Portuguese colonial rule
San hunter and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples, were the first known inhabitants of the region that is now Mozambique, followed in the 1st and 4th centuries by Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated there across the Zambezi River. In 1498, Portuguese explorers landed on the Mozambican coastline. Portugal's influence in East Africa grew throughout the 16th century; she established several colonies known collectively as Portuguese East Africa. Slavery and gold became profitable for the Europeans; influence was largely exercised through individual settlers and there was no centralised administration.
By the 19th century, European colonialism in Africa had reached its height. Having lost control of the vast territory of Brazil in South America, the Portuguese began to focus on expanding their African outposts. This brought them into direct conflict with the British. Since David Livingstone had returned to the area in 1858 in an attempt to foster trade routes, British interest in Mozambique had risen, alarming the Portuguese government. During the 19th century, much of Eastern Africa was still being brought under British control, and in order to facilitate this, Britain required several concessions from the Portuguese colony.
As a result, in an attempt to avoid a naval conflict with the superior British Royal Navy, Portugal adjusted the borders of her colony and the modern borders of Mozambique were established in May 1881. Control of Mozambique was left to various organisations such as the Mozambique Company, the Zambezi Company and the Niassa Company which were financed and provided with cheap labour by the British Empire to work mines and construct railways.
The resisting Gaza Empire, a collection of indigenous tribes who inhabited the area that now constitutes Mozambique and Zimbabwe, was defeated in 1895, and the remaining inland tribes were eventually defeated by 1902; in that same year, Portugal established Lourenço Marques as the capital. In 1926, political and economic crisis in Portugal led to the establishment of the Second Republic (later to become the Estado Novo), and a revival of interest in the African colonies. Calls for self determination in Mozambique arose shortly after World War II, in light of the independence granted to many other colonies worldwide in the great wave of decolonisation.
Rise of FRELIMO
Portugal designated Mozambique an overseas territory in 1951 in order to show to the world that the colony had a greater autonomy. It was called the Overseas Province of Mozambique (Província Ultramarina de Moçambique). Nonetheless, Portugal still maintained strong control over its overseas province. The increasing number of newly independent African nations after World War II, coupled with the ongoing mistreatment of the indigenous population, encouraged the growth of nationalist sentiments within Mozambique.
A Portuguese propaganda flier, distributed from aeroplanes: "FRELIMO lied! You suffer".
Mozambique was marked by large disparities between the wealthy Portuguese and the majority of the large rural indigenous African population. Poorer whites, many of them recent immigrants, including illiterate peasants, were given preference in lower-level urban jobs, where a system of job reservation existed. In the rural areas, Portuguese controlled the trading stores with which African peasants interacted. Being largely illiterate and preserving their local traditions and ways of life, skilled employment opportunities and roles in administration and government were rare for these numerous tribal populations, leaving them few or no opportunities in the urban modern life. Many indigenous peoples saw their culture and tradition being overwhelmed by the alien culture of Portugal. A small educated African class did emerge, but faced substantial discrimination.
Vocal political dissidents opposed to Portuguese rule and claiming independence were typically forced into exile. From the mid-1920s a succession of authoritarian regimes in Portugal closed unions and left-wing opposition, both within Portugal and within its colonies, notably in the Estado Novo period (1933–1974).
The Portuguese government forced black Mozambican farmers to grow rice or cotton for export, providing little return with which the farmers could support themselves. Many other workers—over 250,000 by 1960—were pressured to work on coal and gold mines, in neighbouring territories, mainly in South Africa, where they comprised over 30% of black underground miners. By 1950, only 4,353 Mozambicans out of 5,733,000 had been granted the right to vote by the Portuguese colonial government. The rift between Portuguese settlers and Mozambican locals is illustrated in one way by the small number of people with mixed Portuguese and Mozambican heritage (mestiço), numbering only 31,465 in a population of 8–10 million in 1960 according to that year's census.
The Mozambique Liberation Front or FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique), formally (Marxist-Leninist as of 1977 but adherent to such positions since the late 1960s,) was formed in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in neighbouring Tanzania, on June 25, 1962, under the leadership of sociologist Eduardo Mondlane. It was created during a conference, by political figures who had been forced into exile, by the merging of various existing nationalist groups, including the Mozambican African National Union, National African Union of Independent Mozambique and the National Democratic Union of Mozambique which had been formed two years earlier. It was only in exile that such political movements could develop, due to the strength of Portugal's grip on dissident activity within Mozambique itself.
The United Nations also put pressure on Portugal to move for decolonisation. Portugal threatened to withdraw from NATO, which put a stop to this support and pressure, and the nationalist groups in Mozambique were forced to turn to help from the Soviet bloc.
Support from the Soviet Union
During the Cold War, and particularly in the late 1950s, the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China adopted a strategy of destabilisation of Western powers by disruption of their hold on African colonies. Nikita Khrushchev, in particular, viewed the 'underdeveloped third of mankind' as a means to weaken the West. For the Soviets, Africa represented a chance to create a rift between western powers and their colonial assets, and create pro-communist states in Africa with which to foster future relations.
Prior to the formation of FRELIMO, the Soviet position regarding the nationalist movements in Mozambique was one of confusion. There were multiple independence movements, and they had no sure knowledge that any would succeed. The nationalist groups in Mozambique, like those across Africa during the period, received training and equipment from the Soviet Union.
Eduardo Mondlane's successor, future President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, acknowledged assistance from both Moscow and Peking, describing them as "the only ones who will really help us. ... They have fought armed struggles, and whatever they have learned that is relevant to Mozambique we will use." Guerrillas received tuition in subversion and political warfare as well as military aid, specifically shipments of 122 mm artillery rockets in 1972, with 1600 advisors from Russia, Cuba and East Germany. FRELIMO adopted Marxism-Leninism at an early stage.
The Soviet Union continued to support the new FRELIMO government against counterrevolution in the years after 1975. By 1981, there were 230 Soviet, close to 200 Cuban military and over 600 civilian Cuban advisers still in the country. Cuba's involvement in Mozambique was as part of a continuing effort to export the anti-imperialist ideology of the Cuban Revolution and forge desperately needed new allies. Cuba provided support to liberation movements and leftist governments in numerous African countries, including Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Congo-Brazzaville.