Tuesday, 30 September 2014


             BLACK            SOCIAL           HISTORY                                                                                                                                       MOZAMBIQUE AND EAST GERMAN SOCIALIST EDUCATION

`Memories of paradise'
– Legacies of socialist education in Mozambique

Tanja R. Müller*

During the Cold War, state-led education exchange programmes between
post-colonial states and the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) were
common. The biggest such project, the School of Friendship (SdF), sent 899
Mozambican children for socialist-inspired schooling in the GDR. By the time
they returned to Mozambique in 1988, the transition from socialist-revolutionary
state to capitalist society was under way. This article discusses the legacies
of socialist education, focusing on the lives of some of those who spent the
decisive years of adolescence in the GDR. The narratives give insights into the
contradictory social reality of this historical period, showing how the SdF
equipped the participants with `modern' virtues that became vital for their
future lives, but which had also become largely obsolete by the time they
returned to Mozambique. The SdF could thus be judged as a highly politicized
programme where children were treated as pawns in a wider political game, while
at the same time new horizons opened for its participants.

Between the Second World War and the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy
initiatives of `Eastern Bloc' countries were determined by the overarching
objective to foster socialism worldwide. In practice that objective translated
into efforts to consolidate the new `peoples' democracies' in Europe and Asia,
and from the 1960s onwards increasingly in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to
preferential trade arrangements and technical cooperation, education and
training of those perceived likely to become key figures in their respective
countries was a prominent strategy. The former German Democratic Republic (GDR)
was an important player in these educational efforts, seeking to create an
`emotional predisposition' towards socialism in general and the GDR in
particular, and with it long-term influence over the political direction of
developing countries.1

Educational schemes were most pronounced in relation to some of the
socialist-oriented countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and the closest cooperation
developed with the newly independent People's Republic of Mozambique from 1975
onwards (renamed Republic of Mozambique in 1990). This cooperation included an
extensive contract-worker programme that entailed training and professional
development components, as well as a scheme offering university education to
students from a variety of socialist countries.2 Arguably the most ambitious of
those schemes in terms of education towards socialism was the experiment at the
centre of this article, Schule der Freundschaft (SdF) or the School of
Friendship. The rationale behind its creation was twofold, combining economic
and ideological objectives: on the one hand it was meant to produce an educated
elite of socialist-oriented professionals who were to assume crucial positions
in the future development of Mozambique. On the other, it was to train qualified
personnel destined to work in new joint ventures between the GDR and
Mozambique.3 Thus, between 1982 and 1988, a total of 899 Mozambican children
completed six years of secondary schooling and vocational training at the SdF.
They returned to Mozambique in 1988 and found a country that had changed
considerably in their absence, not least in terms of having moved away from a
socialist path of development towards a capitalist system.

This article discusses the legacies of German socialist education by focusing on
the individual stories of some of those who attended the SdF. Twenty years after
they returned to Mozambique, the article analyses the continuing impact of the
SdF in relation to questions of identity. It is now widely argued that identity
is socially constructed, a `process of becoming rather than being'.4 At the same
time, the years of adolescence are widely perceived as central to the
developmental process and the constitution of a mature sense of identity. An
important part of the latter is cultural identity arrived at through
self-definition as a member of a group characterized by shared experiences or
heritage.5 Identities may be modified over time according to changing
circumstances, but those modifications can best be described as `the changing
same', a re-invention of tradition in order to come to terms with past routes
and trajectories.6 To understand identities in their complexity it is important
to investigate how people practise those identities – not only through their
actions, but also by conceptualizing those actions as constituting membership of
a distinct group.7 Based on interview and observation data collected in
Mozambique in May and June 2008, the focus here centres on whether one can speak
of a specific identity among those who spent their adolescence at the SdF that
makes them distinct in present-day Mozambique. More broadly, the article
investigates how a state political project based on an ideological agenda that
became obsolete over time has nevertheless contributed to the formation of a
`modern' identity that enabled participants to put some of their ambitions into

The article begins with a discussion of the SdF as a specific institution within
the framework of GDR international policies. This is followed by two sections on
identity formation and the professional trajectories of the participants. The
majority of the research participants remember their time at the SdF as
`paradise' – hence the title of the article – a time when they learned valuable
skills and values that are at the core of how they subsequently lived their
lives. This is the case in spite of the fact that back in Mozambique their
professional skills turned out to be irrelevant, as did the ideological
underpinning of their education, socialism. Perhaps rather ironically, values of
social solidarity are one of the most pronounced features of their identity as
individuals and as part of the SdF group, and form an important part of their
overall life strategies in contemporary individualist-centred Mozambique.

The SdF within international development policies of the former GDR

The international development policies of the former GDR were characterized by
the dualism of securing economic state survival while at the same time advancing
socialism and honouring a commitment towards international solidarity with those
subjugated by the capitalist world order.8 Within that policy an important
pillar of international cooperation was the schooling of youth from
socialist-oriented developing countries in boarding facilities in the GDR. The
first big project was devised for youth from Vietnam between 1955 and 1961 in
order to support the aspirations of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the
aftermath of the First Indochina War. From 1979 onwards, several cohorts of
Namibian children, displaced by the South West Africa People's Organization's
(SWAPO) nationalist liberation war to refugee camps in Zambia and Angola, were
brought up and educated in the GDR, some for up to 12 years. In all those
projects a crucial part of the education process centred on transferring
socialist values combined with patriotism and a propensity to serve the wider
community. The GDR was chosen because its education system was regarded as one
of the most advanced among socialist states, making it the natural country for
grooming a future socialist elite.9

The same rationale was behind the request of the Mozambican government under
Samora Machel to create the SdF, the biggest and most ambitious of all projects
geared to the schooling of foreign children. Relations between the GDR and the
Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO), the former liberation movement and
since independence in 1975 the governing party, began in the 1960s and from 1967
GDR education experts worked within the FRELIMO education infrastructure, then
situated in exile in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.10 Thus, when in 1979 a friendship and
cooperation treaty was signed between the GDR and the People's Republic of
Mozambique, it seemed natural that FRELIMO looked to the GDR for support in
creating an education system based on socialist values and emphasizing a
symbiotic relationship between academic study and its productive application.11

