This essay considers the life and career of the leading Mozambican intellectual of the early twentieth century, João dos Santos Albasini (1876–1922). A journalist and political activist, Albasini took advantage of the political space opened by Portugal's First Republic (1910–26) to challenge the articulation of colonial policy with respect to citizenship, land alienation, labor conscription and opportunities for education and economic participation. As a founding member of the Grêmio Africano, a Lourenço Marques social group and political lobby, he helped launch the group's newspapers, O Africano (1908–19) and O Brado Africano (1918–74). With the Grêmio newspapers as his vehicle, he sharply contrasted colonial and Republican ideals with the racism and injustice Mozambicans faced in the colonial capital of Lourenço Marques (today Maputo). The Portuguese deemed Albasini a worthy opponent, in part because of his ability to employ Portugal's most revered cultural symbols with an ironic twist.
The essay considers two sets of questions. The first set relates to the definition and analysis of issues Albasini highlighted and pursued. What was Albasini's political and social vision of possible choices within this seemingly fluid era? How does one recover and interpret Albasini's vision and style? Are their meaning and value to be found within the discourses of class struggle, ethnicity, assimilation and nationalism? To what extent did Albasini's vision shape contestation of political and social policy in colonial Mozambique in the critical first quarter of the twentieth century?
A second set of questions confronts Albasini's place in local society and his legacy. Who comprised the Grêmio Africano? What was it about João dos Santos Albasini that inspired Grêmio members and subsequent generations of Mozambicans to view him as a beacon? What did the rest of the local population think about Albasini, during his lifetime and after? What was his impact, and how did it relate to the broader issues of politics, historical agency and identity in early twentieth-century southern African history?