'Peasantarianisation' of the undesired urban: the role of the discourse in the implementation of Operation Production in Mozambique, 1983-1988

In Mozambique, the need to fight crime, prostitution, vagrancy and urban chaos in the cities, particularly in Maputo, gained emphasis in political discourse from the second half of the 1970s and led to an essentially coercive policy, which was implemented in mid-June 1983, called Operation Production (OP). The massive presence of “unproductive people” in the cities as a result of a mounting and uncontrolled rural exodus had been blamed for the urban social problems mentioned above. Ostensibly to transform those perceived as 'unproductive urban' into 'productive rural' people, largely through agriculture, this social engineering policy was put forward following a long and complex process in which a political discourse played a critical role in legitimizing a policy which was as much concerned with expelling 'undesirables' from the cities as with producing “producers”.

OP was presented politically as a policy that had resulted from the willingness of Frelimo to resolve problems identified by people all over the country and presented by delegates at the 4th Congress. As can be seen from the 21 May discourse of then-president Samora Machel, OP was decided by Frelimo (portrayed as the only legitimate guide of the people of Mozambique), but as a result of the problems posed not by Frelimo itself but by the people. The Frelimo ruling elite discourse masked the biggest concern of the state, which was to expel undesired people from the cities. Why OP instead of another cleaning up measure? How did this policy emerge and evolve? To what extent was the production dimension of OP manipulated to legitimize the policy? These are some of the questions that the thesis will try to address.

Carlos Quembo
Research Student