War of Independence 1964-1974
The attacks of rebels of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) on September 25th, 1964 against the Portuguese base at Chai in Northern Mozambique mark the onset of the Mozambican War of Independence against the Portuguese colonial rule. In spite of some initial military success of the rebels (mostly in the Northern Provinces), the Portuguese contained the insurgency (with the brutal Gordian Knot Operation of 1970-1973).read more
They also managed to complete the construction of the Cabora Bassa dam, the fifth largest in the world, that was designed not only to secure Mozambique's energy autonomy, but also to export energy in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Since FRELIMO relied mostly on small scale attacks, the Portuguese and local administrators used land mines to protect dams and other key infrastructure. The Portuguese also planted mines at the border with Tanzania to block the rearmament and supplies of FRELIMO from Tanzania. At the same time, and in response to the Portuguese counter-attack, FRELIMO used anti-tank and anti-personnel land mines to terrorize Portuguese troops and militias.
After 1973 FRELIMO used land mines for non-military purposes in an effort to demonstrate to the locals and international observers that the Portuguese had lost control of the countryside.
- Struggle for Mozambique. E. Mondlane
- Renamo: Terrorism in Mozambique. A. Vines
- The Origins of War in Mozambique. S. Funada-Classen
- Florencia an Accidental Story. J. Mullen and D. Bowman
Developments in Portugal will be crucial for the war ending. The Independence War ends with the successful overthrowing of the military dictatorship in Portugal by the Carnation Revolution on April 25th of 1974. The new Portuguese officials, Movimento das Forças Armadas, were determined to end coloniall wars in Africa; besides Mozambique, liberation movements and anti-colonial wars were taking place in all other Portuguese colonies, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and Sao Tome.read more
On September 1974, the Portuguese government (controlled by the revolutionary forces, but nominally represented by President Spinosa) signed the Lusaka Agreement with FRELIMO; this agreement set the stage for an independent Mozambique.
Yet many key issues, related to the legal position of settlers and their property, colonial debt, economic relations with Portugal were left unspecified. And the country was effectively handed over to FRELIMO, that after a brief interim period, took power in mid-1975 without elections.
Early Post-Independence Period 1975-1977
After resuming office, Samora Marcel, the first President of the country, and FRELIMO tried to implement ambitious social and economic reforms, such as empowering peasants, investing in education, and promoting industrialization. Yet the situation was devastating and chaotic. The economy was already weak, infrastructure was poor, and global economic conditions unfavorable.read more
White settlers, Indians and educated Mozambicans were fleeing the country, selling almost everything, depleting their bank accounts, and moving vehicles, cars, and tractors to South Africa. Upon taking office, the government nationalized housing, health, and education; and it also slowly promoted the nationalization of private enterprises. The apartheid government in South Africa, strongly sceptical of FRELIMOs policies, started laying off Mozambican workers from South African mines, depriving the country from valuable remittances.
Things got worse in 1977 as heavy rains flooded vital agricultural land in the Limpopo Valley, close to the capital Maputo. The government took over abandoned farms and factories installing state managers who were in some cases assisted by foreign experts from communist countries. At the core of FRELIMO's plan was a compulsory communal villagization system, similar to Tanzania's ujanaa system pursued by Nyerere, which proved to be both ineffective and sparked resentment among peasants.
Human Rights Watch estimates that by 1981, close to 2 million people had been moved into 1,266 communal villages. Thanks to foreign aid, the economy rebounded during 1977-1981, but inefficiencies were massive and poverty widespread.
FRELIMO's rise to power affected Mozambique's relationships with the other regional governments. In particular, relations with the Rhodesian state of Ian Smith, that had declared independence from Great Britain in 1965, deteriorated sharply. Even before independence, with the support of FRELIMO the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and its armed militia, ZANLA, were launching attacks in Zimbabwe from Central-West Mozambique.read more
After independence FRELIMO was in a position to further assist ZANU, a party with similar nationalistic, anti-colonial, and socialist ideology. In its effort to destabilize Ian Smith's regime, FRELIMO closed the borders with Rhodesia, depriving its landlocked neighbor of critical coastal access via the "Beira Corridor". In response the Rhodesian government and its notorious military police backed a counterinsurgency rebel group.
The Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) was established in Salisbury, Rhodesia in 1977 by the Rhodesian Secret Service; its first leader, André Matsangaissa was a former FRELIMO official, who was freed by Rhodesian armed forces during a raid in Mozambique. RENAMO' members were quite heterogenous, including former FRELIMO officials, dissatisfied by the radicalization of the party and its movement to the left, Portuguese and other European expatriates looking for recovering their property and influence, and many mercenaries that were mostly interested in looting. In its infancy RENAMOs army militia did not exceed 3,000 soldiers.
Civil War: First-Period 1977-1980
During the first stage of the civil war, roughly from 1977 till 1980, RENAMOs operations were limited along the border of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe and rarely affected areas close to the coast. As Rhodesian forces were in total control, RENAMO's attacks in Mozambique were targeting military bases; RENAMO was also trying to disrupt communications and destabilize local communities in an effort to de-legitimize the power of the new Mozambican government.read more
It was also assisting Rhodesian forces in special operations (the most important being the sabotage of the Beira oil storage depots in the March of 1979). During this period, FRELIMO was cracking down opposition using torture and capital punishment. During this phase land mines were placed on both sides of the Rhodesia-Mozambique border to prevent raids of ZANLA in Rhodesia and protect RENAMOs bases.
The fall of Ian Smith's government in Rhodesia (in June 1979) coupled with the successful attack of FRELIMO on RENAMO's headquarters in Gorongosa (in October 1979) and the death of Matsangaissa in a counterattack, weakened the rebels; it looked like that the civil war would be over. As Newitt (2009) puts it "at this stage RENAMO was simply a mercenary unit of a white colonial army."
