1962 - 1975

The Struggle for Freedom in Mozambique


“Liberation or Death, We Will Win!”
-- FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front)

This is the story of a country's struggle for independence, one that would last nearly fourteen years. 

During this time, the people of Mozambique tried every means possible to free themselves from Portuguese colonial rule. Ultimately, they entered into a violent conflict that eventually led to freedom. Key to their success was the Mozambique Liberation Front (or FRELIMO) and its first leader Eduardo Mondlane.

The following vignettes highlight the struggle's early years, beginning in the mid 1960s. By then, Portugal had dispatched some 70,000 troops to fight the insurgency:

Portuguese occupying forces during a parade (1960s)

The 1960s: The Mondlane Years

1962: FRELIMO is founded by exiled Mozambicans looking to free their homeland from colonialism.

1963: Eduardo Mondlane returns to Mozambique from his teaching post in the U.S. to lead FRELIMO.

1964: The armed insurgency begins.

Mondlane, featured in the second of a two-part series on his legacy (Tempo Magazine, February 2 1975)

Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane was FRELIMO's first leader, a position he held until his assassination in 1969. 

Born in Mozambique and educated in the West, Mondlane spoke out against the inequities he observed, while holding together the various factions that existed within FRELIMO.

He would also go on to secure support from both the eastern and western blocs.

FRELIMO membership card (1964)

In the mid-1960s, Mondlane amassed several thousand guerillas. They were primarily in the north, as seen on the Portuguese secret police's map of FRELIMO base camps:

Portuguese map of FRELIMO camps in northern Mozambique (December 1967)

For their part, the Portuguese forces were prepared to be engaged for the long haul. A secret police report dated from 1964 indicates the government was aware this was going to be “a costly venture for Lisbon:”

“Why is it that the African, owner of the land, must suffer, while the white man grows richer at his expense?”

-- Why We Are Fighting, 1963
The Portugues military apparatus

In addition to independence, Mondlane's goal was to bring about social reform and eliminate a ruling elite.

This notion of fighting for equality and against oppression of any sort grounded the movement for years to come.

Photojournalist Ricardo Rangel captured many scenes of inequity, such as the colonizers' use of forced labor: pictured here on break, factory workers are barefooted and shirtless next to the heavy machinery they operate.

Factory workers on break, wearing tattered uniforms (1962)

At the root of the struggle were the basic social inequalities that existed de facto under colonial rule. This state of inequality was evident in the bloody warfare, but could also be seen in day-to-day civilian life.

Mondlane and his successors never lost sight of the socio-economic aspect of the struggle.

FRELIMO pamphlet (1965)

“The white man, just because he is white, can easily find a job, earn a decent wage, support his family ...”

“While the white man is educating his children, the Negro is confused, for he wants to do the same, but cannot find the means.”

Photographer Ricardo Rangel brings to light the realities of daily life in a colony, often through scenes involving children. The contrast between black and white, rich and poor, is palpable. But Rangel also captures something deeper and more difficult to articulate.

On the left, we see children playing in a largely white neighborhood of Lourenço Marques. On the right, the children are not only barefoot; they also do not belong to a particular home or family. (1950s-1960s.)

A particularly interesting glimpse of the complexities of colonial life is also revealed in a photograph of a young boy selling newspapers. The boy has his back to two men looking towards the street. The older men are wearing suits and dress shoes, while the young boy stands barefooted and in an over-sized second-hand suit jacket and shorts.

When a local newspaper published the photograph, the editors cropped out the boy, focusing on the two men.

The Old Settlers - Lourenço Marques (1960)

The realities of economic inequalities and racial segregation during colonial occupation are highlighted here: African children sell nuts, while their white counterparts play tennis.

As he led the struggle for freedom, Mondlane tried to balance ideals, diplomacy, and an outright war. Violence was justified not only as a response to colonialism but also because it had the people of Mozambique behind it. This unity allowed FRELIMO to be as strong as--or stronger than--the oppressor:

FRELIMO newsletter (September 1967)

Mondlane was killed by a bomb at FRELIMO headquarters in Maputo on February 3 1969. His legacy lived on as the struggle for freedom continued.

A memorial service was led by one of Mondlane's former classmates from Oberlin College (Ohio, USA):

Memorial service program cover page
Mondlane on the cover of Voz da Revolução (May 1968)
Remembering Mondlane (cover of Tempo, February 11 1979)
List of speakers from Mondlane's memorial service (February 13 1969)

Another death that impacted FRELIMO was that of Júlio António, a member who had been accused of having killed Chico Cachavi, one of the main figures in some of the other side's most violent attacks. 

