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This article argues for the importance of including the construction of informal housing in histories of the African built environment. It examines the proliferation of illegally built masonry houses in the unplanned, predominately African neighborhoods of Lourenço Marques (today's Maputo) during the last years of Portuguese rule. Officials tolerated reed construction in these neighborhoods, but they saw unauthorized permanent construction there as an obstacle to the expansion of the formalized, predominately European city core. These ‘modern’ masonry houses, however, embodied some of the highest aspirations of their builders – aspirations that increasingly overlapped with those of lower-income whites that lived in such close proximity. Racial politics was manifested as material politics as clandestine construction challenged the divisions that had long defined the city. Informal housing thus helps to illuminate some of the peculiarities of race in urban lusophone Africa during the last years of colonial rule, a period usually understood in terms of wars for independence, but that in cities were also years of surging economies and the rising expectations of many African workers.



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The author is grateful for research funding assistance from Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Fundação Luso-Americana, the US Department of State's Fulbright Program, and the University of Minnesota Office of International Programs. The article benefited immensely from contributions by Allen Isaacman, Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, Jeanne Penvenne, Zachary Kagan Guthrie, Betty Banks, Luciana Hees, Hytho Chitombe, Andrade Muhale, Chapane Mutiua, Hélio Maúngue, Marissa Moorman, Todd Cleveland, Eléusio Viegas Filipe, Lilly Havstad, Alejandra Bronfman, the anonymous JAH reviewers, and colleagues participating in workshops at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia and the Centro de Estudos Africanos at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. Author's email:



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1 The following account is based on interviews in Maputo with Daniel Malé and Adelina Cossa, 4 and 7 June 2011; an interview with stonemason José Inácio Cossa, 14 June 2011; photographs of the party; and a handwritten speech that was read at the party. All interviews for this article took place in Maputo unless otherwise noted.

2 Governo-Geral da Província de Moçambique, Diploma Legislativo no. 616, 1938, articles 5 and 6; Governo-Geral de Mozambique, Diploma Legislativo no. 1976, 10 May 1960.

3 As is common practice in Mozambican historiography, ‘Africans’ here refers to black Mozambicans as well as to people who were of mixed indigenous and European or Asian origins, but this is not to dismiss the fluidity of an ‘African’ identity, then and now.

4 The registries for obras clandestinas (clandestine works) are located in the Departamento de Urbanização e Construção of the Concelho Municipal da Cidade de Maputo, and the case files recorded in the registries are archived at the municipal headquarters building. Registries pre-dating 1961 and from mid-1971 until independence, in 1975, could not be located. Case files will be cited by the colonial-era institution that created them, the Câmara Municipal de Lourenço Marques, Departamento de Serviços de Urbanização e Obras (hereafter CMLM-DSUO), and by that department's coding system, [case number]/OC [obras clandestinas]/[year].

5 Fourchard, L., ‘Between world history and state formation: new perspectives on Africa's cities’, The Journal of African History, 52:2 (2011), 223–48; Wright, G., The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism (Chicago, 1991); Çelik, Z., Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers Under French Rule (Berkeley, 1997); Myers, G. A., Verandahs of Power: Colonialism and Space in Urban Africa (Syracuse, 2003); Fuller, M., Moderns Abroad: Architecture, Cities, and Italian Imperialism (London, 2007); Bissell, W. C., Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar (Bloomington, 2011); Silva, C. N. (ed.), Urban Planning in Sub-Saharan Africa: Colonial and Post-Colonial Planning Cultures (Abingdon-on-Thames, 2015). Important exceptions to the general trend include Myers, G. A., ‘Sticks and stones: colonialism and Zanzibari housing’, Africa, 67:2 (1997), 252–72; Brennan, J. R., Taifa: Making Race and Nation in Urban Tanzania (Athens, OH, 2012).

6 The scholarship on the meanings of house construction in contemporary Africa is too immense to cite here, but work for lusophone Africa includes Nielsen, M., ‘Futures within: reversible time and house-building in Maputo, Mozambique’, Anthropological Theory, 11:4 (2011), 397423; Jenkins, P., Urbanization, Urbanism, and Urbanity in an African City: Home Spaces and House Cultures (New York, 2013); Gastrow, C., ‘Cement citizens: housing, demolition, and political belonging in Luanda, Angola’, Citizenship Studies, 21:2 (2017), 224–39.

