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Alex Callinicos

Memoirs of a Revolution

(November 1975)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.83, November 1975, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Mozambique: Memoirs of a Revolution
John Paul
Penguin African Library, 80p.

The war of liberation against Portuguese colonialism lasted for ten years in Mozambique, from the beginning of FRELIMO’s uprising in September 1964 till the Lisbon coup in April 1974. This book conveys some idea of what that war meant for the people of Mozambique.

Paul is not a revolutionary. His attitudes are very much those of his class and calling – an African priest educated at Winchester. And his role in Mozambique was not that of active participation in the revolution, but rather of passive sympathy, an attitude reflecting his position as a missionary in Niassa province, in northern Mozambique, under the threat of expulsion by the colonial authorities. A number of pro-FRELIMO missionaries were expelled, including the Spanish Burgos Fathers who brought the story of the Wiriyamu massacre to the outside world.

This book does not have anything quite so horrific to tell. But it does paint a picture of a people subjected both to the most barbaric exploitation and oppression – forced labour and frequent instances of palmatorio, beatings administered by the police for minor offences – and to constant petty humiliation, like having to salute every white they met or face a beating. The savagery of the regime is the background to the FRELIMO rebellion, a background forgotten by apologists for Portuguese colonialism like Monday Club MP John Biggs-Davison. Paul’s account of the war itself shows how the brutality of the regime united the people against it It is a story of constant mass arrests, beatings, torture, the destruction of villages, the casual murder of innocents by an army frustrated by its inability to defeat the liberation forces. The book has its limits. It deals with a chapter in the history of the revolution in Southern Africa which is now finished.

The struggle is now over a different and more difficult terrain, one introduced by the Aprfl coup and South Africa’s policy of detente. The front line is now occupied by the people of Zimbabwe. Moreover, as I have said, Paul writes as an observer, not a participant. Nonetheless, within these limits, something of the experience of the revolution in Mozambique is there in the book.

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