Content on this page:

- African Kingdoms
- Vasco da Gama
- Portuguese settlements
- Colony and slavery
- Worst living conditions...
- Fascist regime
- Growing resistance
- Fighting for freedom
- End of fascists- end of war
- Big changes in short time
- Formation of Renamo
- Civil war
- New pragmatic tunes
- Elections
- Reconciliation

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- Mozambique (overview)
- Photos: Mozambique 1937
- African History
- Desmond Tutu

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- Cameroon history
- Ghana timeline
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A history of Mozambique
A history of Mozambique
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Confronting Leviathan: Mozambique Since Independence
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A Complicated War: The Harrowing of Mozambique
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Mozambique Timeline

A time line overview of big and small events in the history of Mozambique

Stone age: South East Africa is inhabited by ancestors to the San- and Khoikhoi people. Most people in the region live as hunters and gatherers.

From year 300 A.D.: Overpopulation and ecological changes in the Sahara region of Africa, results in immigration of Bantu tribes to more southern areas. The Bantu people, settling in what we today know as Mozambique, gradually forces out the original inhabitants and brings the region into the iron age. The new people also starts agriculture.

African Kingdoms

Around year 1000: Bantu speaking clans grows into larger groups which again develops to kingdoms and empires all over East Africa. The Bantu's also starts connections with Arab, Persian and Asian traders settling at the coast. Objects from India/Asia are traded for African gold, ivory, shells and skins.

1200-1400: Mozambique does not exist as a unified country, but as numerous kingdoms. The region is divided with natural boundaries by the two great rivers: Zambezi and Limpopo. The area north of Zambezi river is dominated by the kingdoms of Makua, Yao, Maravi and others. These groups are again organised in several more or less integrated sub-groups. The Shona Empire rules between the two rivers and this area later again becomes known as the kingdom of Zimbabwe. Most of the impressive stone buildings known as Great Zimbabwe are situated in today's State of Zimbabwe. South of Limpopo several Thonga kingdoms develops during the 1400's.

1400's: The Zimbabwe kingdom are followed by the Monomatapa empire. The Monomatapa empire posses rich goldmines, which are later, by Europeans, believed to be the legendary mines of King Salomon.

All along the coastline of East Africa, the Arab traders have settled and Islam is having a huge impact. The new mixed Islamic-African culture is known as Swahili.

Vasco da Gama

1498: Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reaches the shores of Mozambique with four ships. They are well received in Maputo and then sails on to the town of Mozambique. He is surprised to find a developed society with trade, monetary economy, wealthy merchants and sheikhs. There are also sailors who possessed the knowledge he was looking for: the sea-route to India. The Portuguese needs to do a little "shopping", but they don't have much to trade with and tensions grows between the Swahili people and their European guests. The town are plundered and bombed as Vasco da Gama sails of (He surely isn't much of a diplomat and makes more enemies than friends on this first visit in East Africa). From Malindi in Kenya he finally continues towards India. (See also Kenya Timeline.)

1500: Vasco da Gama returns to Mozambique with more ships and weapons. His intention is to take over control of the region. The Portuguese fleet arrives and within a few years the Portuguese is in charge of all trade. To achieve this they destroy most of the Islamic-African civilisation in military campaigns. All towns and city states not willing to surrender to Portuguese terms, are attacked. The Portuguese three-point trade is in function (India-Africa-Europe).

The Europeans justifies the violence and killings as a Christian crusade against Islamic influence. Vasco da Gama himself ordered destruction of a ship carrying 380 Muslim pilgrims (unarmed men, women and children). Stories of these hostile acts reached far into the Arab world with no good promises for the future.

Portuguese settlements

1600's: After staying at the coast, the Portuguese now tries to reach further into the continent. Explorations starts from the Zambezi river. As more land are "discovered" Portuguese farmers are encouraged to settle in the country. The Portuguese can now grab whatever land he wants and make his own private kingdom and army, as long as he pays the "Prazo" tax to the Portuguese crown. The farmer paying Prazo (the "prazeros") also gains the rights to use the people in his territory for labour. This way an effective way for Portugal to expand it's influence in the area, but it also made Portugal dependent on the Prazeros.

1698: After loosing Mombasa and the Kenyan coast to the Arabs, Portugal concentrates on their possessions further south.

1700's: As one of the few places in Africa it becomes common for the Portuguese landlords to adapt some degree of the African culture. Many settlers weds local, African women. The settlers become more "Africanised" and they refuse paying taxes to Portugal. Arab and Indian traders on the coast regains some of their power as control from Portugal are weakened.

