On 25 September 1964, Frelimo solders, with logistical assistance from the surrounding population, attacked the Portuguese administrative post at Chai in Cabo Delgado Province. This raid marked the beginning of the struggle against Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique. Although Mondlane was assassinated in 1969 and Salazar devoted considerable resources to suppress the insurrection, colonialism in Mozambique collapsed in 1974.
When Mozambique finally declared its independence from Portugal in 1975, the leaders of Frelimo soon established an autocratic one-party state allied with the Soviet bloc. Upon coming to power, they eliminated political pluralism, religiously affiliated educational institutions, and the role played by traditional societal authorities. In 1977, with a Marxist state firmly in place, an anti-Frelimo political group came into being, known as the Mozambique Resistance Movement (RENAMO). It received significant support and funding from the white minority government of neighboring Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) as well as from South Africa and the United States. When in 1977 RENAMO launched a series of attacks on transport routes, schools, and health clinics, the country fell into a full-fledged civil war.
RENAMO's fighters sought to disrupt Mozambique's communications and transportation infrastructure in order to overthrow the Marxist government. In this it had considerable success. Indeed, during most of the long civil war that followed, the government was unable to exercise effective control outside urban areas, and much of the countryside remained cut off from the capital. The conflict gradually shifted to a guerrilla war. After Zimbabwean nationalists took control of their country in 1980, RENAMO relied primarily on South African support to wage a campaign against the Frelimo government.
In 1983, Frelimo President Samora Machel (1983–1986), facing mounting internal economic troubles, sabotage from neighboring South Africa, and the side effects of the long Rhodesian Civil War, conceded that socialism had failed in Mozambique and acknowledged the need for major political and economic reforms. He then negotiated the Nkomati Accord with the South African government, signed on 16 March 1984. Essentially a nonaggression pact, the accord called for an end to Mozambique support for the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and for South Africa to cease supplying RENAMO. Mozambique generally complied with the agreement, but South Africa, engaged in fighting a growing Marxist threat in the region, did not abide by it and continued to supply the rebels. Thus, the war continued.
In 1986 Machel, returning from an international meeting in Zambia, died in a plane crash on South African territory. The accident was attributed to error on the part of the Soviet pilot, but there is still speculation that South African authorities had a hand in it. Following Machel's death, Joaquim Chissano became president of Mozambique. Chissano, who was one of the original founders of the Frelimo movement, sought to continue the economic and social reforms begun by Machel.
In 1990, with the apartheid regime crumbling in South Africa and support for RENAMO waning in South Africa as well as in the United States, the first direct talks began between the Frelimo government and RENAMO. The Italian government and Catholic Church officials served as mediators and facilitators. In November 1990 a new constitution was adopted in which Mozambique became a multiparty state with periodic elections and guaranteed democratic rights. On 4 October 1992 in Rome, President Chissano and RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama signed a peace agreement negotiated by the United Nations (UN). It formally took effect on 15 October. A UN peacekeeping force (ONUMOZ) supervised implementation of the Rome General Peace Accords and a two-year transition to democracy.
In 1994 Mozambique held internationally supervised elections, which were accepted by most parties as being both free and fair. Chissano won the election, and his government began the arduous process of reviving the economy and developing the country's extensive resources. His policies included programs to promote rural marketing, provide greater access to credit, and raise the productivity of small-scale farmers.
Glen Anthony Harris
Isaacman, Allen, and Barbara Isaacman. Mozambique: From Colonialism to Revolution, 1900–1982. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1983.; Pitcher, M. Ann. "Recreating Colonialism or Reconstructing the State? Privatization and Politics in Mozambique." Journal of Southern African Studies 22(1) (March 1996): 49–74.; Wilson, K. B. "Cults of Violence and Counter-Violence in Mozambique." Journal of Southern African Studies 18(3) (September 1992): 527–582.