined with the news of the Wiriyamu massacre and that of renewed FRELIMO onslaughts through 1973 and early 1974, the worsening situation in Mozambique would later contribute to the downfall of the Portuguese government in 1974. A Portuguese journalist argued:

"In Mozambique we say there are three wars: the war against FRELIMO, the war between the army and the secret police, and the war between the army and the secret police, and the central government."[42]

Political instability and ceasefire (1974–75)

Back in Lisbon, the 'Armed Revolutionary Action' branch of the Portuguese Communist Party, which was created in the late 1960s, and the Revolutionary Brigades (BR), a left-wing organisation, worked to resist the colonial wars. They had carried out multiple sabotages and bombings against military targets, such as the attack on the Tancos air base that destroyed several helicopters on March 8, 1971, and the attack on the NATO headquarters at Oeiras in October of the same year. The attack on the Portuguese ship Niassa illustrated the role of the colonial wars in this unrest. Niassa (named after a Mozambican province) was preparing to leave Lisbon with troops to be deployed in Guinea. By the time of the Carnation Revolution, 100,000 draft dodgers had been recorded.[43]

This graph shows the rise in military expenditure during the Portuguese Colonial Wars. The yellow bars represent ordinary and the burgundy 'extraordinary' military expenditure.

Fighting colonial wars in Portuguese colonies had absorbed forty-four percent of the overall Portuguese budget.[2][6][7] This led to an obvious diversion of funds from necessary infrastructural developments in Portugal itself. This contributed to the growing unrest in the European nation. However, Portugal's GDP growth during the colonial war period (1961–1974), was strong and reached a 6% rate (a percentual GDP growth which weren't achieved in any other comparable period after 1974). The African overseas provinces of Portugal's GDP growth was also widely notable and the construction of infrastructure were at a record high during the time war. The unpopularity of the Colonial Wars among many Portuguese, led to the formation of several magazines and newspapers, such as Cadernos Circunstância, Cadernos Necessários, Tempo e Modo, and Polémica, which had university support and called for political solutions to Portugal's colonial problems.

The growing unrest in Portugal culminated on April 25, 1974, when the Carnation Revolution, a peaceful leftist military coup d'état in Lisbon, ousted the incumbent Portuguese government of Marcelo Caetano. Thousands of Portuguese citizens left Mozambique, and the new head of government, General António de Spínola, called for a ceasefire. With the change of government in Lisbon, many soldiers refused to continue fighting, often remaining in their barracks instead of going on patrol.[43] Negotiations between the Portuguese administration culminated in the Lusaka Agreement signed on September 7, 1974, which provided for a complete hand-over of power to FRELIMO, uncontested by elections. Formal independence was set for June 25, 1975, the 13th anniversary of the founding of FRELIMO.[2]

The aftermath

In Mozambique, the Portuguese were not typical settlers. While most European colonies in Africa were "settled" and colonized by whites in the early 1900s, some white families and colonial institutions in those Portuguese-ruled territories had been there for generations.[44][45] However, the fear of reprisals and the pro-communist ideologies by the FRELIMO government resulted in the exodus of thousands of Portuguese citizens of European, African and mixed ethnicity from the newly-independent territory to Portugal and other places. In Mozambique, most ethnic Portuguese considered themselves Mozambicans.

About 300,000 white ethnic Portuguese citizens from Mozambique left the territory overnight as refugees (in Portugal they were known as retornados). Cities, towns and villages which were founded by the Portuguese and prospered under Portuguese rule, saw their Portuguese names changed after independence – Lourenço Marques to Maputo, Vila Pery to Chimoio, Vila Cabral to Lichinga, or Vila Junqueiro to Gurúè, are just a few examples. The statues to Portuguese heroes were removed from their sites in all urban centres. With the exodus of trained Portuguese personnel, the newly-independent country had no skilled professionals to maintain its infrastructure, and so the economy plummeted. Privileged commercial links were established with several communist countries by the FRELIMO government on the expense of Portugal which lost influence in the region.

