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Caviar, Kalashnikovs and FRELIMO

by on July 27, 2012

We at Ruth First project have been reading a book by Nadja Manghezi  called The Maputo Connection. The book starts from an ambitious standpoint. People who participated in the anti-Apartheid movement and who lived in Maputo were interviewed in order to tell about their experiences in Mozambique in that period.

The author finds herself in perfect position to write a book of this nature because she lived and participated in the most events within the community of southern African revolutionaries – and western Marxist intellectuals – who found Maputo a perfect launch pad for their anti-Apartheid activities.

The Maputo Connection gives a picture of a space in which the physical abandonment by the Portuguese colonial home owners allowed Mozambicans and international socialist organisations and individuals to dream of an alternative society based on Marxist-Leninist model.

I really liked the way in which Nadja Manghezi manages to put forward the human and humorous side of the revolution. I found that the strength of her book was to be able to put on the record the experiences of people not directly involved in anti-Apartheid activities, such as the children whose parents where revolutionaries, or their partners, and Mozambicans  who were not  involved directly with the work of this group of cooperantes.

Cooperantes is a Mozambican word describing foreign workers, activists, and other non- Mozambicans  who come to help rebuild the new independent  Mozambique. The group of cooperantes on which the book tends to focus was based in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique (where most of the activities of the ANC intellectual wing where based) and Matola, which is located just outside Maputo which accommodated the military wing of the ANC, known as “Umkhonto we Sizwe”.

The book starts by narrating the circumstances in which these two movements (ANC and FRELIMO) come together on a joint mission to fight against the Apartheid regime. It is in this relationship which we would like to focus this inaugural series on the blog.

Page 99 of the book The Maputo Connection gives us an extract of a quasi-anecdotal episode which I think is useful for the reader of our blog to know that life in Maputo was also full of laughter and ignorance:

 “Once, when Sue Rabkin was there [Marcelino Dos Santos’ house] she saw Palmela’s  cat eating something black on its plate. She looked closer and found the cat eating caviar. She screamed, what is this cat eating? Pamela explained that they got tonnes of caviar from the Soviet Union and nobody in the leadership [FRELIMO] liked it very much. So what else to give it to the cat? Sue looked at her and asked, ‘Pam, what do you need?’ ‘Well, I cannot cook without potatoes and onion. For each kilo we give you, you give us a kilo of caviar’, and so it was. Internal House boomed with caviar enough to take as presents everywhere, and  Pamela was able to cook her favourite meals!”

 I quite like this episode because that demonstrated exactly the kind of priority the Soviets attached to a post-independence country.

Read more from the archive about Ruth’s time in Mozambique here.


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