The SdF was thus planned as a boarding and schooling complex in purpose-built
facilities in Staβfurt near Magdeburg for up to 1,000 Mozambican children.
From the Mozambican perspective, the main educational objective was the creation
of a socialist personality, the homen novo, who at the same time was equipped
with technical and professional skills that were needed for the future
development of the country. The start of the SdF coincided with the most active
period of the GDR's economic involvement in Mozambique from 1977 to 1982, when a
number of big joint ventures were envisaged in agriculture, coal production,
fishing, the textile industry, radio production, lightbulb production, and the
assembly of trucks. An important part of the GDR's rationale for the SdF was to
train qualified Mozambican personnel who could work in leading positions in
those joint ventures.12

Both sets of objectives were integrated into the actual workings of the SdF. In
early 1982, coordinated by the Mozambican Ministry for Education and Culture,
the selection of pupils destined to continue their education at the SdF started.
The aim was to recruit children from all over the country, including rural
outposts. Selection was based on the following criteria: having completed grade
four of primary schooling with good grades, discipline at school, good health,
and the agreement of parents or guardians. In addition children should ideally
be between 12 and 14 years of age, as older children were considered for the
education programme on Isla de la Juventud in Cuba.13 One reason for targeting
children from all over Mozambique was FRELIMO's objective to forge a common
Mozambican – as opposed to ethnic or regional – identity among participants,
together with a deep commitment towards the country and FRELIMO as the leading
agent of progressive change.14

The selected children were gathered at four centres in Maputo, Inhambane, Tete,
and Nampula, and eventually left with some 22 Mozambican pedagogic personnel for
the GDR in the second part of 1982. At the SdF the 899 children (695 boys and
204 girls) were divided into 30 groups and given intensive language training –
German was to be the primary medium of their education, and they would be taught
by German staff. They received four years of secondary education followed by two
years of professional training (with parallel secondary education) leading to a
specifically German leaving certificate, the Fachabitur (comparable to
professionally based A-levels). The professions corresponded to the planned
joint ventures between the GDR and Mozambique and centred on apprenticeships in
the metal-processing industry, building and construction, electrical
engineering, and agricultural technology. During the first four years of their
stay in Staβfurt the lives of the young Mozambicans were highly regulated
in every aspect: they were allowed to leave the integrated boarding and
schooling complex only in groups and for special occasions, including visits to
allocated guest families, and most of their `free time' was taken up by communal
activities geared towards installing a socialist, communal spirit. When
professional training commenced in 1986 their situation changed quite radically.
Apprenticeships took place alongside East German youth and youth from other
socialist countries in regular GDR enterprises, and often involved frequent
travel – sometimes with stays at boarding facilities in different towns during
the working week.

It was also during this period – from 1986 onwards – that problems with the SdF
as an institution became apparent. The Mozambican students reached the age of
puberty and, with the changing nature of their schooling and living
arrangements, became more independent. They were also becoming aware that many
apprenticeships were not viable professions in Mozambique. Plans to abandon the
various joint ventures with the GDR had gathered pace from 1982 onwards. This
was partly related to the rejection of Mozambique as a new member of the Council
for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON, the Eastern Bloc economic cooperation
organization) in 1981 and the country's subsequent turn towards the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both of which it joined in 1984.
Another reason for abandoning the joint ventures was widespread economic and
political destabilization as a consequence of increased counterinsurgency
activities by the Resistencia Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO), during which the
FRELIMO government lost control over parts of the country.15 The youth at the
SdF had kept in contact with relatives back home mainly via letters, although in
1984 and 1985 two groups of up to 50 children were allowed to spend their summer
vacation in Mozambique as a reward for exemplary grades and discipline. These
children were directly aware of the civil war and the security situation
prevented some of them from visiting their families. More generally, while the
youth at the SdF might not have been aware of all the details concerning their
envisaged employment in newly created joint-venture enterprises, they knew
things had changed irrevocably in Mozambique with the death of Samora Machel in
1986, the year they started their apprenticeships. The SdF was very much a
project connected to the FRELIMO of Samora Machel, and from the outset it became
clear that his successor Joaquim Chissano would follow a different policy
agenda.16 With hindsight, agreements on what type of professions the SdF
children were to pursue should have been adjusted to new realities, but this did
not happen either on the GDR or the Mozambican side. Thus, while both states
developed in different directions economically, as well as in terms of ideology,
the range of professions offered as apprenticeships and the wider rationale
behind the SdF remained tied to the original objectives.17

In line with those objectives the majority, 834 students altogether, completed
their education and apprenticeship successfully and returned to Mozambique as
planned in the second half of 1988, where most were sent straight to the army in
order to complete compulsory military service. In a further blow to their
educational status, their SdF leaving certificates – that according to the
original agreement should have been equal to the completion of secondary school
or Grade 12 in Mozambique – were recognized as completion of Grade 10 only, and
for most of their newly acquired professions no formal employment opportunities
existed. In the course of a reappraisal of East German history a number of
publications deal specifically with the SdF, providing a comprehensive picture
of contentious issues in relation to the institution.18 Those include cases of
unrest over allocated apprenticeships, coupled with theft, vandalism, and
alcohol consumption, racial tensions with East German youth, pregnancies among
Mozambican girls, and more generally an emerging impression among the SdF youth
that they were denied opportunities for individual development.19

However, these publications do not deal – apart from occasional broad
generalizations – with the vast majority of SdF students who followed their
education through without being chastised for deviant behaviour, but who then
returned to a Mozambique where their socialist identity and their qualifications
were considered inferior.