Maize and cassava are being introduced by the Portuguese in most of Africa.

Colony and Slavery

1752: Portugal announces that Mozambique is now their colony. The slave trade starts.

1787: The Portuguese raise a fort in Lourenço Marques and a town starts to develop around it.

1800's: Slaves has become a major part of trade since the late 1700's. Most slaves from Mozambique are sent to French sugar plantations in Reunion and Mauritius as well as the Portuguese plantations in Brazil. The Portuguese slave trade blooms when Great Britain bans it. Approximately 1 million slaves are shipped from Mozambique during the 1800's. Conflicts between different African groups breaks out as some tribes are hunted while other groups functions as slave traders.

Mid 1800's: The Monomatapa empire finally collapses under the continuing pressure from both Portugal and the new generation of Arab traders. Nguni people from South Africa takes over the Thonga kingdoms (south of Zambezi) and forms the Gaza empire.

1869: Portugal officially abolishes slavery, but the cruel trade with humans goes on in Mozambique until around 1900.

1878: Portugal can only control the Southern part of the country and chooses to lease out large territories in the North to trading companies, many of which is British. Britain and Germany had threatened to take over control of the colony, and this is the only solution for Portugal to hold on to their power.

Slavery is on return, but forced labour, known as "Chibalo", are used by these companies on plantations and for construction of roads and later railways.

1884-85: The European countries splits up Africa at the Berlin conference. Portugal claims all the land between Mozambique on the east coast and Angola on the west coast. But the country is not among the strongest European countries and has to settle with less. The "scramble for Africa" has begun.

Portuguese East Africa are dominated by those Bantu kingdoms who had gained from the slave trade. Other groups has been more or less wiped out. A few Portuguese traders, officials and military are still in some of the coastal cities, but without much power and almost without contact to Portugal.

1886: A railway is being build to connect Transvaal with the city Lourenço Marques. Gold has been found in the Boer-republic of Transvaal (South Africa)

1891: Portugal and Britain signs a treaty which lays out the current borders of Mozambique.

The Gaza empire in the south were among the Africans to gain from the slave trade. The empire now has considerable political power and does it's best to resist all kinds of Portuguese influence in the area. The resistance is carried out with both acts of violence, trade and diplomacy. Other kingdoms are also fighting the colonisers, but the different tribes and people never manages put away their internal disputes and join forces.

1895: Gungunhanas, the last emperor of the Gaza empire is captured by the Portuguese and deported to the Azores.

Worst living conditions in Africa

1907: Portugal moves the colonial capital of Mozambique from Ilha de Moçambique (the Mozambique Island) to Lourenço Marques. The new capital has a population of approx. 5,000. Most political and economic activities in Mozambique are also transferred to the south.

1915: After the fall of the Gaza empire Portugal finally has military and political control of all Portuguese East Africa. For the first time all kingdoms and territories of Mozambique are under the same rule.

Three big trading companies are managing half of Portuguese East Africa. The companies owns all rights to agriculture and mining in their area. They can also claim taxes from the local population, who are forced to work on the plantations. Approx. 100.000 Mozambicans are forced to work in the gold mines of Transvaal (South Africa). Life conditions in the colony are so bad, that many Africans choose to cross the borders to the neighbouring British colonies.

Fascist regime

1926: A fascist coup turns Portugal into a military dictatorship. António Oliveira Salazar comes to power, and this means an even more tight grip on the African population and more widely use of forced labour.

The new Portuguese government has close ties with the white governments in neighbouring countries Rhodesia and South Africa. Roads and railways are built to give the neighbours access to the big ports in Mozambique. Due to poor administration by Portugal, most profit are made by Rhodesia and S.A. Portugal completely neglects to develop Mozambique or make any kinds of social progress for the inhabitants. Schools and hospitals are only for the Portuguese citizens.

1932: Portugal takes over a more direct control of the colony, and decides to cancel all agreements with the foreign trading companies. The fascists wants to get all possible profits directly to the Portuguese so-called "new state".

The Salazar government encourages primarily poor Portuguese people to immigrate to the Mozambican colony. The population grows rapidly in Mozambique, but most of the new inhabitants are only bringing even more social problems to the area.

The Portuguese government rules the colony through a racist system similar to the South African apartheid. Schools are still only for the Portuguese population. It is forbidden by law for Africans to make any kind of business and the majority are forced to hard and dangerous labour on farms, in mines and in cotton production.