Though the circumstances surrounding Júlio António's death remain unclear, he became a sort of martyr for FRELIMO.

The 1970s: 

Post-Mondlane, FRELIMO expands its liberation efforts

FRELIMO tenth anniversary leaflet (June 25 1972)

Following Mondlane's death, FRELIMO continued its battle and intensified many of its activities. It concurrently ran a vigorous public relations campaign both at home and internationally.

For instance, the back cover of a 1972 issue of Mozambique Revolution bears the slogan “FRELIMO will win” in five languages:

FRELIMO's strong efforts to publicize its struggle were not only effective at drawing international attention; they also had a direct impact on the opposition. From the get-go, the Portuguese secret police monitored FRELIMO's activities, and their internal memoranda grew increasingly worried in tone.

For instance, there were reports of suspected large-scale maritime activity:

Portuguese secret police report on the possible first large-scale use of boats by FRELIMO (January 1969)
Secret police map of FRELIMO bases near Porto Amelia (1967)

There was a corresponding escalation of tactics, with napalm reportedly being used. Meanwhile, FRELIMO continued its offensive of propaganda, going so far as to reach out to Portuguese soldiers.

The organization's efforts also garnered attention from the international press:

Portuguese secret police memorandum outlining Dutch television report on FRELIMO (1970)
El Moudjahid article: Plane Shot Down by FRELIMO (May 1973)
Article from The Toronto Star reporting on the use of napalm by Portuguese forces (August 1973)
Portuguese secret police transcripts of FRELIMO propaganda (December 1973)
FRELIMO propaganda leaflet aimed at Portuguese soldiers (1972)
Daily News article on FRELIMO's increased efforts (September 1972)

Along with a campaign to promote FRELIMO's strengths and garner wide sympathy and support, the militants made sure their enemy received its share of attention, as well.

Thus, the cover of the July 7 1974 issue of Tempo (a pro-independence, pro-FRELIMO magazine) featured a Portuguese officer bearing a striking resemblance to Colonel Klink from the American television series Hogan's Heroes. That this is more than coincidence is supported by the adjacent headline mentioning “colonial fascism.” Whether or not the reference was intended, the allusion to the Nazis is certainly explicit:

1974: Following a coup in Portugal, Mozambique achieves independence.

1975: A new government is formed.

Portuguese soldiers at the Maputo airport, returning home following the 1975 transition of power

Post-independence, there is both new hope and a sense that continuing the trajectory of progress will be neither instantaneous nor easy.

In the 1980s, Mozambique finds itself ahead of countries such as South Africa in some respects--as seen in this 1984 photo of a woman in Pretoria who sits on a bench with designated ends for whites and blacks--, but reminders of the past and of the difficult path going forward abound.

Although Mozambicans remain optimistic in the light of their new-found independence, their path will be difficult. They will endure another violent battle in the decades to follow and will have to wait until 1994 to hold their first democratic elections. Even today, the country is fraught with tumult.

Nevertheless, an important step was clearly taken during the struggle of 1962-1975. 

As traces of the struggle to freedom, Eduardo Mondlane and the principles that guided FRELIMO in its early days have had a lasting influence.

Hope for the future: Tempo's "African Women in the Light of Democracy" (July 14 1974)
Traces of the struggle for independence--literal but also on deeper, cultural and social levels--will remain with Mozambicans for the foreseeable future.

“Independência ou morte venceremos!”

“Liberation or death, we will win!”

-- FRELIMO motto

This battle cry would become both a testament to the staying strength of FRELIMO's early years and a reflection of the fate of a country destined to continue struggling in the next chapters of its political and social evolution.

FRELIMO guerrilheiros at the close of the war of independence
Cover of Tempo featuring the grassroots support of the struggle for independence (August 18 1974)


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Credits: Story

Curator — Benjamin Young, Content Development Analyst, JSTOR
JSTOR Team — Benjamin Young and Deirdre Ryan, Laura Brown, John Marshall, John Mikulka, Audrey Rojas
JSTOR Featured Content Partners — Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique, Direcção-Geral de Arquivos/Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), Northwestern University Library, Ricardo Achiles Rangel, Tempográfica, University of Southern California/Boeckmann Center for Iberian & Latin American Studies

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