Samora Machel became Mozambique's first president. The Reverend Uria Simango, his wife, and other FRELIMO dissidents were arrested in 1975 and liquidated without trial at some unknown date. Within about two years, war restarted with the Mozambican Civil War against the rebel insurgency of RENAMO. Mozambique faced severe problems after independence. Economic and social recession, Marxist totalitarianism, corruption, poverty, inequality and failed central planning eroded the initial revolutionary fervour.[46][47] Peace returned only in 1992, and the country became relatively stable for the first time in decades.

See also


  1. ^ Richard W. Leonard Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1974, p38
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Westfall, William C., Jr., Major, United States Marine Corps, Mozambique-Insurgency Against Portugal, 1963–1975, 1984. Retrieved on March 10, 2007
  3. ^ Walter C. Opello, Jr. Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 4, No. 2 ,1974, p29
  4. ^ a b c Mid-Range Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century retrieved December 4, 2007
  5. ^ a b c d Malyn D. D. Newitt, Mozambique, Encarta. Retrieved on March 10, 2007. Archived 2009-11-01. Archived June 3, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b George Wright, The Destruction of a Nation, 1996
  7. ^ a b Phil Mailer, Portugal – The Impossible Revolution?, 1977
  8. ^ Stewart Lloyd-Jones, ISCTE (Lisbon), Portugal's history since 1974, "The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP–Partido Comunista Português), which had courted and infiltrated the MFA from the very first days of the revolution, decided that the time was now right for it to seize the initiative. Much of the radical fervour that was unleashed following Spínola's coup attempt was encouraged by the PCP as part of their own agenda to infiltrate the MFA and steer the revolution in their direction.", Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril, University of Coimbra
  9. ^ a b c d e f Kennedy, Thomas. Mozambique, The Catholic Encyclopaedia. Retrieved on March 10, 2007
  10. ^ a b c d e f T. H. Henriksen, Remarks on Mozambique, 1975, p. 11
  11. ^ a b Malyn Newitt, A History of Mozambique, 1995 p. 571
  12. ^ a b Malyn Newitt, A History of Mozambique, 1995 p. 517
  13. ^ a b Malyn Newitt, A History of Mozambique, 1995, p. 541
  14. ^ Bowen, Merle. The State Against the Peasantry: Rural Struggles in Colonial and Postcolonial Mozambique. University Press Of Virginia; Charlottesville, Virginia, 2000
  15. ^ Robert Legvold, Soviet Policy in West Africa, Harvard University Press, 1970, p. 1.
  16. ^ a b c Valentine J. Belfiglio. The Soviet Offensive in South Africa, airpower.maxwell,, 1983. Retrieved on March 10, 2007
  17. ^ Kenneth W. Grundy, Guerrilla Struggle in Africa: An Analysis and Preview, New York: Grossman Publishers, 1971, p. 51
  18. ^ Brig. Michael Calvert, Counter-Insurgency in Mozambique in Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, no. 118, 1973
  19. ^ U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to the Congress 1972
  20. ^ Tor Sellstrǒm, Liberation in Southern Africa, 2000, p.38–54. Available on Google books. Retrieved on March 10, 2007
  21. ^ Borges Coelho, João Paulo. African Troops in the Portuguese Colonial Army, 1961–1974: Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique (PDF), Portuguese Studies Review 10 (1) (2002): 129–50, presented at the Portuguese/African Encounters: An Interdisciplinary Congress, Brown University, Providence MA, April 26–29, 2002. Retrieved on March 10, 2007
  22. ^ a b c d Tom Cooper.Central, Eastern and South African Database, Mozambique 1962–1992,, September 2, 2003. Retrieved on March 7, 2007
  23. ^ a b c Cann, John P, Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961–1974, Hailer Publishing, 2005
