Navegação – Mapa do site

InícioNúmeros78RecensõesBárbara Direito (2020), Terra e C...


Bárbara Direito (2020), Terra e Colonialismo em Moçambique. A região de Manica e Sofala sob a Companhia de Moçambique, 1892-1942

Malyn Newitt
p. 293-296

Bárbara Direito (2020), Terra e Colonialismo em Moçambique. A região de Manica e Sofala sob a Companhia de Moçambique, 1892-1942, Lisboa: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, 306 pp. ISBN 978-972-671-622-8

Texto integral

  • 1 Eric Allina, Slavery by Any Other Name: African Life under Company Rule in Colonial Mozambique. C (...)

1When Moçambique applied successfully to join the Commonwealth in 1995, a lot of people were taken by surprise, not least the British Government. However, those who knew something of Moçambique’s history understood that, although not formally a British colony, much of country had, during the early colonial period, been ruled by British-owned companies – the Niassa Company, the Moçambique Company and the extensive territories effectively under the control of Sena Sugar, while the largely British-owned South African gold mines had had extensive recruiting rights over the whole Sul do Save region. Bárbara Direito’s book is based on her doctoral thesis and is focused on the agricultural history of one of those British-owned companies, the Companhia de Moçambique, up to the end of its concession in 1942. As she herself admits, she had the experience that all scholars dread – as she was completing her doctoral thesis, which she defended in June 2013, Eric Allina published his detailed study of labour relations in the Moçambique Company territories1 – two theses and ultimately two books focused on the same topic, the agricultural and labour history of the Company territory. Although these two books cover a lot of the same ground, they have different emphases and need to be read together in order to get a fully three dimensional image of this topic.

2The Moçambique Company, founded originally in 1888, was granted its charter in 1892. Its territory covered the region between the Zambesi and the Sabi rivers which, at the time, was part of the kingdom of Gaza. The region was not fully “pacified” and under Company control until 1902 and, in the process, the Company lost the Barue region which was taken under direct government administration. Bárbara Direito’s book looks in detail at the various ways in which the Company tried to bring about economic development within its territory. From the start there were contradictions which were debated within the Company by its administrators and in the Board which oversaw policy in Lisbon. Should the Company be purely concerned with administration, deriving its income from railway and port earnings, African head and hut tax and the granting of licenses and land concessions? Or should it be an active participant in the development of the economy, investing in agricultural enterprises? Bridging these two rival visions of the Company was the issue of labour. The Company conscripted labour to carry out its large public works projects but if the Company’s territory was to be developed largely by private concessionaires, how should these enterprises obtain the labour they needed and to what extent should the Company become involved in its recruitment and in the supervision of the conditions of employment? As Bárbara Direito makes clear, land and labour policy were always intimately connected – “In some parts of Africa displacing populations and expropriating their land was, in effect, an indirect way to obtain labour” (pp. 36-37).

3And there was another problem. Why did so many Africans emigrate? What might be done to prevent this exodus of population and how might the population, and hence the availability of labourers, be increased? From Bárbara Direito’s detailed discussion, it is clear that the Company was never able to decide on satisfactory answers to these questions. There were periods when the Company seemed prepared itself to participate in agricultural production, only to withdraw and rely once again on private entrepreneurs. At other times the Company intervened directly in the recruitment of labour, only to veer in the opposite direction and leave labour recruitment in the hands of private contractors. The politics surrounding the supply of labour could become very divisive, especially when large numbers of European settler-farmers descended on Beira in 1910 and forced the governor, Pinto Basto, to leave for Lisbon and in effect to resign.

4The abuses of the labour system were frequently discussed and its relevance to the issue of emigration was clearly understood by the Company. Bárbara Direito points out that “the actions denounced in the report [Ross report] did not go beyond the panoply of abuses already recorded in official documents, conveniently labelled confidential” (132). However, no effective means were adopted to deal with the issues. This is one of the major themes of Allina’s book but Bárbara Direito does not deal with it in any detail. However, she mentions that when a Comissão de Defesa dos Indígenas was established in 1928 there were two African “chefes” as members, though both came from Beira, not the rural areas. In practice, Africans had no choice but “to flee, boycott and where possible negotiate” (95). Allina had shown how Africans resorted to various methods to mitigate the pressures of forced labour and Bárbara Direito also states that conditions during the Depression led to Africans protesting against the payment of tax, while many continued not to pay taxes at all.