7 Hansen, K. T., Keeping House in Lusaka (New York, 1997), 60; Gastrow, ‘Cement citizens’, 226. See also Myers, ‘Sticks and stones’; Melly, C., ‘Inside-out houses: urban belonging and imagined futures in Dakar, Senegal’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52:1 (2010), 3765; Makhulu, A.-M., Making Freedom: Apartheid, Squatter Politics, and the Struggle for Home (Durham, NC, 2015); Holston, J., Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil (Princeton, 2008).

8 Fanon, F., The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Philcox, R. (New York, 2004), 45.

9 Fourchard, ‘Between world history and state formation’, 229.

10 Ginsburg, R., ‘“Now I stay in a house”: renovating the matchbox in apartheid-era Soweto’, African Studies, 55:2 (1996), 127–39; Bozzoli, B., Theatres of Struggle and the End of Apartheid (Athens, OH, 2004); Lee, R., African Women and Apartheid: Migration and Settlement in Urban South Africa (London, 2009); Bank, L. J., Home Spaces, Street Styles: Contesting Power and Identity in a South African City (New York, 2011); Ginsburg, R., At Home with Apartheid: The Hidden Landscapes of Domestic Service in Johannesburg (Charlottesville, 2011); Benson, K., ‘“A political war of words and bullets”: defining and defying sides of struggle for housing in Crossroads, South Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 41:2 (2015), 367–87; Makhulu, Making Freedom.

11 Makhulu, Making Freedom, 60.

12 Myers, ‘Sticks and stones’.

13 On the appeal of the built image of ‘modern’ life, see Comaroff, J. L. and Comaroff, J., Of Revelation and Revolution, Volume II: The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier (Chicago, 1997), 274322; Miescher, S. F., ‘Building the city of the future: visions and experiences of modernity in Ghana's Akosombo Township’, The Journal of African History, 53:3 (2012), 367–90. See also Ferguson, J., Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt (Berkeley, 1999).

14 On the incompleteness of segregationist schemes, see Myers, G., African Cities: Alternate Visions of Urban Theory and Practice (London, 2011), 54–5; Brennan, Taifa; Morris, A., Bleakness & Light: Inner-City Transition in Hillbrow, Johannesburg (Johannesburg, 1999); Mpofu, B., ‘“Undesirable” Indians, residential segregation, and the ill-fated rise of the white “housing covenanters” in Bulawayo, colonial Zimbabwe, 1930–1973’, South African Historical Journal, 63:4 (2011), 553–80.

15 Clarence-Smith, W. G., The Third Portuguese Empire, 1825–1975: A Study in Economic Imperialism (Manchester, 1985), 192223; Rita-Ferreira, A., ‘Os africanos de Lourenço Marques’, Memórias do Instituto Científica de Moçambique, C, 9 (1967–8), 341–88.

16 Cooper, F., Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Cambridge, 1996).

17 Mateus, D. C., A PIDE/DGS na guerra colonial (1961–1974) (Lisboa, 2004).

18 Alternative forms of urban politics, such as the politics of music and leisure, in late colonial lusophone Africa (from the 1940s onward) are also discussed in Moorman, M. J., Intonations: A Social History of Music and Nation in Luanda, Angola, from 1945 to Recent Times (Athens, OH, 2008); E. D. P. V. Filipe, ‘“Where are the Mozambican musicians?”: music, marrabenta, and national identity in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique, 1950s–1975’ (PhD dissertation, University of Minnesota, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2012), order no. 3494651; Havstad, L., ‘Multiracial women and the African press in post-World War II Lourenço Marques, Mozambique’, South African Historical Journal, 68:3 (2016), 390414; Cleveland, T., Following the Ball: The Migration of African Soccer Players across the Portuguese Colonial Empire, 1949–1975 (Athens, OH, 2017); Domingos, N., Football and Colonialism: Body and Popular Culture in Urban Mozambique (Athens, OH, 2017).

19 Penvenne, J. M., ‘Fotografando Lourenço Marques: a cidade e os seus habitantes de 1960 a 1975’, in Castelo, C., Thomaz, O. R., Nascimento, S., and Silva, T. Cruz e (eds.), Os outros da colonização: ensaios sobre o colonialismo tardio em Moçambique (Lisboa, 2012), 173–92; M. Mahoney, ‘Estado novo, homem novo’ (new state, new man): colonial and anti-colonial development ideologies in Mozambique, 1930–1977’, in Engerman, D. C., Gilman, N., Haefele, M. H., and Latham, M. E. (eds.), Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War (Amherst, MA, 2003), 165–97.

