Capitalism and Colonialism in Mozambique


by Landeg White
Cambridge University Press 1987

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This book provides an informative example of the manner in which capitalism has underdeveloped Africa. It describes the economic and social history of the Quelimane district of Mozambique from the mid-nineteenth century until independence in 1975.

It has two features of particular originality. Firstly, it concentrates on the local impact of capitalism, making extensive use of state and company archives.

Secondly, novel use is made of popular protest and work songs to supplement other data. They are revealed as vivid indicators of the African population’s reaction to alien rule.


“This book fully lives up to the promise of a series of excellent articles published over recent years … Rarely have the fundamental developments in a single African region over the last century been given such searching investigation … Vail and White produce a finely-worked succession of arguments about capitalist strategies on competition and markets, but above all labor over more than half a century … A final chapter of great value considers the plantation economy in the light of the independence war … Vail and White offer one of the more sensitive considerations of the dilemmas facing socialist construction in Africa yet to have appeared … an excellent conclusion to a work of very high quality.”

African Studies Review

“La somme de Leroy Vail and Landeg White pulverise litteralement par sa concentration documentaire tout ce et, ecrit sur l’histoire du Mozambique … On verrait que les deux auteurs ont depass, les limites atteints par tous les predecesseurs … Un grand et beau livre … mediter par les dirigeants actuels.”

Le Mois en Afrique

“This is the best book to have been published to date on the history of Mozambique in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it is of far greater significance than its sub-title might suggest … Themes of importance for the whole of Mozambique are prominent, and are often treated in a fresh and novel way … An excellent model for the new wave of social and economic history which is transforming the historiography of Africa … A work which makes an outstanding contribution, not just to the history of Mozambique, but to the history of African as a whole.”

Journal of African History

“This is undoubted one of the best and most important books on southern African history to appear for some time … A fascinating and detailed account of the actual operations of big business in Africa … This book is no political polemic and it is in this that its importance lies … The excellence of this work and its extremely readable style make it an essential acquisition for any serious Africanist.”


“Vail and White draw together an awesome body of archival, published and popular sources to produce a book which is empirical history at its best…They skilfully demonstrate that there are more than two sides to every story by identifying a whole rainbow of interest groups … There is simply no comparable work on the twentieth century…The book is simply superb!”

International Journal of African Historical Studies

“This important work traces the exploitation of the people of Mozambique from the early nineteenth century to 1977. Its originality lies in the detailed analysis of the actual impact, at the grass roots level, of the operations of capitalist expatriate firms. Much of its interest stems from the imaginative use of songs to illustrate African reactions to oppression … The authors are to be congratulated on their masterly presentation of a complex subject.”

African Affairs