Identity formation at the SdF

This article seeks to fill this gap in our knowledge about the impact of the
SdF, and draws mainly on interviews held in Mozambique between May and July
2008, facilitated by a visit to Mozambique in May/June 2007. In addition, the
author spent time with larger groups of SdF participants in social settings. A
sample of 35 men and women who attended the SdF were interviewed in depth. The
selection was based on purposive sampling methods, taking into account four
different geographical locations where large groups of former SdF students live
today. These locations were Maputo and surroundings; Beira and
Chimoio/Cruzamento de Tete in Central Mozambique; and Nampula in northern
Mozambique. In all four locations contact was established with an SdF
participant who acted as a focal point in terms of gathering contact details
and/or facilitating occasional meetings among SdF graduates. The four central
contact persons helped to publicize the project and were part of the interview
sample for triangulation purposes, but their narratives have not been included
in the actual analysis. All those approached, regardless of whether they were in
regular contact with other former SdF participants or not, were keen to talk
about their personal stories and their memories of the former GDR. As Clara
says: `I am very happy we can have this conversation; I could never have
imagined that some day I would meet a German here and talk about the SdF.'20

In open-ended interviews participants were asked about three broad themes: their
background and upbringing in Mozambique before they went to the GDR; their time
in the GDR; and their lives since they returned. Interviews were mostly held in
German, a language the majority were keen on speaking, or in some cases in

In using personal narratives to trace lasting legacies of their
socialist-inspired schooling at the SdF, participants' definition of themselves
is important. When many of the events narrated took place, the then children
were at a crucial age in terms of identity formation and spent those years in a
setting focused on collective rather than individual parameters. The question
thus arises how far in the process of reconstructing their past individuals
identify personal with public memories that constitute important events for the
collective.21 Indeed, important collective narratives have been encountered
among participants that strengthen their notion of themselves as a distinct
group. Those can be discussed under three themes: experiences with racism in the
GDR; the agenda of Samora Machel and the `betrayals' after his death; and the
SdF children as a family. In relation to racism, few participants had concrete
negative experiences but all could recount the drowning referred to earlier (see
footnote 19) as if they had actually been eye-witnesses. This event served as an
explanatory framework for making sense of being visibly different while at the
same time aspiring to live the normal lives of adolescent local youth. This
feeling of difference was more generally a constitutive element of the SdF.
Participants were regarded as part of a selected few, chosen to build socialism
in the future, a fact that enforced the notion of being a quasi-family, a
close-knit group apart from others. This last theme in particular, the assertion
that the former SdF children do indeed function as a family, has concrete
implications for the lived realities of today, as we shall see in due course. It
thus underscores the fact that the narratives presented here effectively portray
the social and historical circumstances that determine participants' lives; they
reveal frameworks of meaning through which the participants locate themselves in
the world they experience as members of a distinct group.22

Last, it needs to be pointed out that two groups of former SdF participants were
not part of this research project. The first group are those who returned to
their rural villages upon their return and avoided any contact with fellow
schoolmates. Anecdotal evidence from those met in the course of this research
suggests that they struggle with everyday life and mainly live from whatever
their subsistence plots can provide. It is hard to estimate how big that group
might be as multiple contacts and networks do exist among the ex-SdF group. The
second group who fell outside the remit of this project are those who returned
to the GDR as contract workers shortly after their return to Mozambique, and
subsequently remained in the united Germany.23

The lasting legacies of their time at the SdF are most clearly expressed by
former participants as relating to a specific identity: both `German' and
`socialist'. `We are German children to this day'24 is an often repeated
statement, as are references to `socialist' values as an important underpinning
of the lives they seek to lead. In relation to the first theme, having spent the
decisive years of adolescence in a different cultural context in Germany is
perceived as a mind-opener that fundamentally changed values and belief systems
of participants, as Fabio explains:

It was good because . . . the knowledge that I have is different from those
students who stayed here. They only learned by simple learning but we had the
chance to see other things. The environment itself [in Germany], it helped to
change our mind, it helped us develop, the way how we feel is different from the
people who have been here the whole time. It was fantastic.25

Similar feelings are voiced by Antonia and Margarida. Antonia says `I don't know
exactly how to say it, but I think differently. What I have learned in Germany
has helped me a lot in my overall life. I see many things in a different light
from the people here who have never been out.'26 And Margarida comments:

My thinking is not square … I have the possibility to see things from
different angles . . . for example here in Mozambique the women are very . . .
the husband decides, but I don't think so and I did not allow one man to do that
to me, tell me what to do . . . I saw how things can be different in Germany.27

Indeed, one of the lasting `German' legacies is a different understanding of
gender roles as referred to by Margarida, coupled with a different understanding
of what a family should be and how to educate one's children, even though the
former is not always easy to enforce. Alex explains:

I only wanted two children after I returned from Germany. I had a different
mentality, and I was looking for a wife who would understand that, but women
here are different and the parents of my wife also said that [two children only]
was not possible, we needed to have more. So now we have five.28

Mateus recalls how the way he and his wife share domestic chores puzzles his

When I help my wife and for example do some washing up my neighbours
sometimes think I am strange, but that is what I learned in Germany, that men
and women are equal and should help each other.29

Claudio explains how his own education in Germany influences how he and his
wife, who is also a former SdF student, educate their own children:

I believe we always try to give the best to our children. So what we have
learned abroad we try to teach our children, and I believe they are a bit
different from children of people who were never outside the country.30

Marta, who has divorced her husband because he would not tolerate her
independent mind and lives with her two children from that marriage, a girl aged
12 and a boy aged 8, says:

I educate my children in the way I have learned it in Germany. . . . . My
children they respect each other, the boy respects the girl, and they respect
also all other people who are different, and they keep their promises . . . and
I would always send my children to such a programme if that was still a

This last feeling, that they would not hesitate to send their own children to a
similar scheme, is widely shared and expressed well by Sousa:

I work for my children and I always thought my children should grow up
better than I did, but I will not succeed in this because I do not know any
Mozambican institution where you can grow up better than at the SdF. . . . I
know it is just a dream now to have my children there, but if a child grows up
with other children and a good education it is better than at home. I became a
man there and I don't know what would have become of me at home.32

More generally, a majority of participants feel that the intangible effects that
made them different have at the same time made them role models within their
extended families, and thus will influence future generations. As Roberto

It made a big difference to have studied in Germany. The culture is
different, and an apprenticeship there and here is totally different. We learned
so many different things . . . I can say those who wanted to learn brought back
many things . . . and I can say we are a bit different from those who stayed
behind . . . [in my family] others now regard me as a role model and try to
follow in my footsteps.33