20 Works that address the planning and historical development of Lourenço Marques include Rita-Ferreira, ‘Os africanos’; Mendes, M. C., Maputo antes da independência: geografia de uma cidade colonial (Lisboa, 1985); Penvenne, J. M., African Workers and Colonial Racism: Mozambican Strategies and Struggles in Lourenço Marques, 1877–1962 (Portsmouth, NH, 1995); V. D. Zamparoni, ‘Entre narros e mulungos: colonialismo e paisagem social em Lourenço Marques, c. 1890 – c. 1940’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Universidade de São Paulo, 1998); Lachartre, B., Enjeux urbains au Mozambique: de Lourenço Marques à Maputo (Paris, 2000); Morais, J. S., Maputo: património da estrutura e forma urbana, topologia do lugar (Lisboa, 2001); L. L. Frates, ‘Memory of place, the place of memory: women's narrations of late colonial Lourenço Marques, Mozambique’ (PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2002), order no. 3059535.

21 Rita-Ferreira, ‘Os africanos’, 196–7.

22 Frates, , ‘Memory of place’; L. Momplé, ‘Caniço’, in Ninguém matou Suhura (4th edn, Maputo, 2008), 2338; Penvenne, J. M., ‘Two tales of a city: Lourenço Marques, 1945–1975’, Portuguese Studies Review, 19:1–2 (2011), 249–69.

23 Penvenne, African Workers, 103–16; Zamparoni, ‘Entre narros e mulungos’, 250–333; Penvenne, ‘Two tales of a city’, 254, 262.

24 de Moçambique, Província, III Recenseamento geral da população na Província de Lourenço Marques (Lourenço Marques, 1960).

25 Província de Moçambique, III Recenseamento; ‘Isto é o Alto Maé’, A Tribuna (Lourenço Marques), 30 Sept. 1963.

26 ‘O caso da lixeira’, Tempo (Lourenço Marques), 15 July 1973. Also, interview with Manuel Gonçalves, of Portuguese parentage, who grew up in the caniço in the 1940s and 1950s, 18 Sept. 2012.

27 Penvenne, J. M., ‘Settling against the tide: the layered contradictions of twentieth-century Portuguese settlement in Mozambique’, in Elkins, C. and Pedersen, S. (eds.), Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies (New York, 2005), 90.

28 Clarence-Smith, Third Portuguese Empire, 213–16; Pereira, V., ‘A economia do império e os planos de fomento’, in Jerónimo, M. B. (ed.), O império colonial em questão (séculos XIX–XX): poderes, saberes, e instituições (Lisboa, 2012), 251–85.

29 Penvenne, ‘Two tales of a city’, 256–7.

30 Mendes, Maputo antes da independência, 99.

31 ‘Propriedade horizontal’, Tempo, 3 Dec. 1972; ‘A acção do Montepio de Moçambique’, Tempo, 17 June 1973.

32 Penvenne, ‘Fotografando Lourenço Marques’.

33 de Souto, A. N., Caetano e o ocaso do ‘Império’: administração e guerra colonial em Moçambique durante o Marcelismo (1968–1974) (Porto, 2007), 120–2, 172–3.

34 Bender, G. J., Angola under the Portuguese: The Myth and the Reality (Berkeley, 1978).

35 da Silveira, N. R., Lourenço Marques: acerto de contas com o passado, 1951–1965 (Lisboa, 2011) is a recent example of a voluminous literature.

36 During a brief, partial relaxation of press censorship in 1962–3, caniço conditions were discussed, but images were still suppressed. Sopa, A., ‘Alguns aspectos do regime de censura prévia em Moçambique (1933–1975)’, in Ribeiro, F. and Sopa, A. (eds.), 140 anos de imprensa em Moçambique (Maputo, 1996), 89120; D. A. Thompson, ‘Aim, focus, shoot: photographic narratives of war, independence, and imagination in Mozambique, 1950 to 1993’ (PhD dissertation, University of Minnesota, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2013), order no. 3727577, 71–181.