5The Company was, from the very start, accused of “denationalising” its territory by making too many concessions to British farmers and entrepreneurs and for employing too many British personnel, but there was always an acute shortage of Portuguese with capital willing to take up farming concessions. Throughout the period of its charter, the Company was very sensitive to this issue which, in practice, gave considerable leverage to the Portuguese settlers. At first land concessions had been made to European farmers on condition that these were developed within a certain period of time, but many of these concessions were not taken up. Few of the concessionaires had capital and depended on forced labour to achieve any cultivation of their land. By 1929 only 6.3 per cent of the territory had been granted as concessions, a third to companies and the rest to individual farmers, 51.2 per cent of whom were Portuguese, the rest foreigners, mostly British (102). These small-scale farmers were not on the whole successful. They were under-capitalised, too dependent on conscripted African labour and not protected from world price fluctuations. According to Eduardo Costa, the failure of early colonisation schemes was due to the colonos themselves who “have done nothing and do not know how to do anything” (151). In 1929 the Banco de Beira collapsed due to the excessive indebtedness of small farmers to whom it had made loans.

6One purpose of the book is to focus on the different interests involved in the determination of Company policy, which often led to severe conflicts within the colonising community. Two of the major rival interests were the vocal group of small-scale farmers who had to obtain labour either directly from the Company or from private contractors and the large sub-concessionaires which were able to control the labour of the populations that resided within their concessions or within areas conceded to them for this purpose. A key question of importance was the basis on which Africans could have access to the land. Here Bárbara Direito surveys the policy pursued in other colonies, notably South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and Kenya. In a very useful analysis she shows clearly how land policies moved from allowing Africans to remain on the land concessions made to Europeans in return for share-cropping arrangements or for supplying labour, to setting aside reserves for African farmers on the assumption that they would be forced onto the labour market by the inadequacy of the size of the reserves and by the requirement to pay taxes.

7During the period 1914-24 the Moçambique Company created a number of reserves, the largest being that established by Pery de Lind in 1914 which amounted to 790,000 hectares, far bigger than the smaller reserves subsequently created. The reserves were carved out of territory not considered suitable for European colonisation, principally because of tsetse fly infestation. It was apparently hoped that Africans would be attracted to move to these reserves and that this would help to stabilise the population and limit internal migrations and illegal emigration to Southern Rhodesia. Like so many other policies of the Company, it was a failure. “More than a decade later, the Directorate of Native Affairs stated that the removal of populations to the reserves had, in practice, not been carried out” (244). The downside of the policy, which started to become clear by the 1940s, was that land in the reserves deteriorated in a serious fashion through overgrazing by cattle, erosion and the exhaustion of the soil.

  • 2 Leroy Vail and Landeg White, Capitalism and Colonialism in Mozambique. London: Heinemann, 1980.
  • 3 Robert Nunez Lyne, Mozambique, its Agricultural Development. London: Fisher Unewin, 1913.

8Although the purpose of this book is to look at the history of agricultural policy and the land question, there are gaps in the way it covers the broader picture of Company policy. Little is said about Libert Oury, who became the guiding figure in the Company in the 1920s and 1930s and whose development policy became focused on the building of the Trans-Zambezia railway and the Lower Zambesi Bridge, both of which had been completed by 1935, and which were designed to channel the traffic from the Nyasaland Protectorate through the port of Beira. Although the major sub-concessionary companies like Companhia de Buzi and Sena Sugar are frequently mentioned, little is said about the land and labour policies they followed within their concessions. In particular Vail and White’s detailed study of Sena Sugar and the labour policies it pursued within its huge concessions has not been discussed.2 (Here it is perhaps worth mentioning that the Hornung family who owned Sena Sugar, never controlled the Zambezia Company as is stated on page 63). Mention might also have been made of Lyne’s book on the agricultural development of Mozambique.3 In general, Bárbara Direito has written a very scholarly book. It is concise, well organised, supported by a wide-ranging bibliography and has made an impressive contribution to understanding the fifty years rule of the Moçambique Company.

Topo da página


1 Eric Allina, Slavery by Any Other Name: African Life under Company Rule in Colonial Mozambique. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012.

2 Leroy Vail and Landeg White, Capitalism and Colonialism in Mozambique. London: Heinemann, 1980.

3 Robert Nunez Lyne, Mozambique, its Agricultural Development. London: Fisher Unewin, 1913.

Topo da página

Para citar este artigo

Referência do documento impresso

Malyn Newitt, «Bárbara Direito (2020), Terra e Colonialismo em Moçambique. A região de Manica e Sofala sob a Companhia de Moçambique, 1892-1942»Ler História, 78 | 2021, 293-296.

Referência eletrónica

Malyn Newitt, «Bárbara Direito (2020), Terra e Colonialismo em Moçambique. A região de Manica e Sofala sob a Companhia de Moçambique, 1892-1942»Ler História [Online], 78 | 2021, posto online no dia 23 junho 2021, consultado no dia 17 abril 2024. URL:; DOI:

Topo da página


Malyn Newitt

King’s College London, United Kingdom

Artigos do mesmo autor

Topo da página

Direitos de autor


Apenas o texto pode ser utilizado sob licença CC BY-NC 4.0. Outros elementos (ilustrações, anexos importados) são "Todos os direitos reservados", à exceção de indicação em contrário.

Topo da página
Pesquisar OpenEdition Search

Você sera redirecionado para OpenEdition Search