Taken together, many of the attributes connected to being `German', not least a
different understanding of gender roles, are in fact attributes of many `modern'
societies, socialist and capitalist alike. Because participants were exposed to
such `modernity' for the first time during their stay in the GDR and through the
German language, `modern' and `German' partly overlap as cultural categories. At
the same time it is how `modernity' was lived in the concrete setting of the
former GDR that was formative for SdF participants.34

Moving to the second theme, `socialist' values are in the participants' own
understanding visible in practical solidarity towards each other. They are also
conscious of having values different from the `capitalist' agenda prevalent in
contemporary Mozambique, as expressed here by Mano:

In the world we grew up in [in Germany] this utopia, socialism, it was good,
I always used to say `I am a socialist for ever' and up to this day I believe in
socialism.… Mozambique now, OK there is development, but you need money and many
people cannot buy anything . . . the good thing here now is there is no war,
people are free . . . but the economy is only good for some, many people cannot
eat. . . . That is capitalism, we know exactly how capitalism works or
imperialism, we have seen all that, and so I still believe in socialism.35

More generally, a strong group identity has developed among SdF participants and
makes them feel as if they are a family to this day, as expressed by Nina: `We
came back twenty years ago but until now we are family . . . it was a unique
story. I am old now but I will never forget.'36 In being scattered all over the
country in the years after demobilization many initially lost contact with each
other, and only recently with the advance of mobile phones has it become easier
to get in touch again. But if any SdF student turns up on the doorstep of a
former schoolmate they are indeed treated and welcomed like family members. In
addition, regular meetings are now held in many locations, and networks are
beginning to take shape to help those who still have difficulties. Mateus puts
it this way:

It was good that I was in Germany, as now I have a big family from here to
Maputo, all us former SdF … we are different, we have a different culture, we
are still different, we are still German … and we still live solidarity, we try
to help each other, the socialist idea is still in our head. We do not say to
each other you must see for yourself, we say we will try to find something for

The survival of `German' and `socialist' identities among SdF participants can
be related to the dynamics of identity formation as a `process of becoming'
partly based on membership of a group characterized by shared experiences. SdF
participants grew up in a collective-centred context where the ideological focus
was firmly on values of sacrifice and personal interests were secondary to the
needs of the wider `socialist' collective. The most important unit of
socialization became the class, each made up of 30 youth with heterogeneous
ethnic and linguistic backgrounds forged into a homogeneous unit, a process
aided by German and to a lesser extent Portuguese as the only common
languages.38 Each class had a representative selected by the FRELIMO
representative at the SdF, who helped to reinforce the creation of a united
identity based on secondary virtues (Sekundärtugenden) such as discipline,
patriotism, respect, courtesy, and comradeship. In addition, all SdF
participants were automatically part of the FRELIMO youth organization, the
Organização de Juventude Moçambicana (OJM), whose activities reinforced a
collective understanding of identity among SdF youth as socialist Mozambicans.39

Perhaps most crucially, SdF participants were explicitly chosen and educated to
form part of a future professional elite and act as multipliers for the
socialist transformation of Mozambican society. At the same time, while
participants were at the SdF the war with RENAMO intensified and many
participants came from areas heavily affected by the conflict.40 Many had
parents killed or displaced, and later found out that some of their primary
school classmates had been forcefully abducted or recruited into either
movement, as Danilo remembers: `The time was difficult for Mozambique. There was
war, many young people were taken from the streets to the army by FRELIMO or by
RENAMO. Many have died, I know many from my village who are not here now … so it
was best for me to have been in Germany.'41

Taken together, those parameters of their socialization were bound to have
created a specific cultural identity among SdF participants by the time they
returned to Mozambique as young adults, an identity partly based on the
propensity to contribute positively to the development of Mozambique. Most
expected to work in the professions they were trained for, in a position
determined by the Mozambican government. The next section discusses how the
lives of the former SdF students unfolded in relation to their professions.

Professional trajectories of former SdF participants

The different professional trajectories of those who participated in this study
can be divided into four distinct groups. The first group of three participants
comprises those who to this day work in the professions they were trained for.
Their education in the former GDR thus very concretely laid the foundation for
their future professional lives, even though not quite in the way originally
anticipated in terms of spearheading a government drive to rebuild Mozambique,
and not without frustrations, as the case of Alberto exemplifies.

Alberto42 comes from Zambézia Province and now lives in Maputo. Because he was a
good and disciplined student he was given a limited choice among the professions
that were on offer at the time the apprenticeships started. Alberto from his
early childhood had wanted to be an electrician and when he was chosen to
continue his education in the former GDR,

I thought I am lucky, my dream will come true . . . when I was a child my
father had applied to work at Cahora Bassa,43 but they [the Portuguese colonial
administration] told him he was not qualified, they needed electricians or such
people; and when I heard I could learn in Germany, I thought immediately then I
want to become an electrician and do what my father could not do . . . and that
is what has happened.

At first when professions were allocated it was suggested he should become a
mechanic, a choice generally offered to the best students. But he insisted he
wanted to become an electrician, and after he explained the reasons why, he was
allowed to do so. Upon his return to Mozambique Alberto, like most of his
contemporaries, was drafted into the army but demobilized quite early in 1990.
Once he realized that the government took no interest in his skills he
successfully secured work on his own in his profession. Alberto has since worked
for various private companies as an electrician; at the time of the interview he
worked for a South African company in Maputo.

When judging the impact of his time in the former GDR on his subsequent life he
at one level is very grateful, because `I came from a poor family and would
never have had the chance to learn what I have learned.' At the same time he is
still frustrated that their qualifications have not been properly recognized and
that he did not have the chance to study further. When he came back:

I was a patriot, I really believed I will help develop my country and I can
do many things as an electrician. Then first they sent us into the army and I
believed after we are demobilized we will be given work in our profession, after
all the government also paid for our education … then I even had to fight to get
my diploma recognized and it did not happen … the government did not want us and
I always worked for private companies.

