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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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