The catholic church expresses a commitment to educate the Africans. But only on their own conditions which includes obligatory Christianity and support to the fascist regime. Mozambicans can only avoid being used as forced labour by becoming "assimilados" –meaning that they willingly give up their own culture and indigenous beliefs. These assimilados are (at least in theory) allowed to get basic education. Among the requirements are that the Africans has to wear shoes, eat with fork and knife and prove that they are not sleeping on the floor! Only very few chooses this humiliating solution to solve their misery.

Growing resistance

1959-1960: Groups of African farmers in the province of Capo Delgado forms co-operatives to run their own business. The leaders are imprisoned within short time.

June 16, 1960: Government gunfire kills more than 500 participants in a peaceful demonstration in Mueda (Capo Delgado). "The Mueda Massacre" only inspires more to strive for independence.

In the early sixties most African nations are gaining their independence. But both South Africa and Rhodesia are run by a white minority. Portugal does not intend to give up power in Mozambique and Angola, which are still the least developed of the African colonies. Mozambican resistance movements are formed in the neighbouring countries of Malawi, Tanzania and Rhodesia. Opposition also starts to form among students in Lisbon and Paris.

1961: Forced labour (Chibalo) is at last abolished in Mozambique. This is probably done by the government to show a sign of "good will".

1962: After independence of Tanzania, the Mozambican resistance are centralised from Dar Es Salaam with support of president Julius Nyerere. The newly formed organisation gets the name FRELIMO (the Front for Liberation of Mozambique). President of Frelimo is Eduardo Mondlane, but internal struggles for power in the organisation continues in the following years. It is agreed upon that freedom for Mozambique can not be gained through peaceful methods.

Fighting for freedom

September 25, 1964: The first shot is fired in the freedom fight against the Portuguese regime which still shows no sign of retreating from Mozambique. A military post in the Cabo Delgado province are attacked. Within short time Capo Delgado and Niassa are under Frelimo control. That is guerilla forces with support from the local farmers.

1966: Most provinces in the northern Mozambique are now liberated from Portuguese control.

1969: Eduardo Mondlane is killed by a bomb in Dar Es Salaam. The assassinators are from PIDE, the secret police of the Portuguese fascist rule. Samora Moïses Machel follows Mondlane as president of Frelimo.

Portugal is sending more soldiers to Mozambique to hit back on the resistance. The government also gets support and weapons from NATO. Both the Portuguese colonies and apartheid South Africa are considered to be "friends of the West" during the cold war.

End of fascists - end of war

April 1974: Portugal and its fascist regime is weakened from the colonial wars in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. This finally leads to a military coup. The changes in Portugal helps Frelimo to gain power in Mozambique and it becomes legal for Africans to form political parties. Frelimo convinces the new Portuguese military government that it is ready to take over control of Mozambique.

September 7, 1974: Samora Machel of Frelimo agrees on a cease-fire with the Portuguese minister of foreign affairs. The agreement also includes independence of Mozambique with a Frelimo based transitional government.

June 25, 1975: Mozambique becomes independent. Samora Machel is the first president in a Frelimo single-party system. The capital changes its name from Lourenco Marques to Maputo.

Inspired by the situation in Rhodesia, some Portuguese settlers try a coup d'etat against Frelimo. The coup fails when put down by united forces from Frelimo and Portugal.

Portugal pulls out of the country within short time, leaving Mozambique in chaos. Frelimo fails to convince the white settlers that the new republic has room for everyone. Within short time most of the white settlers has left Mozambique and what they see as a terrorist government. On their retreat many settelers choose to destroy as much as they can (houses, livestock, cars, infrastructure and machinery) to prevent others from using it. In many ways the Portuguese settlers leaves a gap behind, which can not easily be filled by a population without education and a government without experience. To some extend Frelimo tries to prove that it is not anti-European or racist by offering remaining white people posts in the government and administration.

Big changes in short time

Frelimo and the new Mozambique has hard work ahead. The government immediately starts to form a new society with very radical changes: Local committees are formed all over the country to restart industry and farming and to solve other kind of practical problems. All farmland and houses are expropriated. High priority are given to education. Private schools and hospitals are made public. Banks and companies are nationalised. All development are dictated from the top of Frelimo in fast pace. Probably too fast.

March 1976: Mozambique closes its borders to Rhodesia and starts support of ZANU (Zimbabwean African National Union). ZANU is fighting Ian Smith and his white minority regime in Rhodesia.

1977: The socialist wing of Frelimo gains more power. The party is now Marxist-Leninist and makes new plans after Soviet model. Many of the new doctrines are in conflict with traditional African beliefs and society. F. ex. Frelimo is working for women's liberation, against the system of bridal price and does not approve of polygamy. Members of Frelimo are not allowed to belong to a church and the many traditional healers are not accepted. These sudden changes to a very traditionally bound society came as a shock to many and gave Frelimo new enemies.

