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9— 'We are all Portuguese!' Challenging the Political Economy of Assimilation: Lourenco Marques, 1870–1933
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Portugal's Civilizing Mission: Engineering Inequality

When A.F. Nogueira published his study, A Raça Negra, in 1881 he hoped it would be 'useful to my country and to the poor race to which it is dedicated'.[50] He admonished Portugal to halt the violent and arbitrary plunder of its colonies' human and natural resources by soldiers, missionaries, merchants and administrators and advocated a more systematic approach toward using the colonies' critically important labour resources to place Portugal on a more competitive footing with its colonial neighbours in southern Africa.[51] Nogueira went on to point out that: 'Everyone knows that the whole matter of civilization in Africa comes down to a question of labour. There are a plethora of opportunities for enrichment and a shortage of workers to exploit those opportunities.'[52] Portugal would have to 'civilize' its population so that African labourers could be 'freed' to sell their labour in conditions which would enable Portugal and the Portuguese to enrich themselves:

The Negro is for us, due to the circumstances, the active instrument of labour, as the white is the necessary element for guidance and progress. The two races find themselves, therefore, in a situation where their interests combine perfectly, instead of mutual antagonism they must assist one another.[53]


Presaging the Portuguese corporativist ideology of the future, Nogueira thus neatly subsumed the whole concept of struggle and opposition between labour and capital. The attraction of his combination, however, would seem to depend upon one's position within his equation—whether or not one was doing the labouring or the getting rich.

Nogueira, a colonial liberal, was so anxious to affirm that Africans were not innately poor labourers—they should not be considered just so many 'buffalo' or 'dromedaries' necessary to grub Africa's wealth for their European masters, but rather recognized as individuals capable of being fine workers—that he failed to consider Africans beyond the level of 'instruments of labour'.[54] He did not pose the important question 'What if . . . ?' What if Africans aspired to directing rather than being directed, to getting rich themselves rather than enriching others? What then? Such a question would throw Nogueira's equation off its comfortable assumptions.

By the turn of the century, however, Portuguese policy makers had passed beyond confirming that Africans could and should labour for Europeans, to consider the ramifications of 'What if . . . ?' In his Royal Commissioner's Report of 1893, António Enes, while admitting that the abolition of slavery in 1875 had been a good thing, maintained that the legislation had been incomplete in that it had failed to convert the Africans into workers. To complete this long overdue task, he felt the government should legislate to compel people to work in the same fashion that governments in German East Africa, South Africa and Réunion had done, making their blacks 'submissive, sober and hardworking'. Enes warned that the state should quickly and firmly relegate Africans to the position of working for lower wages and in inferior conditions to those enjoyed by whites, both skilled and unskilled. Some literate Africans, he observed, were already making dangerous suggestions such as employing Europeans under African supervision.[55] A.A. Freire de Andrade, Governor General of Mozambique between 1906 and 1910, echoed Enes's concerns:

The education to offer the native ought to be above all intended to turn him into a useful labourer—and not to engender the false idea that he is equal to whites or has the same rights. . . . But how can one prevent the worker from becoming an employer, an engineer, a foreman or in a word, turning himself into a directing force instead of a directed force? Such results can only be prevented by a labour law, which improperly interpreted could easily be called slavery. And if we make the native an engineer, lawyer or boss of any kind of industry, where will they employ whites of equal skill? Will they be paid equal wages, and will they mix with their colleagues of different colour?[56]

White workers both anticipated and echoed such official sentiment throughout this period as they strove to make a living in Lourenço Marques. Testimony before the Junta Consultiva do Governo in April 1891 illustrated the keenness of whites to have the state extend the privileges and protections enjoyed by Portuguese capitalists in the city to Portuguese workers. In their efforts to achieve that end, proletarianized Portuguese workers stressed the mutual interests of the entire 'European colony' in successfully controlling blacks who were clearly not yet dependent upon the sale of their labour to survive and support their families:

In Europe the worker is in reality more dependent upon the capitalist than vice versa, but in Lourenço Marques . . . the Europeans . . . are dependent upon black labourers, who in their turn barely depend, or do not at all depend upon whites. . . . It is incumbent upon the government to defend the interests of the European colony which more and more become identified with the interests of the state.[57]


Local white bourgeoisies have generally been credited with initiating and sustaining efforts to organize white interests toward the generalized subjugation of black people. David Hemson, for example, acknowledges the importance of competition between black and white workers in neighbouring Durban, but locates the thrust for cooperation amongst all whites with the bourgeoisie:

The articulation of racism [in Durban] was closely meshed in the class consciousness of the local bourgeoisie, aware of the stratification in each racial group, but determined to submerge class antagonism within a cultural and racial order, not class against class, but civilization against barbarism, enlightenment against ignorance.[58]

A reading of the white working class press of the early twentieth century in Lourenço Marques, however, suggests that, for all the contradictions involved, white workers there took early and sustained measures to mesh their interests with those of the dominant white bourgeoisie. For all their strident, doctrinaire anarcho-socialism, they appeared, consciously and unconsciously, determined to benefit from pitting 'civilization' against 'barbarism' and 'enlightenment' against 'ignorance'. White labour leaders saw themselves as united with other white workers, generally considering them 'our labouring brothers', but in the same breath emphasizing their distance from 'filthy' Africans and 'indolent and unproductive Asians' who shared or aspired to share the same workplace.[59]

