Legacy of Spite : Ex-Colonies Give Portugal the Blame

Times Staff Writer

The taps are dry for days, weeks, even months in large parts of this seaside capital. Once running water disappears, whether in the poorest or the wealthiest neighborhood, it is usually gone for a long time.

Angolans do not blame this on the water department or on the country’s lack of trained plumbers, or even on a decade-long shortage of spare parts.

They blame it on Portugal.

Did They Take the Maps?

It is widely believed here that the Portuguese took all the maps of the underground waterpipe network when they left at the time of Angolan independence in 1975. Those maps are now in Lisbon, the story goes, and will not be returned until the government hires a Portuguese company to repair the pipes.


“It’s probably true,” a Swiss relief worker here said, only half-joking.

In Mozambique, another of Portugal’s former African territories, the gray concrete truss of an unfinished high-rise hotel stands as an everyday reminder of colonialism. Fourteen years ago, the departing Portuguese poured concrete down the elevator shafts, and that made it too expensive to go ahead with the beachfront project--and too expensive to tear it down.

Of all the colonizers of Africa, tiny Portugal held onto its five provinces the longest, deeply implanting its language and culture. But when independence came, the Portuguese settlers, unlike the British and French in Africa, fled en masse, leaving foundering economies and earning Portugal the reputation as the worst colonizer on the continent.

Many thousands of Portuguese ended up in South Africa, where they toast the good old days and argue that they have been maligned by the history books. Recently, some have been watching changing attitudes in the once rigidly Marxist governments of Angola and Mozambique, thinking that maybe one day they will be able to return home.

“People say the trouble was caused by the Portuguese running away,” said Jose da Silva Ramalho, a former Mozambique resident who edits South Africa’s Portuguese-language newspaper, O Seculo. “We didn’t run away. We were kicked out.”

Angola and Mozambique are still among the least-developed nations in Africa. In fact, living standards have improved in only one Portuguese-speaking African nation, the archipelago of Cape Verde, with a population of 300,000.

A perpetual shortage of even semi-skilled workers forces Angola to continue relying on foreigners, as it did in colonial times. For example, a European worker was on his knees in the Hotel Turismo lobby on a recent Saturday morning, repairing a loose tile in a country with more than 50% unemployment.


Changing Approach

But Angola’s leaders have lately replaced Marxist rhetoric with free-market solutions to their economic woes. And they hope that the U.S.-brokered peace accord with South Africa and Cuba will remove the political barriers to trade with the West.

Mozambique also has recently embraced a pragmatic approach to its problems, looking to the United States and Europe as well as its Soviet ally for help. It has improved relations with Pretoria in recent months, and trade between the two neighbors has picked up for the first time in years.

Although few, if any, Portuguese have resettled in Angola or Mozambique, some Portuguese have returned temporarily as advisers, and Portugal’s relations with its former colonies, while not especially warm, have improved.

“You no longer have the feeling that the Portuguese are hated here,” a European diplomat in Luanda said recently. “But they’re not loved, either.”

With many Portuguese, the feeling is mutual.

“If people were allowed to return, they would die of a heart attack because of what is left today,” said Mozambican-born Giorgio Pagan, now a wealthy South African liquor dealer. “I’d go back for business, but no longer for love. That love is lost.”

Angola’s capital, Luanda, on the Atlantic Ocean, and Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, on the Indian Ocean, were the pearls of Portugal’s African empire, which was founded by seafarers on their way around the Cape of Good Hope.


In Continental Image

Portugal made those capitals in its continental image, with palm-lined esplanades, stucco buildings with verandas, late-night coffee shops. Luanda, on a crescent of gentle coastal hills, came to be known as the Rio de Janeiro of Africa.

More than 300,000 Portuguese lived in Angola and 250,000 in Mozambique at the time of independence, and for generations they had raised their children and buried their parents there, with no thought of leaving.

Unlike the farmers and college-educated professionals who settled Africa’s British and French colonies, the Portuguese were taxi drivers and bricklayers as well as engineers and architects. And long after the other European powers had relinquished their colonies in the 1960s, Portugal refused to loosen its grip on Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and the dual-island territory of Sao Tome and Principe.

