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versión On-line ISSN 2309-9585
versión impresa ISSN 0259-0190

Kronos vol.39 no.1 Cape Town ene. 2013




Constructing a history of independent Mozambique, 1974-1982: a study in photography1



Drew A. Thompson

Bard College




The taking and publication of photographs played an important role in Mozambique's independence and in the years after 1975. As settlers departed Mozambique in the wake of riots and the Portuguese handover of power, the newly independent government, Frelimo, assumed control of abandoned commercial studios and other photographic equipment. Frelimo used legal and technical distinctions to create a group of photographers who traveled with and photographed its leader President Machel, while the other photographers, lumped under the heading 'commercial', were responsible for studio portraits also known as headshots. In one respect, press photographs allowed Frelimo to document and transmit its political ideologies to public audiences. In another respect, commercial studio portraits, which individuals carried on identification cards in their wallets, permitted Frelimo to categorise populations as employed versus unemployed or as possible enemies of the state. These contrasting forms of image making illuminate the reality that Frelimo supplemented the 'more positive' political power represented through press photographs of President Machel with 'more negative' forces of self-identification and public shaming. This article uses photographs and oral histories with photographers, journalists and government leaders to explore the inter-relationship between press and commercial photography from 1974 to 1982, a time of transition for the Frelimo government from a liberation movement into a political party. By exploring the uneasy and tenuous relationship that ensued between institutions and technologies that supported photography's practice in Mozambique, this article considers how Frelimo's control over photography - and photographers' own compliance - impacted on the historical and visual representation of Mozambique's independence.




The taking and the publication of photographs played a role in how events involving Mozambique's independence unfolded. After ten years of combat, representatives from Portugal and the liberation movement, Frente da Libertação de Moçambique (The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, Frelimo2), gathered in Lusaka, Zambia over the first days of September 1974. Faced with mounting international pressure and popular dissent at home, Portugal entered the meeting with the goal of negotiating a ceasefire. For Frelimo, Mozambique's full independence was the only option. On September 7, 1974, Portugal and Frelimo announced the terms of the transfer of power - the Lusaka Accord - that would culminate in Mozambique's independence. However, within hours of receiving news of the agreement, and presumably as photographs and articles of the meeting started to reach newsstands, anti-independence militants, known as 'Dragons of Death', raided Mozambique's national radio station in the capital city of Lourenco Marques.3 Factions opposed to Mozambique's independence sought to delegitimise Frelimo's rise to power by using media reports and photographs to advocate for rioting and the victimisation of blacks.

In the days after the start of the unrest, the exiled group Frelimo and its sympathisers, many of whom staffed the editorial boards of Mozambique's media agencies, used the workings of photographic images to transmit Frelimo's political ideology. Ten days after the Lusaka Accord, the daily newspaper, A Tribuna, printed a headline that was a statement by the incoming Prime Minister, Joaquim Chissano, who would be responsible for the transition of power: 'We [Frelimo] will admit nothing against democracy'. The sub-headline read, 'Reaffirming the anti-racial political line and the proposition of no interference in other countries'.4 The same article included two photographs, which according to their captions depicted a press conference in Lourenço Marques that included delegations from the Republic of Portugal, the Organisation of the African Union and Tanzania (Figure 1). Four days later, on September 21, 1974, A Tribuna reported, 'Frelimo is an organisation destined for all of Mozambique without distinction of race, colour or belief', a direct quote from the soon-to-be President, Samora Machel, who was then speaking to the diplomatic corps in Tanzania (Figure 2).5 The article also contained the headshots of the transition government that Frelimo later claimed represented all the ethnicities and races in Mozambique (Figure 3). Inside their front pages, A Tribuna and other daily papers featured editorials titled, 'Who's afraid of Frelimo' and 'With Eyes to the Future: Calm Reasons to Stay in Mozambique', each of which included photographs of white settlers and text that detailed their frustrations with being 'confused with' colonisers.6 Editorial boards frequently published headlines and pictures that characterised Frelimo as anti-racist and anti-discriminatory, and, before and after Mozambique's official independence, Frelimo was keen to situate its power within this particular rhetoric.







