‘Samora’s Children’: The Celebration of (post-) Socialist Citizenship in Mozambique

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talkResearch


This paper interrogates the creation and afterlife of socialist beliefs and practices in the biographies of a cohort of people educated to become homem novo, new socialist citizens. The homem novo was an important component in the ideology of liberation movements in Southern Africa and beyond in the 1960s-1980s, and this paper focuses on Mozambique, where Samora Machel saw it as an important objective of the post-liberation, socialist state.
At the centre is a sample of Mozambican children who were sent to the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) in an ambitious education exchange programme, with the objective to return to Mozambique as homem novo Mozambican-style. The latter included not only a quasi universal belief in modernist developmentalism that united many post-liberation socialist regimes, but equally obligations to solidarity and the advancement of the common good – as defined by FRELIMO as the vanguard actor.
The Mozambique of Samora Machel saw in the GDR an ideal partner to facilitate the education of young Mozambicans in this way. Based on a joint belief in the possibility to create socialist citizens among the leadership of both countries, the School of Friendship (SdF) welcomed 899 Mozambican children for socialist-values-guided schooling to the GDR in 1982. By the time they returned to Mozambique in 1988, the transition from socialist-revolutionary state to capitalist society was under way.
This paper discusses the creation and long-term legacies of socialist citizenship that underpinned their education, focusing on the lives of some of those who spent the decisive years of adolescence in the GDR and returned to a Mozambique where the party that had sent them had abandoned its socialist path, a process accelerated after the death of Samora Machel in 1986. It is based on interview and observation data collected in 2007 and 2008, as well as the analysis of two events that commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall in Maputo and Chimoio in 2014. This primary data is complemented by materials from the German National Archive.
The paper demonstrates that in a rather paradoxical way, the SdF was successful in creating socialist citizens, or a cohort of people who regarded socialist solidarity as a key component of their identity. At the same time, they interpreted what a socialist citizen is or should be in their own way, thus using their education as what Bourdieu calls a strategy-generating institution. This enabled protagonists to navigate the post-socialist political order, functioning as a core part of their identity important for everyday life practices, not simply a nostalgic reminder of a golden past. But the majority live and celebrate socialist citizenship among themselves as a particular group, and hardly engage with political contestation in present day Mozambique.
Period13 Oct 2017
Event titleAfter Socialism: Forgotten Legacies, Possible Futures in Africa and Beyond
Event typeWorkshop
LocationBayreuth, GermanyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute