Mozambique: One-party rule, socialism and civil war (1975-1986)

Updated February 2008

The sudden and precipitous withdrawal of the Portuguese and the independence of Mozambique under a one-party Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) government ushered in a period of immense difficulty for the new state (Crawfurd 2002). Racial violence and riots in the capital and elsewhere marked the transition; independence on 25 June 1975 saw a massive emigration of white settlers (who destroyed whatever property they could not take with them) along with their skills and their capital, so that the country was plunged into economic and administrative crisis from its birth (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2007; Rupiya 1998; Crawfurd 2002). By 1977 the white population had declined from 200 000 to 30 000 people and FRELIMO was forced to deploy inexperienced cadres with little training to attempt to prop up the collapsing administration (Stanford Undated; Rupiya 1998; Crawfurd 2002).

The legacy left by the Portuguese was a poor one; there was little in the way of infrastructure and what there was had been created to extract resources and fight the war against FRELIMO; healthcare or education facilities were sparse and more than 90% of the population was illiterate (Rupiya 1998; Crawfurd 2002; IIASA 2001). FRELIMO acted vigorously to attempt to stabilise the situation by implementing a range of classic Marxist-Leninist measures such as nationalizing commerce, finance and industry and abolishing private land ownership (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2007; Crawfurd 2002). Local committee were set up through out the country to oversee the resumption of production and farming, while the state took ownership and control over private (including religious owned) housing, schools and medical facilities (Crawfurd 2002; Rupiya 1998).

These measures were accompanied by a ruthless suppression of dissent within and without FRELIMO and a clamp down on religious groups, while opponents were sent to brutal reeducation camps (Rupiya 1998). The Catholic Church was in particular viewed with suspicion, not only because it was viewed as the hand-maiden of Portuguese colonialism, but also because it was the largest single institution not directly under state control; churches were closed, clergy expelled and property seized (Sengulane & Goncalves 1998). Along with the clamp down went a centralization of power; the National Service for Public Security was set up with widespread powers that enabled the secret police force to monitor and detain those believed to be acting against the state, while "Dynamising Committees" set up in the rural areas, where the bulk of the population lived, displaced traditional authorities and acted as local organs of control and repression (Rupiya 1998; Lodge et al 2002, 195).

The formation of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) was precipitated by the Mozambique government's decision to participate in international sanctions against the rebel British colony of Rhodesia by closing the border with it in March 1976, and to provide bases and material support to the Zimbabwean African National Union fighting for independence (Crawfurd 2002; Lodge et al 2002, 194). Rhodesia, heavily dependent on the Beira-Harare corridor, retaliated initially with direct attacks across the border and later by the creation of, and provision of support for, (RENAMO) under the leadership of André Matzangaisa (Lodge et al 2002, 194; ISS Undated). RENAMO was constituted initially from black and white members of the Portuguese army that had fled to Rhodesia and Mozambian exiles from various countries, but later included FRELIMO dissidents and opponents (Lodge et al 2002, 193-194; Crawfurd 2002). RENAMO had little ideological cohesion and lacked a political programme, being little more than a coalition of anti-socialist and ant-FRELIMO forces (Crawfurd 2002). The Mozambican army was, however, able to contain these incursions, for initially RENAMO had little support internally (Lodge et al 2002, 194; Rupiya 1998).

FRELIMO's Third Party Congress in February 1977 formalised the Stalinist direction that the party had been moving in. It transformed itself from a popular mass-based movement into an elitist authoritarian vanguard party and a democratic centralist electoral system was adopted on the lines of the of the Russian Soviets, with members of lower order assemblies electing delegates to higher level assemblies and the entire nomination and election process tightly under FRELIMO control (Rupiya 1998; Lodge et al 2002, 194-195). Mass labour, women's, youth and media organisations were set up to support FRELIMO's mobilisation of members of society (Rupiya 1998; Lodge et al 2002, 195). In this way discipline was tightened up within FRELIMO and FRELIMO's control over social organisations and the organs of state consolidated (Lodge et al 2002, 195). As a result of this "left-wards" swing, the FRELIMO government found itself increasingly dependent on the Soviet Union and the COMINTERN block diplomatically, economically and militarily (Rupiya 1998; Crawfurd 2002). Thus in 1977 the Congress of the United States used human rights violations as a pretext for placing restrictions on development aid, while support from Europe came mainly from the Nordic countries (Young 1991; Crawfurd 2002).

