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9— 'We are all Portuguese!' Challenging the Political Economy of Assimilation: Lourenco Marques, 1870–1933
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Changing Demography and Social Relations

While acknowledging the often inaccurate and inadequate nature of most colonial statistics, the single statistic most likely to be valid is the number of Europeans censused in the port towns. The statistics for Lourenço Marques indicate that between 1861 and 1885 the town's European population averaged around a hundred, while between 1887 (with the arrival of the first boatload of white miners headed inland) and 1894 (the year before completion of the rail line to the Transvaal) the European population averaged just over seven hundred. From 1894 onwards the white population of the town increased steadily, more than trebling in the decade following the completion of the railway.[33]

The growth of the white Portuguese population was directly linked with Portugal's efforts to gain control over the revenues of the Lourenço Marques area. Encouraged both by the MacMahon Award of 1875, which confirmed Portugal's title to the area, and by reports of its potential as a gateway to the interior, Portugal moved to realize that potential. Its early public works initiatives of the late 1870s in Lourenço Marques were more significant as indications of Portugal's enlivened interest in the area than for what they actually accomplished. In the 1880s Portugal secured control over the lucrative transit trade to the Witwatersrand by the seizure and ultimate completion of the originally British-funded rail line from Lourenço Marques to the Transvaal.[34]

The defeat of the Gaza state in the 1890s enhanced Portugal's control over the increasingly important movement of migrant labour, thereby furthering its political and financial interests. Finally, state-initiated modernization of port facilities at Lourenço Marques at the turn of the century confirmed Lisbon's intention to develop the transit trade and the related phenomenon of labour brokerage as its principal interests in the area. Portugal's tactic was oriented towards licensing, taxing and brokering the existing movement of goods and persons, and it required investment of capital and labour to develop and maintain the necessary transportation facilities and bureaucracy to sustain such a process of accumulation.[35]

It was in conjunction with these investments that ever-larger groups of Portuguese immigrants arrived in Lourenço Marques as state-sponsored soldiers, civil servants or contracted labourers.[36] These Portuguese immigrants—the contracted railway workers and public works crews of the 1870s and 1880s and the police and soldiers of the 1890s—were recognized by twentieth century white Portuguese to be Portugal's pioneers. They were accorded the prestige of being the original 'we'. Ignored were the earlier traders and administrators with their mulatto progeny. Ignored also was the key role of local African people who had both supported and helped to extend Portuguese sovereignty in the area. These white pioneers, such as Roque de Aguiar, were revered in their old age regardless of their economic status. People like João Massabulana, who was acknowledged to have given important service to the Portuguese in the Luso-Gaza war, were treated quite differently. Massabulana died in 1925, allegedly owing his hut tax for that year, and his wives and young sons were seized for penal labour to work off the tax.[37]


To be considered truly Portuguese it was increasingly insufficient to accept and project Portuguese hegemony. As with Cape Coloureds in South Africa, black Mozambican elite members began to be nudged out of the privileges of domination despite their sharing language, Christianity, nationality and way of life with the white Portuguese. As competition grew between new immigrants and the local black elite over jobs, land, licences and concessions, race became an increasingly important differentiating criterion in the struggle to share.

This process was nowhere more startling than in the case of the decline in prestige and prosperity suffered by mulattoes from the 1860s down to the 1930s. In the 1860s and 1870s mulatto children of Portuguese were commonly censused at

Figure 9.2
White population in Lourenço Marques


birth as whites and acknowledged as sharing the whole of family privileges, property and responsibilities. They were the so-called brancos da terra, the local whites.[38] By the 1890s, however, that was no longer commonly the case. Mulatto babies were censused as such, and some adults whose birth certificates registered them as 'white' were redefined as mulatto.[39] Some mulatto children certainly continued to enjoy protection by white parents through formal adoption or informal patronage, but whites were increasingly unlikely to assume full responsibility for their mulatto children and ensure that they were fully entitled to share as family members.[40] Illegitimacy became increasingly identified with miscegenation. Illegitimacy was not simply a social stigma. It was an important impediment to the transfer of wealth and property from parent to child—in short, to the reproduction of privilege. While the mulatto elite of the early 1930s decried the stigma of illegitimacy, asserting that to be a mulatto did not necessarily mean one was a bastard, by 1940 if one was a bastard, one was quite likely to be a mulatto. Indeed, 96 per cent of all babies born in circumstances deemed illegitimate were mulattoes.[41]