37 PIDE files in Mozambique were largely destroyed, but a sampling of surveillance reports can be found in Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique (AHM), Gabinete do Districto de Lourenço Marques, box 351, SCCIM, ‘4o trimestre resenha de informações, nos. 38–50’, 1963.

38 Frates, ‘Memory of place’.

39 Errante, A., ‘White skin, many masks: colonial schooling, race, and national consciousness among white settler children in Mozambique, 1934–1974’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 36:1 (2003), 733; Cabaço, J. L., Moçambique: identidades, colonialismo, e libertação (Maputo, 2010), 211–12.

40 Penvenne, ‘Fotografando Lourenço Marques’, 182.

41 ‘Os habitantes do bairro clandestino do aeroporto defendem o seu direito a um tecto’, A Tribuna, 21 Nov. 1967; ‘Bairro do Aeroporto: a mais definitiva das situações precárias’, Tempo, 9 May 1971.

42 Interview with Lindo Nhlongo, part of Malangatana's circle, and one of the Bairro's original residents, Ricatla, 3 May 2013.

43 Moreira, A., ‘Política de integração’, Estudos ultramarinos, 4 (1961), 722.

44 de Oliveira, M., Problemas essenciais do urbanismo no Ultramar: estruturas urbanas de integração e convivência (Lisboa, 1962); Milheiro, A. V., Nos trópicos sem Le Corbusier: arquitectura luso-africana no Estado Novo (Lisboa, 2012), 348–54.

45 Governo-Geral de Mozambique, Diploma Legislativo no. 1976.

46 Morais, Maputo, 156.

47 J. M., ‘Edilidade, progresso, clandestinidades, terrenos, etc.’, A Tribuna, 24 Mar. 1963. For a response, see A. M. Ralha, ‘O bairro do Aeroporto continua a dar que falar …’, A Tribuna, 3 May 1963.

48 In Luanda in the early 1970s there was a similar controversy involving clandestine construction by working-class whites. Moorman, Intonations, 42–3.

49 Penvenne, ‘Settling against the tide’, 87.

50 Morais, Maputo, 160–1.

51 ‘Pensamentos … O bairro clandestino’, O Brado Africano, 9 May 1964.

52 CMLM-DSUO 243/OC/66, ‘António Almone’.

53 CMLM-DSUO 36/OC/65, ‘Alice Malendya’.

54 CMLM-DSUO 75/OC/64, ‘António Samora Sebanhana’.

55 CMLM-DSUO 164/OC/63, ‘Inácio Manjate “Mazino”’.

56 CMLM-DSUO 283/OC/68, ‘Daniel Malé’.

57 Handwritten speech provided by Malé.

58 CMLM-DSUO 272/OC/66, ‘Essau Ezequia Maninguane’.

59 CMLM-DSUO 250/OC/66, ‘Jossias Filimão Pondeca’.

60 CMLM-DSUO 93/OC/65, ‘Fernando Andreas Miglietti’; CMLM-DSUO 23/OC/68, ‘Felisberto Elías Pondeca’.

61 Rita-Ferreira, ‘Os africanos’, 167–9, 187.

62 L. F. R. Catalão, ‘Providências tendentes a desenvolver a industrialização da construção de edifícios de habitação e a aumentar a sua produtividade’, in Primeiras jornadas de engenharia de Moçambique: 25 a 30 de Abril de 1965: comunicações (Lourenço Marques, 1965), 350–7; Rita-Ferreira, ‘Os africanos’, 342.

63 Rita-Ferreira, ‘Os africanos’, 192–5.

64 Ibid. 211–22.

65 See Lage, L., ‘The building of informal dwellings: case study of Maputo’, in trans. Cuoco, C., Traditional Informal Settlements in Mozambique: From Lichinga to Maputo (Maputo, 2004), 7591; interview with Ana Magaia, 9 Feb. 2011.

66 Interview with stonemason Cossa.

67 Interviews with Jaime Tembe, 30 April 2011 and 9 and 11 May 2011.

68 Penvenne, J. M., ‘Seeking the factory for women: Mozambican urbanization in the late colonial era’, Journal of Urban History, 23:3 (1997), 368–9; Sheldon, K., Pounders of Grain: A History of Women, Work, and Politics in Mozambique (Portsmouth, NH, 2002), 5869.