From Nogueira in 1881 to the socialist workers' organizations of the 1920s there was an important and sustained current which portrayed Africans, directly and indirectly, in smothering negatives: poor, enslaved and miserable, lazy and somehow innately dirty.[60] The current of negatives became a flood in times of scarcity when the question of precisely who would share in available resources took on greater importance. During the economic slump of 1907, for example, the white workers' press complained:

Here [in Lourenço Marques] any vagrant gets 500 reis per day for which he sings and dances the entire day and does nothing. In Portugal men earn 300 reis per day working dawn to dusk bending over a hoe. . . . Here a crude and stupid black who does nothing earns 500 reis per day with 11 to 1 off to eat and rest . . . hundreds of vagrants trip around the streets drunk, nearly nude, living by theft and eating off those who are employed. Here they don't have the guts to make these people work. . . . Lourenço Marques is being transformed into a kraal of filthy Negroes.[61]

This quotation reveals fundamental facts and attitudes which were basic to the engineering of inequality, illustrating some of the attitudes which shaped the internalized baseline from which people competed for scarce resources. White workers perceived few alternatives to the sale of their labour and expected that their wages would provide the minimal material basis to reproduce their working class lifestyle—including the purchase of essentials such as shoes and clothing. At this early date, however, most blacks clearly perceived a range of alternatives to wage labour and could still use their wages to provide more than what they considered the bare essentials.

It is hardly surprising that white workers felt threatened by competition from blacks. Blacks could be paid less than whites, it was asserted, not because whites were fully proletarianized and blacks were not, but because blacks were inferior workers and inferior people. The Fabrica Nacional de Tobacco took up this line in 1914 when it emphasized that while rough tobacco was sorted by trained African personnel, after the sorted tobacco was disinfected it was handled and prepared only by whites.[62] In 1922 the socialist workers' press complained that South African bread kneaded by whites earning one pound sterling per day sold for


4 pence, whereas in Lourenço Marques bread kneaded by 'filthy blacks' cost 6 pence.[63] Whites were not 'vagrants'. They were 'unemployed'. Unemployed blacks were 'vagrants'. Whites who were employed 'worked for their money', whereas blacks sang, danced, stole and lived off others. These were the kinds of stereotypes necessary to sustain a concept of differential exploitability in all its circularity: black people who were poor, enslaved, miserable and filthy could be paid less because 'their customs burden them with considerably fewer living expenses'.[64] It simply did not cost much to be poor, miserable and filthy.

The black elite's members were not above manipulating a similar argument in efforts to promote their interests in a world of shrinking opportunities. They claimed that contacts with Europeans had engendered in them 'different needs, different ambitions', and that unlike 'bush blacks' who 'lived in sloth', they held important jobs and aspired to even better ones.[65] They were not always able to extricate their fate from that of the poor and miserable, however. During the plague scare of 1907, for example, the shabby wood and zinc houses owned by blacks and Indians and rented to casual black labourers were summarily destroyed in the sweeping sanitation efforts despite the fact that the acknowledged source of the disease was the city's own public works barracks located at the opposite end of town.[66]

Acquiring, distributing and overseeing cheap unskilled black labour was already a principal concern for the colonial state and the local bourgeoisie by the 1890s, but the concern raised by Enes and Andrade, the 'What if . . . ?', became increasingly important during the South African War and the recession which followed quickly upon the heels of the post-war boom between 1900 and 1904. By 1907 to 1910 many of the Portuguese who had arrived in the boom years, with or without contracts, found themselves out of work. It is from this period of economic recession that the legislation and ideology of labour control began more clearly to reflect a two-pronged squeeze: pushing black males into ill-paid wage labour and keeping them out of attractive jobs coveted by whites.[67]

It was in the context of this recession that some members of the Lourenço Marques black elite formed the Grêmio Africano, took up matters of concern to their membership and to the black population as a whole, and issued a journalistic challenge to the new trends. That the ensuing struggle would encapsulate a maze of contradictions was evident from the outset: the Grêmio, having finally managed temporarily to fund a school to teach African children the Portuguese language as a first step toward the goal of unfettered citizenship, named their school after António Enes!

The engineering of inequality thus involved forcing some blacks to labour for their employer's profit so as to reap the benefits of 'civilization'. It also involved limiting the ability of educated and skilled blacks to reap the benefits of shared cultural characteristics by marketing their skills, products and property as full Portuguese citizens. Whereas the myth of equality, one of the 'civilizing mission's' stated goals, was developed to legitimize metropolitan colonial policy at many levels, the engineering of inequality was necessary to reproduce the relations of domination upon which colonial control and capitalist development increasingly came to depend. The black elite's demand for equality as Portuguese citizens struck at the heart of those relations. To square the elite's demand for equality, which was couched in the very terms of the state's ideology of equality, with employer demands for cheap and well controlled black labour, white workers' demands for privilege, and the Portuguese administration's fear that blacks with notions of equality would soon challenge white political domination, the myth of differential exploitability emerged piecemeal together with a body of legislation


which cumulatively sculpted the clearly subordinate cultural and legal categories of assimilado and indígena . The economics of assimilation were the mirror image of the economics of indigenization: domination articulated in terms of shared and non-shared cultural characteristics.

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