Settlers Were Shocked

But in 1975, when a coup in Lisbon opened the way for independence, the Marxist liberation groups in Angola and Mozambique shocked the Portuguese settlers by nationalizing industries, confiscating firearms and closing the private practices of physicians and lawyers.

Most of the Portuguese left almost overnight, sometimes taking or destroying equipment. Soon the elevators stopped working, the factories shut down, the farmers’ markets collapsed--and civil wars broke out.

Some returned to Portugal, but 100,000 from Mozambique and a smaller number from Angola ended up in South Africa, where they have replanted their settlements in the last vestige of white rule on the continent.


600,000 in South Africa

The Bank of Lisbon, which now has 28 branches in South Africa, estimates that South Africa has as many as 600,000 Portuguese or Portuguese descendants--one of every seven whites in the country. There is a Portuguese newspaper and radio station, and a new Portuguese cable TV channel went on the air this month. Last year, a South African woman was crowned Miss Portugal in Lisbon.

About half the Portuguese in South Africa are farmers and greengrocers from Madeira who have been around for years. The white flight from the colonies brought blue-collar workers as well as bankers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and businessmen.

Few of the Portuguese take part in politics in South Africa, where they are classified white under apartheid laws, and many have never applied for South African citizenship. But their average income is $300 a month higher than the average white South African’s. They control more than half the cigarette sales in the country, operate the largest wine-importing business and produce 80% of the vegetables sold at the Johannesburg market.

Still Recalled Fondly

But the homes and factories and futures that were abandoned in Mozambique and Angola are never far from their minds.

“Life in Mozambique was a paradise,” said Dr. Jose Carlos Garcez, 41, who is typical of the Portuguese who left his birthplace of Mozambique to settle in South Africa. “There was good food. Good housing. Beautiful beaches. You could hunt, you could fish. We never imagined a future anywhere else.”

Garcez and his young wife, Maria, then medical school students, would browse the bookshops and listen to music in the cafes of Lourenco Marques, now called Maputo. Sometimes they would pass the Hotel Polana parking lot to gaze at the shiny Jaguars driven by South Africa’s well-heeled tourists.


When Mozambique became independent, Garcez had finished his hospital residency and was preparing to go into private practice. But faced with the prospect of feeding a wife and two children, aged 2 and 3, on the $100 a month that the government said it would pay him, Garcez opted for South Africa.

“I thought socialism was something that had to happen,” Garcez said. “But I didn’t think it should happen overnight. They said, ‘Listen, you have to sacrifice.’ I was not prepared to sacrifice that much.”

At first, life in South Africa was a struggle. The Garcezes spoke only a few words of English and had to learn by reading newspapers with a dictionary. And they missed Mozambique.

They went a few times to parties of the Asociacao de Antigos Residentes de Mocambique, an association of former residents of Mozambique, where the saudosistas-- the homesick ones--gathered. The association still meets to raise glasses of vinho verde on July 25, the day the old colonial villa of Lourenco Marques became a city.

But Maria Garcez said she quickly tired of hearing “everyone cry on each other’s shoulder.”

Garcez opened a practice between a car dealer and a vegetable store in a working-class suburb, where most of the phones are still answered in Portuguese. Most of his patients are Portuguese and a few are Mozambicans, referred to Garcez by doctors in Maputo.

Living Well

Today, Garcez drives a $30,000 BMW and lives in a large townhouse decorated with paintings by, among others, Malangatana, Mozambique’s most respected black revolutionary artist. The family, now with three children, still speaks Portuguese at home, carries Portuguese passports and socializes with other former residents of Mozambique.


But too much time has passed, they say, to seriously consider returning to Mozambique.

“Maybe one day we can go back and live happily ever after, like a Walt Disney movie,” Maria Garcez said. “But I doubt it.”

For the small number of Portuguese who stayed after independence, though, there are few regrets.

When Manuel Gonzalvez’s first wife took his children back to Portugal at independence, he married a Mozambican woman and set up a transportation business in the port city of Beira. Today, he drives a 20-year-old Volkswagen Beetle, understands no English and chain smokes cigarettes of coarse Mozambican tobacco.

“The war is still a problem, but no one troubles me,” Gonzalvez, 58, said through an interpreter. “I’m here 37 years now, and I stay no matter what. I’m too old to run away.”