Centrally controlled and directed large scale development plans that emphasized the expansion of healthcare and education delivery on a mass scale were introduced, resulting in the number of primary school attendees doubling in a seven year period and the number of primary healthcare clinics increasing four-fold in ten years (Crawfurd 2002; Rupiya 1998; Cravinho 2007, 796). Communal villages were set up to coordinate and control agricultural production and peasants were subjected to forcible relocation or "villagisation" (Lodge et al 2002, 194-195; Rupiya 1998). Large scale investment in agriculture concentrated on state farms, the nationalized estates abandoned by the Portuguese, while peasant agriculture was neglected and peasant market production declined rapidly (Rupiya 1998). The rapid and far ranging transformation that FRELIMO sought to introduce brought with it its own difficulties for, as Lodge et al (2002, 194) note:

Accommodating perhaps more theorists than pragmatists within its ranks, and with virtually all the senior colonial administrators and other skilled people gone, the Frelimo government failed to realize that it had enough problems on its hands without having to add to them by attempting too much transformation too soon.

The marginalization of traditional authorities and attempts to stamp out traditional practices, the clamp-down on religious institutions and of forcible relocation of peasants proved to be politically disastrous for FRELIMO (Cravinho 2007, 796; Crawfurd 2002). Though only 15% of the population ever found themselves in communal villages, 80% of the people were rural based peasants who resented what were perceived as alien intrusions reminiscent of colonial Portuguese practices (Rupiya 1998; Cravinho 2007, 796). Use of the "villagisation" programme as a counter-insurgency tool against RENAMO was reminiscent of the Portuguese aldeamentos programme and created additional hostility towards the government (Rupiya 1998). Across the board attacks on religious institutions and practices, African Traditional, Catholic, Protestant and Muslim alike, provoke a similar widespread resentment and discontent (IIASA 2001; Lodge et al 2002, 195).

Political, ethnic and regional differences and suspicions within and without FRELIMO coupled with peasant resistance to the government's rural development policies led to new fault lines emerging within the country and FRELIMO was increasingly viewed as the party of intellectuals, urbanites and southerners (Lodge et al 2002, 194; Stanford Undated). This disaffection rapidly focused itself around RENAMO rebel group (Stanford Undated). By 1979 RENAMO forces had swelled from an initial 500 to 2000 troops (Crawfurd 2002; Rupiya 1998).

In 1979 Rhodesia invaded Mozambique, leading to much loss of civilian life and destruction of agricultural, transport and communications infrastructure (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2007). Apartheid South Africa too, already hostile to Mozambique, was angered by Mozambique's support for the exiled African National Congress (ANC) and especially its armed wing, which in 1978 launched attacks from basis in southern Mozambique (Accord 1997). South Africa retaliated by episodic attacks on Mozambique and, when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, took up the role of major provider of support to RENAMO (ISS Undated; IIASA 2001; Lodge et al 2002, 195-196). South Africa also took economic measures against Mozambique from 1981 onwards, including diverting traffic away from Maputo harbour and phasing out the use of Mozambican migrant mine workers whose remittances formed an important source of income and foreign exchange (Crawfurd 2002).

RENAMO, which had suffered severe reverses in 1979 (in October the Mozambican army captured the RENAMOs Head Quarters in Sofala Province and killed Matzangaisa) was revived by the combination of new support from disaffected Mozambicans and large-scale South African support (Lodge et al 2002, 194, 196; Accord 1997; Rupiya 1998). From 1980 RENAMO was able to rapidly increase the forces in the field from 2000 in 1979 to 8000 troops (Rupiya 1998). After a violent succession struggle a young and militarily talented FRELIMO dissident, Afonso Dhlakama, emerged as RENAMO's new leader and under him RENAMO was able to inflict widespread destruction in the rural areas (Lodge et al 2002, 194; 196; Accord 1997). Government centres such as administrative posts, schools, clinics, villages and shops were attacked and transport and communication lines cut (Lodge et al 2002, 196; Cravinho 2007, 797; IIASA 2001). Cravinho (2007, 797) remarks that RENAMO "acquired a reputation for brutality, including mass murders of civilians as well as mutilations". FRELIMO for its part was not immune from reprisals against civilians and the war became increasingly brutal (Crawfurd 2002).

In 1980 the government, under pressure from international creditors, reformed agricultural policy by reducing state ownership and freeing up markets (IIASA 2001). These efforts were bedeviled by war and drought in 1982, which led to famine over large parts of the country and the displacement of large numbers of Mozambicans and the deaths of tens of thousands of others by 1984 (Accord 1997). RENAMO military success extended their activity into the Gaza, Inhambane and Zambézia provinces, cutting Zimbabwe and Malawi traffic off from the coast and threatening FRELIMOs grip on the country (Accord 1997; Rupiya 1998). In response the Zimbabwean government deployed 1000 troops to reopen the Beira corridor (Accord 1997); Lodge et al 2002, 196). The deterioration of the security situation, combined with conciliatory overtures from the government, galvanised the Mozambican Christian churches into new dialogue with the state in December 1982, aimed primarily at finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict (Sengulane & Goncalves 1998).