In his current job he does the work of an electrical engineer, but `my salary
does not reflect those responsibilities as salary schemes operate according to
formal qualifications obtained', and to this day he has officially only
completed Grade 10. Alberto would have liked to upgrade his education `but in my
work I have to travel all over the country frequently, so I am never in one
place for long enough to complete secondary schooling'. He still dreams of
continuing his education in the field of electrics, but `I know it is just a
dream, now I am the sole provider of my family [his wife and three children]'.
Already Alberto takes on private clients during weekends and holidays to
supplement his low salary. Thus while he is proud of his qualifications and
content that he actually uses these in his professional life, the fact that SdF
certificates were not recognized as promised has impacted negatively on his life
in many ways, not least on the realization of his ambition for further study.

This leads us to the second group, made up of eight participants comprising
those who from the beginning associated going to Germany with eventually
attending university. They have worked towards that ambition since their return
and consider the mindset they developed during their years at the SdF vital for
eventually managing to turn that ambition into reality in spite of delays and
frustrations along the way. In fact, quite a number of ex-SdF students had just
started university education or were about to do so at the time of the
interviews. There are various reasons why this is happening so late in their
lives. At first the majority believed their diplomas would eventually be
recognized by the government. When that recognition never came many were still
reluctant to return to school simply to complete secondary education, something
they felt they had already more than done. In addition, after their release from
the army, most prioritized finding work and earning an income, as even at
government universities one usually has to pay a minimum of US$200 per month.44
After a last attempt to get their SdF diplomas recognized failed in 2006, most
went ahead, completed the required schooling, and subsequently took university
entrance exams; this was easiest for those who had been in employment more or
less continuously and thus been able to build a house and save some money.

A case in point is Nina. She did her apprenticeship in telecommunications but
could not find work in that profession. For the last fifteen years she has
worked as an accountant at the Ministry of Agriculture. In the evening she
completed secondary schooling and a three-year pre-university course in
accounting, and finally in 2007 has fulfilled her ambition to study at
university. At the time of the interview, she was in the first year of a
bachelor's degree in environmental science and anticipates continuing to work
for the Ministry of Agriculture after her graduation, but at a higher grade and
in the field of agriculture-based community development. She believes the fact
that she kept her ambitions alive and now finally has the means to realize them
is strongly related to her stay in Germany: `We were going to Germany to improve
our knowledge but when we came back here we were held back . . . we expected it
to be different so now we have to improve by ourselves.'45

The third and largest group, made up of 19 participants, are those who, while
not working in their professions, have in other ways taken opportunities as they
arose, often after substantial initial difficulties. They are, by and large,
content with their lives and see that fact as strongly related to the time they
spent in the former GDR. A prime example in this group is Paolo, who currently
works for the Mozambican consulate in Mutare, Zimbabwe, as a diplomatic
assistant. Because he had been trained as a mechanic he was assigned to the navy
upon his return in order to help repair navy vessels. In due course he was
taught to operate ships and made to work on coastal vessels bringing soldiers to
the war zones in the north and evacuating civilians to safe havens in the cities
further south. Even though none of the vessels he was on was ever involved in
fighting RENAMO directly – RENAMO did not have boats, let alone ships – he was
the one of the interviewees who was closest to potential active involvement in
war activities. Upon demobilization in 1992 he returned to his home town of
Gondola, where he was unemployed for about four years before he started to work
as project consultant for various foreign aid organizations in the areas of
demobilization and health care. When those contracts came to an end, he secured
a job with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – `and so I secured a new
profession', as he was trained to work in the diplomatic service in 1999.46
Reflecting upon the last twenty years, he says:

I am very happy, my government gave me the opportunity to become educated
[in Germany] and I am proud because I have found a profession and I am working
for my government, even now in a different profession . . . for me the best
thing was to have been able to go to Germany because I have learned so many
things, not just the education . . . even at this moment I serve my government
after I have learned things in Germany I can use here . . . even though I was
trained as a mechanic, all my work here now depends on those experiences when I
was in Germany.47

For the last group, made up of five participants who have not found work or a
profession in any meaningful sense of the word, their stay at the SdF has in
many ways faded into `memories of paradise'.

Flora is one of those for whom Germany is a distant memory of a good time, while
since her return everything has gone downhill: `it was a wonderful time . . . if
we could go back in time I would go again immediately, but that is not
possible'.48 She also lives off her memories in terms of her current social
relations: `sometimes to speak on the telephone or write a text message [to
other former SdF students], that is good, that keeps me going, it is good to
remember'.49 Flora had trained as a radio technician and worked in the army
telecommunication repair workshop for four years upon her return. After her
demobilization in 1994 she could not find any work and eventually, with a small
loan from an uncle, has started selling small goods from her home, mainly
vegetables and toiletries. She had children with a fellow ex-SdF who returned to
Germany as a contract worker and is there to this day. Sometimes he comes to
Mozambique to visit; sometimes he sends money for the children, but not on a
regular basis; and he keeps promising they will marry one day `but the day has
not come yet and I would like to marry him, but maybe he has another family
already in Germany, I do not know'.50 Flora does not have many aspirations any
longer, but is sad:

I am healthy, I could do many things . . . but I am at home doing nothing.
This was not good from our government, we were meant to develop our country and
I am at home now and do nothing. It is as if I never went to school. It is also
not good for our country. I would like to work.51

The father of her children had asked her to return to Germany with him in 1988,
before the children were born. But at the time she hesitated and then it was too
late, because of German reunification.

That is what I regret most in my life … because it was so good that I had
been in Germany, and I at first thought it will get even better when I am back
here, I can work . . . now I only have memories, I got to know a new homeland,
new types of people. If I had stayed in Mozambique I would now sit on a machamba
[small subsistence plot], now at least I live in the city [in Maputo].52

Taken together, SdF participants' experiences upon their return were
characterized in the first instance by rejection of their professional
achievements. They were then required to expend considerable individual effort
to reclaim a valued professional identity. Those experiences have to be seen in
the context of Mozambique's prolonged conflict. By the time the SdF participants
were demobilized the country had become one of the world's most impoverished and
devastated, offering few opportunities for any kind of formal employment.53
While this state of affairs began to change slowly after the 1992 peace accord,
when qualified personnel were needed for the process of reconstruction, there
were scant opportunities for the SdF cohort who had acquired technical
professional skills most useful for industries that did simply not exist.54 More
generally, the post-1992 reconstruction process, mainly financed by foreign aid
donors and based on structural adjustment programmes, market capitalism and
democratization, has resulted in the monopolization of political and economic
power in the hands of an elite primarily concerned with securing its narrow
self-interest while ignoring its obligations to the wider population.55