From the time of the liberation struggle in Mozambique (ca. 1964), Frelimo claimed that it was not biased against whites. As evidence of this position, officials emphasised that Frelimo's effort to liberate Mozambique was not a war against the Portuguese people but instead was one against the institution of colonialism. And after independence, Frelimo invited many white natives and settlers, such as José Forjaz, to remain in Mozambique. Almost thirty-five years after this event, Forjaz, who served in the colonial Portuguese military before participating in Frelimo's solidarity effort, reflected, 'It was not easy [at and after independence] to have the knowledge that you belonged for so many years to an oppressive class and race and suddenly [Frelimo] would come and embrace you and ask you to stay. It was difficult to accept for most people and most people were not enlightened [to the political situation]'.7 But, despite what appeared to some in the outside world as an olive branch, this rhetoric of anti-racism was one dimension of a much larger strategy through which Frelimo's ruling elites visualised and pronounced Frelimo's power and legitimacy first, as a liberation movement and later as an independent governing authority.

Shortly after Mozambique's official independence in June 1975, Frelimo integrated the photographic technologies and studios abandoned by departing settlers into a governing bureaucracy that mirrored the one constructed by the Portuguese. According to Jorge Rebelo, who was to hold the position of Minister of Information at independence, 'we [Frelimo] didn't know [at independence] who [was] who.... [T]here was the risk that some journalists, sent to captivity under the colonisers, would produce some articles that would damage the image of Frelimo and independence. So, we [Frelimo] felt like we had to control the media'.8 In the same interview, Rebelo remarked, 'No, after independence, censorship continued. But now, the censors were us [Frelimo]'.9 On the one hand, Frelimo's increased control over the technology and institutions responsible for the production and distribution of photographs allowed Frelimo to establish a platform through which it could frame its public image and to identify possible enemies. However, and on the other hand, as Rebelo's quote alludes, Frelimo's oversight over its public image would fundamentally change the politics, technical logistics and technologies associated with the practice of photography in Mozambique, and, in effect, the very terms under which photographers, their subjects and audiences viewed Mozambique's past as a colony and its future as an independent nation.

At one level, this article uses the tenuous relationship of photographic technologies and the very institutions that supported photography's practice in Mozambique as one context to consider how press photographers managed the dissonance that ensued from 1974 to 1982 between the material, discursive and ideological realities of Frelimo's political project. At another level, this text brings the perspective of commercial studio photographers and their subjects into the picture. In his article, 'The Black Photo Album', photographer Santu Mofokeng writes of how portraits of black subjects in apartheid South Africa were critiques of the more visible documentary photography.10 After colonial rule in Mozambique, studio portraits by commercial photographers continued their function of critique and opposition. This particular line of inquiry into the roles of the press and commercial photography builds on an existing body of literature on Frelimo's struggle for political legitimacy after Mozambique's independence, not only through the use of memory and violence, but also the manipulation of images.11 Where this article dovetails and advances this literature is with respect to an exploration of how and why people internalised a certain way of seeing Frelimo's political ideology. Unlike João Paolo Borges Coelho, who argues that Frelimo's liberation struggle and proclamation of victory over the Portuguese was largely verbal, I assert that cameras, films, photographs and even the opportunity of having an individual's image taken were realities of daily life before and after independence.12 In fact, the technological limitations and possibilities that photography presented in 1974 to Frelimo, photographers, their subjects and audiences were critical to the documentation and preservation of the unfolding of Mozambique's history as both a colony and independent state. Furthermore, the press and commercial photographers that practiced in this period have since appropriated photography's technical and visual aspects to reflect on their lives in relation to Mozambique's history. Thus, the study of photography presented here is also a study of the different, sometimes oppositional, political practices in which photographs became inserted and reworked in highly complicated, changing and even contradicting histories of colonialism and liberation.

This article deals with two types of photographers and their images: commercial and press. I first highlight the legal procedures and conditions under which Frelimo assumed control over the practice of photography in Mozambique, and I consider how the institutions that resulted from this transition ended the previous overlap between press and commercial photography. As Louis Marin makes clear in his article, 'Classical, Baroque: Versailles, or the Architecture of the Prince, the picturing of political leaders does not only entail their portraits.13 Therefore, in the second section, I recreate the assemblage of narratives, discourses, entourages and processions through which Frelimo and its press photographers attempted to transform President Machel into an image of power. At the same time, Frelimo's ideological agendas required it to generate more negative forces of power. In one instance, the state used headshots to identify Mozambicans as employed or unemployed. The final section unpacks the interrelatedness of press and commercial photography, specifically focusing on the ways that commercial photographers adjusted their practice to the technological and political conditions that Frelimo created through the photographic image of Machel and the ways that the subjects of portraits responded to Frelimo using their images as forms of identification and shaming. Read together, these sections illuminate Frelimo's effort to use the production and circulation of studio and press photographs to control the desired and unexpected outcomes of its efforts to seek legitimacy and control over Mozambique.


