Maputo – a history lesson in street names

Marx, Nyerere, Mondlane – you say these names constantly in Maputo. Why? Because each journey you make involves negotiating a “Rua” named after a historical figure.

The following really is a drive you can do here in about 20  minutes.

Ave Fredrick Engels
Avda Fredrick Engels

Begin at Avenida Kenneth Kaunda, turn right onto Kim Il Sung and then another right to Mao Se Tung before a left onto Salvador Allende. Proceed until Eduardo Mondlane where you make a right before a left onto Vladimir Lènine (yep!), passing the British High Commission just after Ho Chi Min, before a left onto Patrice Lumumba, and go round Julius Nyerere,  finally connecting onto Avda Friedrich Engels. And you didn’t even use one of the Avenues that help you to remember specific dates, like the 24th July (Independence), 25th September (Revolution) and 10th November (Maputo Day).

The journey is a history lesson. The road names tell you most of all you need to know of the last fifty years of this country. Mozambique boasts nearly 1500 miles of phenomenally beautiful coastline, but for the majority of the late 20th Century this was a not a place many people wanted to visit. From 1964, in step with other African Nations,  the demand for freedom commenced and the fight began. Then, after 1975, the birth pangs, infancy and adolescence of a newly independent nation were fraught with conflict as ideologies clashed for some twenty years. Many died, many suffered and many were displaced. Most have a story of those times, and we have heard some already.

Downtown Maputo

That was then. The now is quite astonishing, especially in Maputo. The development and investment is palpable. Construction is everywhere; hotels, bridges, condominiums, shopping malls, banks and a new beach front are just a few of the outward and obvious signs of economic growth. Funding and finance are coming from various parts of the world, including the usual sources, but at least it is coming.

Maputo from sand

The discovery of energy products (coal and gas) have given a new hope of the prospect of a brighter future. That doesn’t mean to say that all is a bed of roses – far from it. You only need to read the newspaper, visit an outside bairro, talk to a few people or, for a “full in the face” reality check, see one of the two massive rubbish dumps where thousands are said to live. Not everyone is yet (or even close to) benefitting and Maputo is a very different place to the rest of this vast country.

But there does seem to be a desire to move on down a new road, one that might see the next generation flourish given the right opportunity.

I had a conversation with a young man this weekend. As a boy he literally lived on those aforementioned streets ten years ago, impoverished and with apparently no future. With the love, help and care of others he is now the manager of a small but growing business. But I was impressed by his ambition to not stop there. He starts university next month and wants to become a lawyer. Why? Because he wants to see  a better future for his country and wants to be part of the change. To see justice done and others helped. His is an ambition that is born out of his own history.

We pray that he will see that dream turned into a reality for the sake of his future and we hope that the historians who write about this wonderful country in the coming years might have a street to write about, a street which is named after him.


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