  24. ^ Walter C. Opello, Jr. Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1974, p. 29
  25. ^ a b c d e Thomas H. Henriksen, Revolution and Counterrevolution, London: Greenwood Press, 1983, p. 44
  26. ^ Brendan F. Jundanian, The Mozambique Liberation Front, (Library of Congress: Institute Universitaire De Hautes Etupes Internacionales, 1970), p. 76–80
  27. ^ Douglas L. Wheeler, A Document for the History of African Nationalism, 1970
  28. ^ Brendan F. Jundanian, The Mozambique Liberation Front, (Library of Congress: Institut Universitaire De Hautes Etupes Internacionales, 1970), p. 70
  29. ^ F. X. Maier, Revolution and Terrorism in Mozambique, New York: American Affairs Association, Inc., 1974, p. 12
  30. ^ F. X. Maier, Revolution and Terrorism in Mozambique, New York: American Affairs Association, Inc., 1974, p. 41
  31. ^ (Portuguese) Kaúlza de Arriaga (General), O DESENVOLVIMENTO DE MOÇAMBIQUE E A PROMOÇÃO DAS SUAS POPULAÇÕES – SITUAÇÃO EM 1974, Kaúlza de Arriaga's published works and texts
  32. ^ Allen Isaacman. Portuguese Colonial Intervention, Regional Conflict and Post-Colonial Amnesia: Cahora Bassa Dam, Mozambique 1965–2002, Retrieved on March 10, 2007
  33. ^ Richard Beilfuss. International Rivers Network, 1999. Retrieved on March 10, 2007
  34. ^ Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane Biography, Oberlin College, revised September 2005 by Melissa Gottwald. Retrieved on February 16, 2000
  35. ^ Walter C. Opello Jr, Pluralism and Elite Conflict in an Independence Movement: FRELIMO in the 1960s, part of Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1975, p. 66
  36. ^ Roelof J. Kloppers : Border Crossings : Life in the Mozambique / South Africa Borderland since 1975. University of Pretoria. 2005. Online. Retrieved on March 13, 2007
  37. ^ Brig. Michael Calvert, Counter-Insurgency in Mozambique, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, no. 118, March 1973
  38. ^ Arslan Humbarachi & Nicole Muchnik, Portugal's African Wars, N.Y., 1974.
  39. ^ Adrian Hastings, The Daily Telegraph (June 26, 2001)
  40. ^ Brendan F. Jundanian Resettlement Programs: Counterinsurgency in Mozambique, 1974, p. 519
  41. ^ Kenneth R. Maxwell, The Making of Portuguese Democracy, 1995, p. 98
  42. ^ F. X. Maier, Revolution and Terrorism in Mozambique, (New York: American Affairs Association Inc., 1974), p. 24
  43. ^ a b Richard W. Leonard Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1974, p. 38
  44. ^ Robin Wright, White Faces In A Black Crowd: Will They Stay?, The Christian Science Monitor (May 27, 1975)
  45. ^ (Portuguese) Carlos Fontes, Emigração Portuguesa, Memórias da Emigração Portuguesa
  46. ^ Mark D. Tooley, Praying for Marxism in Africa, (Friday, March 13, 2009)
  47. ^ Mario de Queiroz, AFRICA-PORTUGAL: Three Decades After Last Colonial Empire Came to an End


Printed matter

  • Bowen, Merle. The State Against the Peasantry: Rural Struggles in Colonial and Postcolonial Mozambique. University Press Of Virginia; Charlottesville, Virginia, 2000
  • Calvert, Michael Brig. Counter-Insurgency in Mozambique from the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, no. 118, March 1973
  • Cann, John P. Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War, 1961–1974, Hailer Publishing, 2005, ISBN 0-313-30189-1
  • Grundy, Kenneth W. Guerrilla Struggle in Africa: An Analysis and Preview, New York: Grossman Publishers, 1971, ISBN 0-670-35649-2
  • Henriksen, Thomas H. Remarks on Mozambique, 1975
  • Legvold, Robert. Soviet Policy in West Africa, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970, ISBN 0-674-82775-9
  • Mailer, Phil. Portugal – The Impossible Revolution? 1977, ISBN 0-900688-24-6
  • Newitt, Malyn. A History of Mozambique, 1995, ISBN 0-253-34007-1
  • Wright, George. The Destruction of a Nation, 1996, ISBN 0-7453-1029-X


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