Mozambique receives economic support to the state farming from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the Nordic Countries. Politically, the country is supported mainly by the Soviet block and therefore considered as a threat by Rhodesia, South Africa, USA and the NATO alliance. The governments of Rhodesia and South Africa tries by all means to destabilise Mozambique.

Formation of RENAMO

The South African resistance movement, the African National Congress (ANC), is permitted to work in the southern Mozambique bordering S.A. To the west, Frelimo permits the Rhodesian resistance organisation ZANU to operate from bases within Mozambique. The answer from Rhodesia is the formation of MNR also known as "Renamo" (the National Resistance movement of Mozambique). Renamo is controlled by Rhodesian intelligence to fight back against ZANU inside Mozambique.

Renamo is anti-socialist and anti-Frelimo, but that is about all there is to the political programme of the new organsitaion.

Among the Renamo soldiers were several of the white people who had fled Mozambique after the independence, who saw a chance for return. More exile Mozambicans were recruited from Portugal and South Africa. Other soldiers are recruited in rural areas tempted by promises of a better life or by force. Many leaders of Renamo are has a past in Frelimo, but were kicked out of because of theft, disagreements or other crimes against the new society. Others again joins Renamo, frustrated by the hopeless situation in their country and Frelimo's incomprehensible socialist ideas. Frelimo provoked many people with their dramatic changes to society and now has many enemies. Traditional healers are also among the people joing Renamo, which cleverly takes advantage of the traditional beliefs and the common fear of witchcraft.

1979: The Renamo army now consists of 2,000 men.

1980: Many years of fighting in Rhodesia finally leads to the fall of the white regime. Robert Mugabe becomes president of the new republic of Zimbabwe. All Zimbabwean support to Renamo is stopped. The army, weapons and leadership of Renamo is transferred to South Africa shortly before the independence of Zimbabwe.

Civil war

1981: With South African support, Renamo grows to more than 7,000 men and triples within the decade. For the South African apartheid government, this is a chance to destabilise the feared "black communists" in the neighbouring countries. South Africa cuts down on the use of Mozambican mine workers and finds alternatives to the big Mozambican ports.

More and more brutal attacks are carried out in Mozambique by Renamo. Targets are everything from farms, infrastructure and industry to schools and hospitals. Some attacks are carried out by soldiers from the South African army. Every effort is made to destroy the fragile Mozambican economy. Within short time soldiers from both sides are plundering villages, killing, raping and kidnapping children and young men for their armies. There are no heroes and no civilians are spared.

1983: The Frelimo government are hit very hard by the continuing attacks and sabotage. On top of this, frequent droughts and floods in Mozambique results in widespread famine. The economy is diving and Mozambique turns to the West for financial aid for the first time. Frelimo's socialist reform programme has failed.

March 16, 1984: Governments of South Africa and Mozambique signs the "Nkomati Accord". The treaty is a promise not to support hostile acts against each others governments. Mozambique keeps their promise and closes the ANC bases, but South Africa unofficially continues their support of Renamo. The resistance army also receives financial support from right-wing movements in USA, West Germany and Portugal. Renamo moves its headquarters to Malawi.

September 1984: Frelimo changes their political strategies and applies to be accepted by IMF and the World Bank. The socialist doctrines are modified to please the new Western donors.

South African minister of foreign affairs, Pik Botha, failes an effort to mediate between Frelimo and Renamo.

October 19th, 1986: President Samora Machel dies under mysterious circumstances in a plane crash. The plane crashes into a hillside in Transvaal (S.A.) when flying from Lusaka (Zambia) to Maputo. The plane were navigating after a false signal. The signal could have been transmitted from South African military to divert the plane. More details on the crash and the investigations here: www.contrast.org/truth/html/samora_machel.html

The more pragmatic Joaquim Chissano is elected by Frelimo as new president.

1987: Malawi is finally convinced to stop its support of Renamo. It is a coalition of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Angola and Botswana putting Malawi under pressure. Approx. 10,000 Zimbabwean soldiers are fighting in the civil war on the Frelimo side.

Most people in Mozambique never realises if they are terrorised by Frelimo or Renamo. Both parts in the war are carrying out cruel attacks on civilians. People in rural Mozambique simply wants peace and a chance to go on with their lives.

New pragmatic tunes

1988: Some voices within Frelimo finally realises that the modernisation efforts and "cultural revolution" have been to drastic. The society could not function without the ancient traditions, which are now beginning to be accepted again.

