Mozambique’s Resistance to Settler Rule

FRELIMO and Resistance to Settler Rule

The colony of Mozambique did not have its present boundaries until 1890. However, the Portuguese were present in the coastal regions of Mozambique for more than 300 years.

Mozambique Flag

Beginning in the early 19th century, the Portuguese began to move into the interior of Mozambique raiding for slaves and ivory. The slave and ivory trade had a devastating impact on peoples and societies of the interior of the country. The Portuguese were forced to end slavery in their African territories in the late 19th century. To promote economic growth in Mozambique, the Portuguese government encouraged their citizens to immigrate to the country to settle. These settlers were given concessions of land—land which was taken away with little or no compensation from the indigenous African peoples. The colonial government instituted policies, similar to those implemented in other colonies in southern Africa, that guaranteed a cheap labor force for the Portuguese settler farmers, who grew cotton and cashew nuts on large farms.

Mozambique Full Map

As was the case in neighboring colonies, the African peoples of Mozambique were not even given the status of second-class citizens. They were not allowed to participate in the political system, their land was taken from them, and they were forced to work at very low wages either on commercial farms within Mozambique or in the gold mines of South Africa. Throughout the 20th century, numerous examples of Mozambiquians resisting the Portuguese exist. Just as in other colonies, in the 1950s, a nationalist movement developed in Mozambique that demanded political independence from Portugal. In 1962, the nationalists in Mozambique united to form the Frente da Libertacao de Mocambique (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) or FRELIMO. Eduardo Mondlane, a US trained scholar, was the first president of FRELIMO. Mondlane and the other FRELIMO leaders were willing to negotiate with the Portuguese, but the colonialists made it clear that they would never give Africans in Mozambique their independence. Consequently, in September 1964, FRELIMO changed its tactics and began a long military struggle for the independence of Mozambique.

FRELIMO received support in the form of weapons, ammunition and training from China, the Soviet Union, and other Eastern European countries. The neighboring independent countries of Tanzania and Zambia provided bases from which FRELIMO could launch its strikes against the Portuguese forces in Mozambique. A Cold War mentality kept the U.S. from supporting FRELIMO since the U.S. government felt that it could not support a movement that received strong support from the Eastern Bloc. Moreover, Portugal was considered to be an important military ally of the U.S.
In spite of the superior military force of the Portuguese, FRELIMO was able to win over the support of the vast majority of the people of Mozambique. Rural villages warmly welcomed the FRELIMO fighters offering them food and shelter. In 1974, the Portuguese military realized that it would not be able to militarily defeat FRELIMO and negotiated a peace treaty. One year later in 1975, a victorious FRELIMO led Mozambique to independence.

Samora Machel
Somora Machel, first president of Mozambique
Leader of FRELIMO 

Unfortunately, Eduardo Mondlane did not live to see this victory. In 1969 he was assassinated by letter bomb sent by the Portuguese secret police. His successor as leader of FRELIMO, Somora Machel, became the first president of independent Mozambique.