FRELIMO's Fourth Party Congress in April 1983 was marked by recognition that the countries economic woes, while exacerbated by war and natural disasters such as droughts and famines, were at least in part the result of the economic policies adopted by the government (Lodge et al 2002, 196). Moreover, the COMINTERN members were unable or unwilling to assist Mozambique and it was to the West that Mozambique was forced to turn (Mozambique was refused membership of COMECON. Accord 1997; Lodge et al 2002, 196; Crawfurd 2002). The Congress therefore began a process of policy review, especially of agriculture, that was markedly more pragmatic than previous efforts (Lodge et al 2002, 196). Relations with Western donor nations, including the United States warmed and in September 1984 Mozambique joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (Lodge et al 2002, 196; Crawfurd 2002).

Internally relations between the government and religious groups improved, though efforts by the Mozambique Council of Churches, through its Peace and Reconciliation Commission, to set in motion a peace process with RENAMO were rejected by the government (Lodge et al 2002, 196; Sengulane & Goncalves 1998; Accord 1997). However, under Western, particularly American, pressure the government began to explore ways of reaching a peace settlement with Apartheid South Africa (Crawfurd 2002; Cravinho 2007, 797). This initiative culminated in the Nkomati Accord non-aggression pact on 16 March 1984 in terms of which Mozambique was to cease support for the ANC and South Africa for RENAMO; South Africa also agreed to assist Mozambique in rebuilding the war ravaged economy (Rupiya 1998; Lodge et al 2002, 196). Attempts by South Africa to broker a peace settlement between RENAMO came to nothing, indeed they were undermined by the actions of elements in the South African government and military (Rupiya 1998; Crawfurd 2002; Accord 1997).

While Mozambique implemented the terms of the Accord, South Africa did not cease support from RENAMO; just after the signing of the Accord, South Africa secretly flew large consignments of arms to RENAMO and assisted RENAMO in adjusting its logistics and tactics to the changed conditions, by extracting food supplies from the local population and focusing on insurgency rather than conventional operations (Rupiya 1998). One consequence of this was that "soft", civilian targets became the focus of attacks, greater terror was unleashed on the civilian population and, as Rupiya (1998) observes "they became particularly well-known for mutilating civilians, including children, by cutting off ears, noses, lips and sexual organs". With this support from South Africa RENAMO was able to step up its efforts, so that by August 1984 it was operating in all the provinces of Mozambique and by 1985 had 10 000 troops in the field (Cravinho 2007, 797; Accord 1997). Right-wing groups in the USA, Germany and Portugal were involved in the financing of RENAMO while Malawi and the Comoros were used to channel material (Lodge et al 2002, 196; Crawfurd 2002).

Although the extent of South African involvement in RENAMOs resurgence was not yet publicly known, it was clear that the Nkomati Accord was failing Mozambique. In March 1985 the two countries reaffirmed the Accord and set up joint structures to monitor its implementation, but in an August offensive, supported by Zimbabwean forces, the government captured RENAMOs Casa Banana base, resulting in the capture of documents that made the extent of South Africa's complicity clear and by October the Accord had collapsed (Cravinho 2007, 797; Rupiya 1998; Young 1991). The military situation continued to deteriorate in 1986, despite additional support from Zambian and Tanzanian troops, for RENAMO had consolidated its control over central and western Mozambique and routed the Mozambican army in Zambézia Province, while the government forces became increasingly demoralised (Cravinho 2007, 797; Rupiya 1998; Lodge et al 2002, 196). By the mid-1980s RENAMOs forces numbered between 15 000 and 20 000 troops (Lodge et al 2002, 196).

On 19 October 1986 President Machel was killed when a Soviet plane he was traveling in, from a Frontline States meeting in Malawi aimed at persuading the latter to end support for RENAMO, crashed on the South African border and South African complicity was widely suspected, but never proved (Accord 1997; Cravinho 2007, 797; Lodge et al 2002, 196-197). In February 1987 he was succeeded as President by the more pragmatic Joaquim Chissano who believed that a military solution to the war with RENAMO was possible (Accord 1997; Lodge et al 2002, 196-197).


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