The declining fortunes of local mulattoes, while most immediately linked to the competitive relationship emerging between local and immigrant whites, was also an aspect of a number of other interrelated processes. Portuguese whites and the black elite also competed for advantage with numerous foreigners. Up to the close of the nineteenth century the Portuguese had been but one of a number of foreign groups trading in Lourenço Marques, and they were not always numerically or influentially dominant.[42] From the opening of trade to all countries in 1877, the population of British Indian traders increased, and from the first gold strikes in the Transvaal the pace of foreign European immigration similarly quickened. In 1885 Portuguese comprised 55 per cent of the town's European population, but in 1887, with an influx of foreign miners, the Portuguese proportion temporarily dropped to but 12 per cent of the European group.[43] Large numbers of foreign businessmen sought out the town for its opportunities in land and concession speculation, retail sales, and service industries. Foreigners had entrenched themselves as an important business minority from at least the 1870s.[44] Competition for concessions, markets, licensing and employment in the promising but unstable town economy was strong, and Lourenço Marques took on the characteristics of a wide-open boom town. Groups and individuals pulled every string and explored every avenue in their efforts to secure a livelihood or skim off a fleeting profit. Portuguese immigrants hoped to exploit political sympathies to economic advantage, but there were severe limits on their control of the political economy.

There were certain sectors of the economy which the well-placed members of the Portuguese community simply did not have the capital, skills or business connections to develop successfully or to take over, and these passed into foreign hands. They included such key sectors as, first, the recruitment and processing of Mozambican migrants as labourers for South Africa and, second, retail sales to returned miners. The South Africa-based Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA) had been the largest, most consistent, best managed recruiting agency operating in the area south of the Sabi river, and in February 1906 the Portuguese granted it monopoly recruiting privileges.[45] The following year, with the town in deep recession, the local Portuguese community cast a covetous eye at WNLA's profit of almost £89,000 in 1906. They aggressively, but vainly, urged the state to transfer the WNLA monopoly to the Secretaria de Negócios Indígenas (Native Affairs Department) so that the jobs and profits could be made available to them.[46]


With regard to the retail sales sector, British Indians were seen as the main interlopers. They competed in trade at the port from at least the 1870s, but by the 1890s they dominated virtually all retail sales to returning miners in rural areas as well as dry goods sales in urban areas.[47] By 1901, for example, 96 per cent of dry goods retail licences in Lourenço Marques were held by Indians, 80 per cent of whom were British Indians. Licences for urban cantinas (combination bar, grocery and dry goods stores), which depended heavily upon sales of cheap Portuguese wines to draw customers for their usually uncompetitive dry goods, were more broadly held: Portuguese whites, 56 per cent; Chinese, 27 per cent; Portuguese Indians, 6 per cent; and British Indians, 3 per cent.[48] While the Portuguese proved unable to do much more than complain about the dominance of Indians in dry goods commerce, they lobbied increasingly successfully for cantina licences to be granted preferentially to white Portuguese.[49]

In sum, despite their open identification with and defence of the Portuguese state, the local black elite's power and prosperity in the regional economy suffered almost in direct proportion to the state's growing initiatives. At every turn they were displaced, either with or without state complicity. White railway and port workers oversaw the movement of transit goods instead of black caravan leaders, raftsmen, guides and porters. Portuguese administrators and soldiers took over direction of important recruitment and labour control functions. Some of the black elite eventually found work as labour recruiters or overseers within new companies, but they lost their independence as agents or middlemen and became simply employees in a managerial capacity. Competition between local blacks and immigrant whites was further exacerbated by the narrowing of the overall local field for economic activity because of the monopolization and near monopolization of key sectors of the economy by WNLA and British Indians. Political pressure from immigrants covetous of business and civil service positions held by blacks, a chronic shortage of cheap controlled black labour, and the ups and downs of the regional economy all bolstered the tendency to engineer the subordination of all black people within the rapidly changing capitalist economy. Portugal's self-proclaimed 'civilizing mission' comprised an important ideological aspect of this engineering process.

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