Nationalization: Recreating the Conditions for Photography's Practice

Until Mozambique's independence, photographic technologies circulated freely and widely. However afterwards, supply shortages disrupted the social and commercial relationships previously made possible by the proliferation of photographic supplies and images. In the wake of political protests that greeted the transition of power over Mozambique, the newly independent government assumed direct control over abandoned commercial studios and the technology associated with press and commercial photography. In fact, Frelimo's jurisdiction over the institutions necessary to practice photography in Mozambique predated the formalised nationalization scheme of 1977. Settler departures, as well as nationalization, would change the nature of sovereignty and the forms in which political power appeared.

Settler departures restructured the backdrop against which photographers practiced photography after 1975. Before independence, commercial studios individually arranged the financial capital for contracts with supply distributors like Kodak, Agfa and Cannon.14 For example, the studio Foto Portuguesa partnered with Fuji films, and Foto Focus, known as the first studio to use colour films, imported the Italian brand Ferrania. At independence, the financial capital, political authority and physical mobility necessary to access and import supplies no longer existed. One reason for these supply shortages was that mounting tensions between Mozambique and its neighbours, Rhodesia and South Africa where Kodak and Fuji maintained their Southern Africa distribution centres, made it difficult for supplies to travel to Mozambique. In fact, after 1976, an imposed embargo and border closing between Mozambique and Rhodesia, the result of Rhodesian attacks on Mozambique, halted these transactions altogether. Another cause was that, in an effort to 'assure normal distribution and to respect the legitimate interest of the public consumer, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce prohibited people that wanted to 'abandon' Mozambique from exporting their electronics, photographic equipment and cinematic materials.15 Under this law the government, not practicing photographers, had access to confiscated materials.

After 1975, Frelimo's control over the supplies accessible in Mozambique created new demands on photographers just as possibilities were arising for the integration of photographic equipment into Frelimo's governing structures. Unable to liquidate their holdings, many commercial studio owners left their supplies to their workers or abandoned their businesses. Under Article 3 of the Decreto-Lei No. 16/75 (The Decreed Law No. 16/75), Frelimo justified its confiscation of privately owned businesses for any range of reasons, including improper divestment of funds, poor performance, unjustified staff reductions and/or abandonment.16 An example of the use of this power occurred on August 21, 1976 when the Ministry of Industry and Commerce published a dispatch in the Boletim da República (The Bulletin of the Republic) announcing the suspension of activities at two of colonial Mozambique's leading commercial studios, Foto Focus and Foto Portuguesa. Frelimo, per a correspondence on August 1976, appointed a panel to oversee the state's acquisition and dismantling of Foto Focus and Foto Portuguesa.17

In 1975 and 1976, Frelimo did not dismantle the newspapers and governing structures implemented by the Portuguese. One example of the persistence of colonial structures was that Frelimo announced in February 1975 the integration of the Portuguese department of the Serviços de Centralização e Coordenação de Informação (Service of the Centralization and Coordination of Information, SCCI) into the Ministry of Internal Administration.18 The SCCI previously housed the Portuguese secret police and both press censorship and the production of propaganda for the colonial administration. Five months later, in July 1975 and under the Portaria No. 119/75, Frelimo created the Ministry of Information, which was similar to the SCCI.19 And in November of 1975, the Ministry of Information, in conjunction with the Office of the President, announced the development of three sub-divisions within the Ministry of Information: the National Directorate of Information, the National Institute of Book and Disk, and the National Directorate of Propaganda and Publicity, all of which oversaw the then newly formed Mozambique News Agency (AIM), the National Service of Cinema and a training facility for media professionals, the Service of Professional Training.20 As it was modifying old colonial structures and developing new arm