69 Penvenne, ‘Seeking the factory for women’, 368.

70 Penvenne, African Workers, 127.

71 Interviews with Tembe; Malé; Josefa Alfonso Maduela and Isabel de Conceção Maduela, Boane, 4 June 2016.

72 On the importance of affect in understanding township space, see Dlamini, J., Native Nostalgia (Johannesburg, 2009).

73 Though people in reed houses often painted their doors and wood trim in colorful patterns. Guedes, P. (ed.), As Áfricas de Pancho Guedes (Lisboa, 2010), 300–1.

74 Gastrow, ‘Cement citizens’, 233.

75 This ultimately turned out to be true for Luandans as well, as many eventually had their concrete-block homes demolished.

76 Interview with Domingos Ozias, who worked for the municipality in the late colonial era, including a year's stint in the building inspection office, 13 Sept. 2012.

77 T. Cruz e Silva, ‘A rede clandestina da FRELIMO em Lourenço Marques (1960–1974)’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, 1986).

78 On legibility-illegibility relative to state power, see Scott, J. C., Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, 1998), 983.

79 CMLM-DSUO 10/OC/63, ‘Joaquim da Costa’.

80 Perhaps comparable to the reproach directed at those ‘who feed only themselves’, an idiom used in northern Mozambique. West, H. G., Kupilikula: Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique (Chicago, 2005), 35–9. The author thanks Jeanne Penvenne for the reference.

81 Câmara Municipal de Lourenço Marques, Edital, 3:65, 2 Feb. 1965.

82 Rita-Ferreira, ‘Os africanos’, 192; AHM/Inspecção dos Serviços Administrativos e dos Negócios Indígenas (ISANI), box 3, J. G. T. Pereira, ‘Relatório da inspecção ordinária ao Junta Local da Munhuana do Segundo Bairro do Concelho de Lourenço Marques’, 1972, 137.

83 ‘Balanço de 4 anos: que fizeram (ou puderam fazer) os ‘homens-bons’ de Lourenço Marques’, Tempo, 8 Oct. 1972.

84 Interviews with Alfredo Manjate, 11 and 18 Feb. 2011.

85 Commercial establishments were legally required to build in masonry, but to avoid the time-consuming approvals process many merchants in the subúrbios built their shops, illegally, in a single weekend – and afterward paid the requisite fine. Interview with stonemason Alfredo Nhanale, 5 June 2011.

86 Saevfors, I., Maxaquene: A Comprehensive Account of the First Urban Upgrading Experience in the New Mozambique (1986), 10.

87 Ibid. 17.

88 M. Ângelo, ‘A indústria de cimento no contexto de transição moçambicana, c. 1960–1994, com referência especial à Fábrica de Cimentos da Matola’ (unpublished graduation thesis, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, 2005).

89 ‘Candonga de fósforos’, Tempo, 29 July 1973; ‘Mercado negro de moeda estrangeira em Moçambique’, Tempo, 19 Aug. 1973; M. Lindolfo, ‘Escape livre no contrabando de automóveis’, Tempo, 16 Sept. 1973; C. da Silva, ‘Vinho clandestino: candongueiros em guerra aberta’, Tempo, 22 Apr. 1973; A. Magaia, ‘Ilegalidade e a ineficiência prejudicam o turismo’, Tempo, 6 May 1973; C. da Silva, ‘Motoristas e taxeiros piratas em pé de guerra’, Tempo, 24 June 1973; ‘Contrabando nas boutiques’, Tempo, 18 Mar. 1973; R. Pacheco, ‘O mundo fechado do pano verde’, Tempo, 14 Oct. 1973.

90 T. L. L. Castela, ‘A liberal space: a history of the illegalized working-class extensions of Lisbon’ (PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2011), order no. 3616207.

The author is grateful for research funding assistance from Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Fundação Luso-Americana, the US Department of State's Fulbright Program, and the University of Minnesota Office of International Programs. The article benefited immensely from contributions by Allen Isaacman, Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, Jeanne Penvenne, Zachary Kagan Guthrie, Betty Banks, Luciana Hees, Hytho Chitombe, Andrade Muhale, Chapane Mutiua, Hélio Maúngue, Marissa Moorman, Todd Cleveland, Eléusio Viegas Filipe, Lilly Havstad, Alejandra Bronfman, the anonymous JAH reviewers, and colleagues participating in workshops at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia and the Centro de Estudos Africanos at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. Author's email:





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