It was partly this discrepancy between the socialist code of conduct they
internalized during their schooling in the GDR and a Mozambican reality
characterized by personal enrichment and corruption, devoid of moral constraints
and concern for the common good, that reinforced a distinct identity among
former SdF participants based on values of solidarity. In addition, and in
contrast to many of their compatriots, their schooling at the SdF not only let
them acquire a profession but at the same time potentially equipped them with
the secondary skills and values, conceived of as distinctly `German' by most, to
eventually achieve part of their goals, as shown in the lives of the majority of
those interviewed, and as summed up by Mia:

We learned how to live and help each other, and we learned how to plan our
lives . . . here [in Mozambique] people simply live from day to day, they do not
make plans and think about the consequences of what they do . . . I always plan
and if you really want to achieve something you need to plan and work for it . .
. what I am now [Mia works as sales manager for a private company] I am because
I was in Germany . . . and because of socialism, and now at least we have to
help each other.56

And even for those like Flora, who failed to achieve most of her ambitions,
conceptualizing her life around being a member of the distinct group of former
SdF participants provides her with an identity that allows her to come to terms
with the way her life has unfolded.

Conclusion – identity and the `socialist' legacy

Probably the strongest lasting legacy of SdF participants' time in the former
GDR is an identity based on a belief in the values of social solidarity. The SdF
thus achieved one of its core objectives: to create an `emotional
predisposition' towards `socialism', or rather a cohort of people that value
communal solidarity over individual gain. Ironically, upon their return to
Mozambique those values turned out to be a hinderance rather than a help in
establishing a successful professional and personal life. Seen in this way, the
SdF can be judged a highly politicized programme born out of the particular
parameters of an historic moment in time determined by East–West confrontation
and the logic of the Cold War, making its participants pawns in a wider
political game.

Rejected by their government, participants have been left disillusioned with
active political engagement. But they continue to express values of solidarity
in the private realm and within their group, as seen in the creation of
`self-help' networks in places like Chimoio, where a group of SdF participants
is planning to set up income-generating projects for former schoolmates who
failed to find meaningful employment.57

The narratives that have been collected here show how the political agendas of
the Cold War and after have been played out in individual lives. The original
intentions of the scheme – that participants would return and contribute to
Mozambique's development – have in many cases not been met. On the other hand,
the SdF equipped participants with `modern' virtues that for many became crucial
in opening up new horizons. Ultimately, while individuals have benefited,
Mozambique has lost out because of its failure to value the contributions to
societal development that this cohort of former SdF participants might have

Tanja R. Müller ( tanja.mueller@...) is a lecturer at the Institute
for Development Policy and Management and a founding member of the Humanitarian
and Conflict Response Institute, both at the University of Manchester. She would
like to acknowledge funding from the Nuffield Foundation (Grant No. SGS/35446)
that made this project possible. Thanks also to two anonymous referees and the
editors for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article.


1 Ulf Engel and Hans-Georg Schleicher, `Thesen zur Afrikapolitik der beiden
deutschen Staaten' (IAK Diskussionsbeiträge No. 8, Institut für Afrikakunde,
Hamburg, 1997); Jude Howell, `The end of an era: the rise and fall of GDR aid',
Journal of Modern African Studies 32, 2 (1994), pp. 305–28; Brigitte Schulz,
Development Policy in the Cold War Era: The two Germanies and sub-Saharan
Africa, 1960–1985 (LIT-Verlag, Münster, 1995); Hans-Joachim Spanger and Lothar
Brok, Die Beiden Deutschen Staaten in der Dritten Welt (Westdeutscher Verlag,
Opladen, 1987); Gareth Winrow, The Foreign Policy of the GDR in Africa
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990).

2 The contract-worker scheme involved other countries as well, notably Angola,
Cuba, and Vietnam, but a strong focus remained on Mozambique. Between 1979 and
1989 a total of 21,600 Mozambicans worked in the GDR. This group, referred to as
magermanes in Mozambique, was paid only part of their salaries while working in
the GDR; another part, plus social security contributions, was paid to the
Mozambican government on the understanding that workers could claim those
payments upon their return. Payments have never been made in full and routine
protests are still staged by magermanes. See Almuth Berger, `Vertragsarbeiter:
Arbeiter der Freundschaft? Die Verhandlungen in Maputo 1990' in Matthias Voß
(ed.), Wir haben Spuren hinterlassen! Die DDR in Mosambik. Erlebnisse,
Erfahrungen und Erkenntnisse aus drei Jahrzehnten (LIT Verlag, Münster, 2005),
pp. 512–28; Jochen Oppenheimer, `Magermanes. Os trabalhadores moçambicanos na
antiga República Democrática Alemã', Lusotopie (2004), pp. 85–105; Annegret
Schüle, `"Proletarischer Internationalism" oder "ökonomischer Vorteil für die
DDR"?', Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 42 (2002), pp. 191–210.

3 Lutz Reuter and Annette Scheunpflug, Die Schule der Freundschaft. Eine
Fallstudie zur Bildungszusammenarbeit zwischen der DDR und Mosambik (Waxmann,
Münster, 2006).

4 Stuart Hall, `Introduction: who needs "identity"?' in Stuart Hall and Paul du
Gay (eds), Questions of Cultural Identity (Sage Publications, London, 1996), pp.
1–17, p. 4.

5 Erik H. Erikson, Identity, Youth and Crisis (W. W. Norton and Company, New
York, NY, 1968); see also the discussion in Eugene Tartakovsky, `Cultural
identities of adolescent immigrants: a three-year longitudinal study including
the pre-migration period', Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38, 5 (2009), pp.

6 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness (Verso,
London, 1994), p. xi.

7 See Judith Gerson, `In between states: national identity practices among
German Jewish immigrants', Political Psychology 22, 1 (2001), pp. 179–98.

