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9— 'We are all Portuguese!' Challenging the Political Economy of Assimilation: Lourenco Marques, 1870–1933
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The Paralysis of Elite Black Opposition in the 1930s

Although the promulgation of assimilation legislation thus initially forged a revitalized return to basic issues among the black elite, it also was soon to reveal the growing weaknesses and divisions within it and lead ultimately to the collapse of the elite's opposition to assimilation. Changes in three key areas affecting their material condition increased tensions both within the black elite and between that elite and their white colleagues during the Republican era as a whole and, particularly, between 1913 and 1925. These were, first, changes in the availability of local patronage; second, changes in the availability and perceived usefulness of local education; and, third, changes in the economic position of the local elite's members.

Every important political change in the metropole brought in its wake 'an invasion of place-seekers' hoping to exploit metropolitan political sympathies and connections to secure a post in the colony's patronage-ridden civil service.[118] With the consequent decline in political patronage controlled by local figures went the protection and relative advantage enjoyed by their local black clients. Throughout the Republican era (1910–1926), demands for technical qualifications and inadequate patronage links increasingly stood between the black elite and a position or promotion in the civil service. Well before the strident nationalism and economic crises of the early Salazar era facilitated the implementation of explicit legal protection for white Portuguese workers and business people in the 1930s, Republican social programmes and the ascendance of metropolitan centred patronage networks protected the establishment and reproduction of white Portuguese privilege.

Immigrants from the metropole and people with family in the metropole (with whom they could board their children for schooling) also benefited from an increasingly important educational advantage. The anti-clericalism of the early Republican period undermined the position of local missionaries, many of whom had been important patrons for both the Protestant and Catholic elite. In 1913 the Republicans abolished mission schools, thus removing virtually all educational opportunities from the majority black population. The limited state-sponsored alternatives to mission schools were increasingly tailored to please the growing Portuguese population. Although Lourenço Marques was the centre for educational opportunities in the colony, by 1926 secondary education was still very limited. Liceu (secondary school) 5 de Outubro, opened in 1910, had matriculated only 16 mixed race students and none listed as African by 1926. As late as the 1940s the number of black Mozambicans with advanced degrees could be counted on the fingers of one hand.[119]

In the late 1920s education became an issue of direct concern to the editors of the Brado Africano . The press law of 3 September 1926 revised qualifications for the directors of colonial newspapers—directors had to hold a bachelor's degree and could not be public functionaries. Since no one in the Grêmio could now qualify to direct the newspaper, a series of sympathetic Portuguese assumed titular direction while Grêmio members continued as de facto directors. The law, enacted shortly after the coup which overthrew the Republic, had a dramatic impact on journalism in the colony as a whole, cutting the number of newspapers published from 97 to 42.[120] It was an early bellwether of the tighter and more


systematic controls to be implemented later by Salazar's young New State in the crisis atmosphere of the Depression.

The undermining of mission education and prestige, the increasing size and political influence of newly arrived white Portuguese settlers, and the consequent decline of local networks of patronage in the increasingly important civil service, all sharply curbed the advantages which members of the black elite had enjoyed. But there was also another factor working to change the elite's perception of their position in Mozambique. Mozambique used two currencies: a currency linked to the British pound sterling and a paper currency in escudos. Being paid in the currency linked to sterling was a privilege related to one's legal civil status. The Republican decision to enter World War I and its pattern of gross political and economic mismanagement in later years contributed to the effective halving of the value of the escudo against the pound between 1914 and 1917.[121] By 1924 the pound reached twenty-four times its 1914 value in escudos, and the escudo was still falling (see Graph 3).[122] It became crucially important, therefore, to receive one's salary in inflation-resistant and commercially acceptable gold-based currency rather than in rapidly depreciating escudo bank notes. In this situation blacks who resisted being classed as 'assimilated' risked being paid in escudos and seeing their wages swallowed up by the pace of inflation and the escudo's declining value. It was a heavy price, and not all members of the elite judged themselves to be in a position to carry on the challenge to assimilation.