Civil War: Second-Period 1980-1986
With Zimbabwe's independence and the rise of Robert Mugabe in power, RENAMO moves to South Africa. Its new leader, Afonso Dhlakama, secures assistance from the South African Defence Force (SADF) and also gets assistance from Malawi. RENAMO's strategy changes, as it now tries to build up presence in Mozambique. Rather than attacking military bases, RENAMO targets infrastructure, dams, roads, and railroads; its most eminent "success" being the blowing of the Zambezi rail bridge in 1983. Its operations spread all around the country, even in the North, where FRELIMO's influence was strong.read more
These attacks coincided with massive droughts in 1981-1982 leading to starvation and famine. Human Rights Watch reports that RENAMO was even attacking tracks carrying food supplies and medicine. RENAMO managed to recruit some sympathizers, who were opposing FRELIMO's villagization policies and the suppression of ethnic leaders and customs. During this period, SADF plotted land mines along the South African border in an effort to suffocate Mozambique; RENAMO plotted mines trying to isolate urban centers (packed by internally displaced people) from the countryside.
In response to the devastating conditions, Samora Marcel made a policy U-turn, signing with South African President Pieter Willem Botha a security agreement (Nkomati Accord on March 16, 1984), where both countries committed to stop supporting rebel groups (RENAMO and ANC). Marcel also visited European capitals to persuade European leaders to commit much-needed aid and to show that he was not a hardliner. He was successful, as many European governments, including the United Kingdom, provided aid and humanitarian support. At the same time, the Mozambican government lifted price controls and changed the investment code making it easier for foreigners to invest in country.
Yet, the war continued as RENAMO was still being assisted by South African paramilitary forces, Malawi, and SADF agents based in the lawless at the time Comoros. Violence, if anything, intensified and many massacres took place in 1985-1986. With the help of Zimbabwe and Zambia's Presidents Robert Mugabe and Kenneth Kaunda, Marcel managed to secure Malawi's neutrality in September 1986. But in his flight back to Maputo, his plane crashed, most likely because paramilitary South African forces blocked radio communications.
Civil War: Third-Period 1987-1990
Although RENAMO had lost the official support of South Africa and most other allies, the third phase of the civil war is the most brutal. RENAMO's strategy during this period was to destroy people's beliefs on the ability of the government to protect them. Massacres were commonplace, as RENAMO embraced a strategy of terror. Abductions, kidnaps, child soldiering raids, rapes, attacks in villages and mutilations, burning, and looting become widespread.read more
The most infamous event took place in July 1987 in the town of Homoine, where rebels killed with knives and machetes 386-424 unarmed civilians, mostly children, women, elderly and patients on the local hospital. A US State Department commissioned report by former US official Robert Gersony argued that such attacks were commonplace. His report writes "it is conservatively estimated that 100,000 civilians may have been murdered by RENAMO." RENAMO also established forced labour camps, using peasants as slaves (Gandira System).
RENAMO continued targeting infrastructure using extensively land mines, that were cheap and effective. Reports suggest that rebels were planting land mines across the country to terrorize the local population. Its operations appeared successful and the government lost control of sizable parts of the country. Tanzanian and Zimbabwean troops intervened to contain RENAMO and eventually marched counterattacks in the late 1980s.
According to most reports, FRELIMO also committed serious crimes during this time; they were also using forced labour and there were constant accusations of rape, killings, and looting, as the country was lawless.
Civil War: Fourth-Period 1990-1992
The war's final phase starts when the South African public opinion shifts and with Frederik de Klerk's efforts for a smooth democratic transition in South Africa (with his secret negotiations with ANC's imprisoned leader Nelson Mandela); and the decision of the South African political establishment to stop the disaster in Mozambique.read more
FRELIMO introduced a new Constitution (in November 1990) allowing multi-party elections, freedom of press, an independent judiciary, and civil liberties. While the United States and South African governments were pushing for an immediate cease fire and a steady transition (as in Angola), RENAMO continued its operations; fighting continued in 1991 and 1992 although some negotiations were taking place.
End of War 1992-1994
A cease-fire agreement that ended the war and opened the way for elections was signed by the two parties in Rome in October 1992. With the help of United Nations Operation in Mozambique (UNOMOZ) that deployed 6,400 soldiers and workers and foreign aid from Western powers transition took place and the 1994 Presidential and Parliamentary elections mark the transition of the country to a democratic regime.
Mozambique at the End of the War
"Most of the country's economic infrastructure is destroyed or inoperable, and much of the population is dependent on a massive international aid program. Hundreds of thousands of people are refugees in neighbouring countries or displaced inside Mozambique. Many rural areas have been reduced to a stone age condition, without trade or modern manufactured goods, education or health services, and suffering from constant insecurity. Mozambique needs to be built almost from scratch"
Human Rights Watch Country Report 1992
"The total impact of the war on Mozambican society is literally incalculable. Tens of thousands have been killed in the war and hundreds of thousands by the associated hunger and disease. Much of the infrastructure of the society has been destroyed, and national income is at a lower level than before independence. Education has come virtually to a standstill, and an entire generation has grown up without knowing the benefits of even the most basic physical security, let alone social services or economic development."read more
"The total cost of the war is incalculable. The United Nations estimates that war and war-related hunger and disease have a total of 600,000 lives, but this is no more than a gross estimate. Most of the country's economic infrastructure is destroyed or inoperable, and much of the population is dependent on a massive international aid program. Hundreds of thousands of people are refugees in neighboring countries or displaced inside Mozambique. Many rural areas have been reduced to a stone age condition, without trade or modern manufactured goods, education or health services, and suffering from constant insecurity. Mozambique needs to be built almost from scratch."