8 Since the opening of many Eastern Bloc archives much has been written about
those dynamics. See Hannelore Butters, `Zur wirtschaftlichen Zusammenarbeit der
DDR mit Mosambik', in Voβ (ed.), Wir Haben Spuren Hinterlassen!, pp.
199–215; Hans-Joachim Döring and Uta Rüchel (eds), Freundschaftsbande und
Beziehungskisten: Die Afrikapolitik der DDR und der BRD gegenüber Mozambique
(Brandes and Apsel, Frankfurt a.M., 2005); Rolf Hofmeier, `Five decades of
German–African relations: limited interests, low political profile and
substantial aid donor', in Ulf Engel and Robert Kappel (eds), Germany's Africa
Policy Revisited: Interests, images and incrementalism (LIT Verlag, Münster,
2002), pp. 39–62; Wolfgang Schoeller, `"Komparativer Nachteil" und
"wechselseitiger Nutzen": Zur Kooperation zwischen COMECON und
Entwicklungsländern am Beispiel Mosambiks', Deutschland Archiv 16, 12 (1983),
pp. 1303–11; Ulrich van der Heyden, Zwischen Solidarität und
Wirtschaftsinteressen. Die `geheimen' Beziehungen der DDR zum südafrikanischen
Apartheidsregime (LIT Verlag, Münster, 2005).

9 For details concerning the projects involving Vietnamese and Namibian youth
and their aftermaths see Lucia Engombe, Kind Nr. 95. Meine deutsch-afrikanische
Odyssee (Ullstein Verlag, Berlin, 2004); Mirjam Freytag, Die `Moritzburger' in
Vietnam. Lebenswege nach einem Schul-und Ausbildungsaufenthalt in der DDR –
Vermitteln in interkulturellen Beziehungen (Verlag für Interkulturelle
Kommunikation, Frankfurt a.M., 1998), Constance Kenna, Die `DDR-Kinder' von
Namibia. Heimkehrer in ein fremdes Land (Klaus Hess Verlag, Göttingen, 1999).

10 Uta Kruse, `Die "Schule der Freundschaft" in Staßfurt', in Ulrich van der
Heyden, Ilona Schleicher and Hans–Georg Schleicher (eds), Engagiert für Afrika.
Die DDR und Afrika II (LIT Verlag, Münster, 1994), pp. 196–214; Mathias Tullner,
`Das Experiment "Schule der Freundschaft" im Kontext der mosambikanischen
Bildungspolitik', in Döring and Rüchel (eds), Freundschaftsbande und
Beziehungskisten, pp. 100–9.

11 José Castiano, `Das Bildungssystem in Mosambik (1974–1996): Entwicklung,
Probleme und Konsequenzen' (Institut für Afrikakunde, Hamburg, 1997); Delegation
from Maputo to the Conference of Education of African Member States, `Education
policy in the People's Republic of Mozambique', The Journal of Modern African
Studies 14, 2 (1976), pp. 331–9; Mathias Tullner, `Die Zusammenarbeit der DDR
und Mosambiks auf dem Gebiet der Bildung und die Tätigkeit der Bildungsexperten
der DDR in Mosambik', in Voß (ed.), Wir haben Spuren hinterlassen!, pp. 388–406.

12 Hans–Joachim Döring, 'Es geht um unsere Existenz'. Die Politik der DDR
gegenüber der Dritten Welt am Beispiel von Mozambique und Äthiopien (Ch. Links
Verlag, Berlin, 1999); Hans–Joachim Döring, `Freundschaftsform Ökonomie? Zur
Rolle und Funktion der Kommerziellen Koordinierung (KoKo) in den Beziehungen der
DDR zur Volksrepublik Mosambik', in Döring and Rüchel (eds), Freundschaftsbande
und Beziehungskisten, pp. 68-87, Reuter and Scheunpflug, Die Schule der

13 From 1977 onwards Cuba provided secondary education for children from
socialist-oriented countries at a number of boarding schools on Isla de la
Juventud – between 1977 and 2000 a total of 35,000 youths from 37 different
countries received schooling there, including many Mozambicans; see Hauke
Dorsch, `Rites of passage overseas? – On the sojourn of Mozambican students and
scholars in Cuba', Afrika Spectrum 43, 2 (2008), pp. 225–44.

14 For a more detailed description see Kruse, `Die "Schule der Freundschaft"'.

15 Franz Ansprenger, Politische Geschichte Afrikas im 20. Jahrhundert (Beck
Verlag, München, 1999); Döring, `Es geht um unsere Existenz'; Jeanne Marie
Penvenne, `Mozambique: a tapestry of conflict' in David Birmingham and Phyllis
Martin (eds), History of Central Africa. The Contemporary Years since 1960
(Longman, London, 1998), pp. 231–66.

16 For a discussion of the `personalization' of important decisions in
development cooperation politics between the GDR and Mozambique, see Annette
Scheunpflug and Jürgen Krause, `Die Schule der Freundschaft - ein
Bildungsexperiment in der DDR' (Beiträge aus dem Fachbereich Pädagogik, No. 3,
Universität der Bundeswehr, Hamburg, 2000).

17 Katrin Lohrmann and Daniel Paasch, `Die "Schule der Freundschaft" in
Staßfurt: zwischen Politik und Solidarität' in Döring and Rüchel (eds),
Freundschaftsbande und Beziehungskisten, pp. 91–9.

18 The most comprehensive source based on all available archival material from
GDR and Mozambican archives is Reuter and Scheunpflug, Die Schule der
Freundschaft. Other important publications include Kruse, `Die "Schule der
Freundschaft"'; Lohrmann and Paasch, `Die "Schule der Freundschaft" in
Staβfurt'; Uta Rüchel, `". . . auf deutsch sozialistisch zu denken . . ."
Mosambikaner in der Schule der Freundschaft' (Landesbeauftragter für
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der
Ehemaligen DDR in Sachsen-Anhalt, Schwerin, 2001); Tullner, `Das Experiment
"Schule der Freundschaft"'; Tullner, `Die Zusammenarbeit der DDR und Mosambiks'.
In addition one publication discusses the SdF as solely a politically motivated
institution for cadre education, but lacks evidence and is highly ideological in
its stance: see Hans-Matthias Müller, Die Bildungshilfe der Deutschen
Demokratischen Republik (Peter Lang, Frankfurt a.M., 1995).

