Benedito Machava

Graduate Student
Intellectual Biography: 

I am a 3rd Year student in the History Doctoral Program at the University of Michigan under the orientation of Professor Derek Peterson. As a native of Mozambique, a country that achieved independence in 1975 after ten years of armed struggle and then embarked on a socialist experiment until the late 1980s, I grew up hearing glorious tales of revolutionary nationalist guerillas who challenged and defeated the “powerful” Portuguese colonial regime and then sought to build an almost paradisiac nation where there would be no “exploitation of men by men”. The socialist project, we were constantly reminded, was undermined by South African destabilization. My encounter with a letter at the archives in Maputo while working as research assistant to Professor Anne Pitcher in 2008 opened a whole new picture of the socialist experiment in Mozambique, and I became aware of the ways in which the heroic revolutionaries sought to build the socialist wonderland so much praised in our textbooks. The letter was written by a young man expelled from the capital city of Maputo to the countryside and was addressed to his mother and it opened with bold letters: “mom I’m not dead, I’m still alive, I’m in Niassa”. The powerful impact of that letter on me led to my pursuing of this degree in order to tell a different tale of the making of socialist Mozambique. The author of that letter was one among the more than a 100,000 people rounded up and expelled from the cities and kept in reeducation and labor camps throughout the 15 years of Mozambique’s revolution. Understanding why and how of this process has been my intellectual pursuit. Not only I seek to explain why and how the post-colonial government of Mozambique enforced such violent social engineering, but most importantly why ordinary Mozambicans participated so enthusiastically in denouncing, hunting down, and expelling their fellow urban dwellers. I also want to capture the lived experiences of those who underwent reeducation and forced labor. My work on the making of socialist Mozambique links to the theme of the “Global South” in various ways. Departing from the recognition that most socialist revolutions after WWII took place in developing (and overwhelmingly agrarian) countries, my study will suggest useful ways of rethinking the ways in which ideas about nation, statehood, citizenship, and social (and moral) order travelled and were exchanged among those who shared socialist principles in the “Global South”. My preliminary work indicates that while Mozambique politicians were engaged in ecumenical debates about socialism and socialist citizenry, and then sought to top-down impose those ideas, local ordinary people were engaged in intimate arguments about moral citizenship, especially in urban areas. Socialist and moralist debates overlapped and informed the ways in which the urban removals were carried out in Mozambique.

Presentation Title: 
Urban Cleansings and the Making of Socialist Mozambique, 1974-1988
Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. The Rise of the Global Left: The World Social Forum and Beyond. (London: Zed Books, 2006) This is an almost unknown reading, originally written in Portuguese, and it speaks directly to the theme of this workshop.
Can graduate students present their prospectus in this workshop?