September 1988: President Joaquim Chissano meets with Sout African president, P.W. Botha.

July 1989: The Marxist-Leninist doctrine of Frelimo is officially cancelled at the party's congress. Renamo still doesn't have an official political ideology except a wish for the introduction of market-economy. It becomes more and more apparent that it is not a war of ideologies. It is also clear that neither Frelimo nor Renamo can get a final military victory to end the absurd civil war.

July 1990: Protestant and catholic churches invites the parties to the first of numerous peace negotiations.

November 1990: Mozambique adopts to a new constitution allowing a multiparty system. The country changes name from the socialist inspired "Peoples Republic of Mozambique" to simply "Republic of Mozambique". State companies are once again being privatised. Freedom of speech and freedom to form political parties are now part of the Mozambican constitution.

October 4th, 1992: A new round of peace negotiations in Rome finally results in a cease-fire and peace treaty. The end of the cold war has changed the international political climate, and thereby making way for peace in Mozambique. The political changes following in South Africa also influenced. Frederik de Klerk, the new president in South Africa finally stopped the last support for Renamo, and the following ANC government surely had no warm feelings for Renamo. In Malawi, the Renamo-friendly dictator Hastings Banda were on retreat.

October 15th, 1992: The cease-fire is officially in effect. As a part of the treaty, Frelimo has to acknowledge the existence of Renamo as a political party in Mozambique. A huge effort is made to change Renamo from a guerrilla army to a responsible party of politicians.

United nations are given the main responsibility to continue the peace process. The UNOMOZ peace force moves into Mozambique to carry out the plans. Among the tasks are arranging elections and ensuring the peaceful return of refugees. Both parties are exhausted by the long war and sincerely wants peace in the country. A new united army of Mozambique are formed with a force of only 10,000 men.

Life slowly returns to abandoned towns all over the country. Friends, neighbours and family members were forced to fight on different sides in the war. Now they face the challenge of reconciliation and building a future together. So does the different ethnic groups in the country.


October 1994: First free elections in Mozambique are held. 6.3 million registered voters can choose between candidates from 14 political parties, the two largest being Frelimo and Renamo. Almost all parties in the new democracy are promoting a new liberal economy, and they promise to work for better social conditions. International observers ensures that the elections were fair.

Frelimo wins elections with 44 percent of the votes against Renamo's 38. Joaquim Chissano remains in office with many personal votes, but it came as a shock for Frelimo that they did not have the total support from the population. It was also a surprise that so many people were voting on the Renamo-party which had basically been terrorising them for so many years. A huge part of the population never found out what the war was all about, and who was responsible for what. Another guess is that the return of the traditional leaders to the villages influenced the results in favour of Renamo.


Mistrust between the rivalling parties continues -and at times there is even a fear that the peace in Mozambique is very fragile. It seems the reconciliation process has been most successful in the local communities using traditional rituals. What seems to be "strange" religious rites are some times ancient social precautions for retaining a well functioning society. Home coming soldiers had to be "cleaned" from the evil spirits, which according to traditional beliefs, had caused all the misery. The healers in African villages are functioning as the local "psychologists" and social workers. A successful cleansing process includes a lot of talking and debate, and has a double effect: The soldier felt forgiveness and relief from his dark conscience and traumatic memories. His surroundings accepted him, as he was forgiven by the ancestors and higher powers, thereby allowing everybody to start over again.

1995: Mozambique becomes a member of the Commonwealth countries, traditionally a union of countries which has been British colonies.

December 1999: Joaquim Chissano (Frelimo) once again beats his Renamo rival Afonso Dhaklama in presidential elections. International observers approves the election.

February 2000: Southern Mozambique is suffering from floods. Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes.

November 2000: A Renamo protest against the 1999 elections ends in chaos and riots with at least 40 people killed in Montepuez. A few weeks later, 83 people who were arrested at the demonstration, dies in the prison. The prisoners suffocates as they are all being held in a single 21 square meter cell.

November 22, 2000: The journalist Carlos Cardoso is shot down on a street in Maputo by men armed with Kalashnikovs. 49-year old Cardoso was well known for his critique of corrupt politicians and police. Almost nothing is done by police and judges to find the perpetrators. Following the murder, several other critical journalists receives threats on their lives.

March 2001: Once again a flooding disaster in Mozambique.

June 2002: Joaquim Chissano announces that he is not running for a third term at the 2004 elections. Please note that it's a rare occasion that an African president leaves office before he is forced to do so by the constitution. Frelimo chooses Armando Emilio Guebuza as their new presidential candidate.


The following sources were used when compiling the Mozambique timeline.




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