Figure 9.3
Pound value in escudos—Lourenço Marques, 1914–1933

The state experienced resistance to assimilation legislation, but it also reaped the benefit of a further divided elite. Those Africans who ultimately judged the cost of resistance too high suffered the humiliation of applying for assimilation status—as application was seen to be a concession of weakness—and felt resentment towards those who were still in a position to ignore the law. Those who ignored the law, in turn, resented those whom they perceived as 'selling out' by


complying with the law. The mutual recriminations tended to highlight the surviving advantages enjoyed by some mulattoes over most Africans. Elite mulattoes still had some family ties in the white community among prominent people. The great majority of applications for assimilation under the law of 1917, and the slightly more strict successor laws dating from 1919, were filed by Africans, the not mulattoes. Assimilation records show that African Grêmio members petitioned for assimilation in this period, whereas the adult generation of the mulatto Grêmio members did not.[123] Some mulattoes quietly ignored the law and went about their business much as they had as informally exempted persons,

Significantly, the first important split among the Grêmio elite dates from this period. J. T. Chembene, Samson Chambala, Lindstrom Matite and Benjamin Moniz, mostly Protestants and all members of the Grêmio before this period, withdrew and began to publish a paper, entitled Dambu dja Africa, under the editorship of Chembene and Moniz. The paper, published largely in the Rjonga language, ceased publication in 1922. Chembene moved to South Africa, and Moniz and several others resumed their regular contributions to the Ronga, Shangaan and Zulu sections of the Grêmio newspapers. The rift did not disappear, however, and by the early 1930s many of the earlier splinter group were associated with the foundation of the Institute Negrófilo, later called the Centro Associativo dos Negros de Moçambique.[124]

Subsequent legislation, particularly dating from the early New State era, made be ignoring the law increasingly costly by firmly linking mobility and earning power to 'native' and 'non-native' civil status. Employment in certain categories, consideration for certain apprenticeships, the right to union membership and to family bonuses were all eventually determined by civil status. There was increasing incentive to accept the special badge of assimilation at the same time that qualifications for assimilation were being tightened.

The challenge to assimilation was lost in part as soon as the assimilation laws were promulgated in full and important sectors of the elite felt obliged to apply for their badge, the álvara de assimilação . The challenge faded still further with the untimely death of João Albasini in 1922. His colleagues Estácio Dias and José Albasini continued to pursue the issue of black civil rights with regard to labour abuses, particularly in the wake of the scandals occasioned in the mid-1920s when the Ross Report described labour conditions close to slavery in Angola and Mozambique, but the tenor of the debate changed qualitatively. The change was partly because the Grêmio's members considered the assimilation legislation promulgated between 1917 and 1922 to have been revoked by 1923–1924 'upon reconsideration of their effect and in view of the protests raised against them'. When similar, indeed more strenuous, assimilation legislation was proposed in 1927, they were once again aroused. They confronted the government council with a petition signed by 154 people insisting that the matter of assimilation be dropped once and for all.[125]

The serious and persistent cycle of inflation and the shocking dismantling of white port and railway workers' benefits with the bitter strike of 1925–1926, however, raised economic and social tensions within the city. The overthrow of the Portuguese Republic in 1928 and the rapid slide from recession to Depression between 1927 and 1933 ushered in a wave of alarming economic measures, from the replacement of thousands of casual workers at the port by chibaro gangs to the promulgation of racist hiring quotas to promote white Portuguese interests in the crush of widespread unemployment. The Grêmio continued its formal objections, increasingly in private petitions and correspondence rather than editorials, but its leadership became progressively fragmented and disillusioned. These were very


heavy straws to place on an already weakened camel's back.[126]

As the elite leadership's challenge flagged and racist domination took on increasingly painful aspects penetrating to all sectors of the elite, individuals and groups within the elite struggled within their diminishing arena of action to secure their own positions. Disunity amongst members reigned. Tensions in the 1920s emerged in part from personal animosities, but were greatly exacerbated by the impact of tying salary bonuses, the currency in which one was paid, and fringe benefits to one's legal civil status. By the 1930s, however, the full weight of hard times set people scrambling for their very jobs, homes, and futures.[127] The divisions wrought in those circumstances left permanent scars on that generation.[128] By the late 1930s the public self-confidence and ebullient challenges typical of the bright elite of the early Republican period had been replaced by a sickening servility. The challenge of claiming what was one's due as a Portuguese citizen had been replaced by unsolicited assurances of gratitude for minor concessions from an unpredictable patron state.[129]

The cumulative impact of the elite's few victories and its many compromises and defeats was that the generation coming of age in the mid-1930s was faced with a polar crystallization of white privilege and black subordination, of white solidarity and black disunity, which could scarcely have been imagined by the previous generation. The complex combination of factors, both within and beyond the elite's control, had moulded changes which meant that the elite, far from wedding itself to a burgeoning prosperity as full citizens, could only hope to be the most prosperous of the colony's increasingly oppressed and impoverished majority: 'men make their own history, but not under conditions of their choosing'.[130]

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