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Kronos

On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
Print version ISSN 0259-0190

Abstract

FERNANDES, Carlos. History writing and state legitimisation in postcolonial Mozambique: the case of the History Workshop, Centre for African Studies, 1980-1986. Kronos [online]. 2013, vol.39, n.1, pp.131-157. ISSN 2309-9585.

This article discusses, through an examination of the work of the Oficina de História of the Centre for African Studies (CEA) at Eduardo Mondlane University, the politics of historical production and nation-state building in post-Independence Mozambique and the ambivalent position in which CEA historians were placed within that intellectual and political context. This ambivalence is in relation to two main assumptions, which can only be understood in the specific historical context of FRELIMO's strategy for socialist construction. First, the CEA researchers were well aware of their role as critical historians and fought to exercise it at the Centre. Second, they were intellectually engaged in producing a new historical narrative of FRELIMO's liberation war and the liberated zones. This meant not only producing a counter-narrative to the colonial historiography (writing 'history from below', rescuing the 'voices' of the Mozambican people etc.), but also producing a strategy to legitimise FRELIMO's hegemonic project in the post-independence period. It was in the intersection between the social production of historical knowledge and the perpetuation of FRELIMO's worldview that the historians at CEA were able to safeguard and exercise their perceived role as critical historians, opening a new form of historical inquiry in Mozambique: a history of the present, at once critical and policy-oriented. Put differently, the CEA historians were able to safeguard and exercise their critical role, not on the sensitive, controversial and dangerous terrain of writing the history of FRELIMO's liberation war and the 'liberated zones', but on the writing of the history of the present en route to socialism. As they would claim, it was not possible to understand the past unless you could understand the present. With this shift these historians were able to 'escape' from simply becoming 'trapped' by their intellectual commitment to the power elite. This was done by their use of a kind of 'double-speak' that first spoke critically about the present in relation to the historical experience of the liberation war and the 'liberated zones', and, secondly, that worked critically to review other historical productions about Mozambique as a way to criticise FRELIMO's totalising approach to the national historical narrative of Mozambique.

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