19 More specifically, a maximum of about 30 youths were reported in relation to
serious delinquency and very few were sent back to Mozambique prematurely. In
addition, 28 girls were sent back after becoming pregnant. One boy drowned in a
river after a dispute with East German youths in a discotheque – for details on
all of the above see the publications quoted in footnote 18. The latter incident
was made into a play by the writer Henning Mankell, Pão escuro e flores mortas
[Dark bread and dead flowers] (Instituto Cultural Moçambique-Alemanha, Maputo,

20 Interview, Chimoio, 6 June 2008. All names were changed for reasons of

21 Jan Assmann, `Erinnern, um dazuzugehören. Kulturelles Gedächtnis,
Zugehörigkeitsstruktur und normative Vergangenheit' in Kristin Platt and Mihran
Dabag (eds), Generation und Gedächtnis. Erinnerungen und kollektive Identitäten
(Leske + Budrich, Opladen, 1995), pp. 51–75.

22 See Paul Abramson, A Case for Case Studies: An immigrant's journal (Sage
Publications, Newbury Park, CA, 1992); Shanti George, Third World Professionals
and Development Education in Europe: Personal narratives, global conversations
(Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1997); Laurel Richardson, `Postmodern social
theory: representational practices', Sociological Theory 9 (1991), pp. 173–9;
William Runyan, Life Histories and Psychobiography: Explorations in theory and
method (Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1982); Penny Summerfield,
Reconstructing Women's Wartime Lives: Discourse and subjectivity in oral
histories of the Second World War (Manchester University Press, Manchester,

23 For some insights into the lives of those who remained in Germany see Sérgio
Clemente Taero, `Ich bin ein Staβfurter' in Döring and Rüchel (eds),
Freundschaftsbande und Beziehungskisten, pp. 110–14, see also some of the
stories narrated in Instituto Cultural Moçambique-Alemanha, Moçambique-Alemanha,
Ida e Volta: Vivências dos Moçambicanos antes, durante e depois da estadia na
Alemanha [Mozambique to Germany and Back: Experiences of Mozambicans before,
during and after their stay in Germany] (ICMA, Maputo, 2005).

24 Fieldnotes, Nampula, 18 June 2008.

25 Interview, Nampula, 18 June 2008.

26 Interview, Maputo, 2 June 2008.

27 Interview, Beira, 14 June 2008.

28 Interview, Maputo, 3 June 2008.

29 Interview, Nampula, 17 June 2008.

30 Interview, Chimoio, 9 June 2008.

31 Interview, Chimoio, 8 June 2008.

32 Interview, Chimoio, 8 June 2008.

33 Interview, Beira, 14 June 2008.

34 For other examples showing similarities and differences in the exposure of
Mozambican and Namibian adolescents to socialist modernities in Cuba and the
former Czechoslovakia respectively, see Dorsch, `Rites of passage overseas?' and
Tomáš Machalík, `SWAPO children in Czechoslovakia: from the past to the present'
(`VIVA AFRICA 2008', Proceedings of the IIIrd International Conference on
African Studies, Plzen, Czech Republic, 2008).

35 Interview, Beira, 12 June 2008.

36 Interview, Maputo, 31 May 2008.

37 Interview, Nampula, 17 June 2008.

38 To this day, when trying to place a former SdF student one has lost touch
with, it is the class that is referred to as the identifying category – not, for
example, the family name or place of origin.

39 Reuter and Scheunpflug, Die Schule der Freundschaft, pp. 76–80.

40 For a discussion of the war and its aftermath see Alice Dinerman, Revolution,
Counter-Revolution and Revisionism in Postcolonial Africa: The case of
Mozambique, 1975–1994 (Routledge, London, 2006); Margaret Hall and Tom Young,
Confronting Leviathan: Mozambique since independence (Hurst and Company, London,
1997); Joseph Hanlon, Mozambique: The revolution under fire (Zed Books, London,
1984); Elísio Macamo, `Accounting for disaster: memories of war in Mozambique',
Afrika Spectrum 41, 2 (2006), pp. 199–219.

41 Interview, Beira, 12 June 2008.

42 The following is based on an interview with Alberto on 4 June 2008 in Maputo.

43 The Cahora Bassa (then called Cabora Bassa) dam system in Tete Province was
built by the Portuguese colonial administration between 1969 and 1979.

44 The exact amount depends on the type of degree, and sometimes the government
pays fees for its employees. In the case of the participants in this study, all
paid their own fees.

45 Interview, Maputo, 31 May 2008.

46 Interview, Chimoio, 7 June 2008.

47 Interview, Chimoio, 7 June 2008.

48 Interview, Maputo, 3 June 2008.

49 Interview, Maputo, 3 June 2008.

50 Interview, Maputo, 3 June 2008.

51 Interview, Maputo, 3 June 2008.

52 Interview, Maputo, 3 June 2008.

53 Hall and Young, Confronting Leviathan; Penvenne, `Mozambique: a tapestry of

54 Many of those who received more academic-centred education in Cuba moved into
middle-management positions within the state bureaucracy as well as the emerging
private sector from 1992 onwards – see Dorsch, "Rites of passage overseas?"; it
would in fact be interesting, as a future research project, to investigate the
influence of those cohorts who were educated in Cuba on current Mozambican
politics, something not much is known about (personal conversation with Joseph
Hanlon, Helsinki, 13 June 2009).

55 Jason Sumich, `The illegitimacy of democracy? Democratisation and alienation
in Maputo, Mozambique' (Working Paper, Crises States Research Centre, London
School of Economics, 2007); on elite corruption see Joseph Hanlon, `Do donors
promote corruption? The case of Mozambique', Third World Quarterly 25, 4 (2004),
pp. 747–63. It has recently been argued that, following the election of Armando
Guebuza as President in 2004, Mozambique has entered a new `developmental' phase
modelled partly on the East Asian tigers – see Joseph Hanlon and Marcelo Mosse,
`Is Mozambique's elite moving from corruption to development?' (UNU-WIDER
Conference on the Role of Elites in Economic Development, Helsinki, 2009).