Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Counter-Coup in Lourenço Marques: September 1974

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Counter-Coup in Lourenço Marques: September 1974

Article excerpt

The long established rightwing dictatorship in Portugal was overthrown by a military coup led by General António de Spinola on 25 April 1974. One of the chief objectives of the so-called Movimento das Forças Armadas (Armed Forces Movement) was to extricate the country from the wars of independence in its African colonies, which had absorbed more than a third of Portugal's total budget in the period 1961-1974 and were rapidly escalating in cost.1 Faced with the prospect of being abandoned by the home government and handed over to black nationalist rule, some of the 100,000 European settlers in Mozambique, the most populous of the colonies, began to talk of a unilateral declaration of independence, along the lines of Rhodesia's breakaway from the United Kingdom nine years earlier. There was even talk of a date for the declaration of independence: 30 September 1974.2 Before anything was arranged, however, a completely unorganized insurrection broke out in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique's capital and largest city. While it was in progress Portuguese government officials, meeting with the leaders of the black nationalist FRELIMO (Frente de Libertacão de Moçambique, Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) at Lusaka agreed to the establishment of an independent Mozambique under a FRELIMO government. The collapse of the insurrection three days later demonstrated how little prospect there had ever been of a unilateral declaration of independence resulting in anything substantial.

In many respects conditions were by no means unfavorable for a white settler resistance to a FRELIMO takeover. FRELIMO activity was mainly concentrated in Cabo Delgado, where the Maconde ethnic group provided the bulk of FRELIMO's recruits. The more numerous Macua group to the south were hostile to the Maconde and by and large not attracted by FRELIMO propaganda. Government forces comprised 14,000 troops from Portugal itself (plus 5,000 air force and navy personnel), 36,000 black troops, and 3,000 conscripts and volunteers from among the European settlers.3 According to the British consul general, "The Rhodesians say that the Portuguese were 9 to 5 soldiers who did not prosecute the war vigorously enough. Certainly the Portuguese troops were not very efficient and not all that keen to get themselves killed." The African troops in government service, on the other hand, "have invariably proved more enthusiastic and more disciplined than their European counterparts."4 In other words, the withdrawal of support from Portugal would leave the settlers with nearly three-quarters of their rank-and-file troops. Whether there would be anyone to lead these troops is another question; the Lourenço Marques uprising seems to have been characterized by a virtual absence of leadership talent from beginning to end.

Significantly enough the most prominent of the settlers, the multi-millionaire Jorge Jardim, who as a minister had quelled the uprising in Angola in 1961 and was later involved in various schemes promoted by Rhodesia's Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) and South Africa's Bureau of State Security (BOSS), maintained a studious distance from the Lourenço Marques insurrection, exactly as if he was certain of the hopeless incapacity of those involved in it. He would have known about the projected unilateral declaration of independence on 30 September, and also that the plotters had made no attempt to enlist the support of either senior Portuguese Army officers or of any junior officers from Portugal who might have been dissatisfied by the policies of the new Lisbon government. Later he was to refer to the insurrectionists as "Gente anónima. Gente descontrolada. Gente generosa" - anonymous people, uncontrolled people, noble people; but he went on to complain, "Nada fera planeado e nada esteva organizado" - nothing was planned and nothing was organized.5 In fact events seem to have caught everyone off balance. For Rhodesia, Mozambique's neighbor, the FRELIMO takeover was a disaster, leading the way to a stepping-up of cross-border incursions by ZANLA forces and, in 1976, the loss of access to the port of Beira, previously Rhodesia's main point of access to the outside world. …

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