Once were colleagues

Once were colleagues is a long-term work that addresses the history of Mozambican workers and students in RDA during the 1980s, after their return to Mozambique due to the fall of the wall. What happened to this migration promoted in the shadow of socialist internationalism? This work attempts to reconstruct some scenarios of this contradictory and paradoxical affair through different genealogies of people: the group of former workers occupying the Madgermanes garden in Maputo, a group of former students of the School of Friendship in Strassfurt, and a group of victims of the Hoyerswerda riots in 1991. In each layer, portraits  are interwoven with fragments of oral history and work on archive photos. This contamination favours the surfacing of the material of which memories and relationships are made when history is intertwined with the private dimension of the passage of time. The work does not leave out what is still unresolved in the present and the political struggles and claims that still take place in Maputo today.

1. JARDIM/Garden

Madjermano(e) ou Madgerman s.m. 1. ex trabalhador na RDA. Vem do inglês ‗german‘ (que significa alemão) para o Changana e só depois passa para o Português de Moçambique. Na língua Changana, o prefixo -ma é marca do plural. Sendo assim, madjermano/e seria sinónimo de germanos, ou melhor, alemães. Portanto, o processo de formação aqui presente é a hibridização: prefixo (ma-) do Changana + nome (german) do alemão. 2. Às vezes encontramos Madgerman, erradamente, como nome derivado de “Made in Germany”.

1. Former worker in the GDR. It comes from the english word ‚german‘ into changana and only then passes into mozambican portuguese. In changana language, the prefix -ma is plural mark. This being so, madjermano/e would be synonymous with german. Therefore, the process of formation here is hybridization: prefix (ma-) from Changana + name (german) from english. 2.Sometimes we find Madgerman, erroneously, as a name derived from „Madein Germany“.

(....) This is the name given to over twenty thousand Mozambican citizens, who for a time lived, studied, and worked in the former German Democratic Republic and returned to Mozambique in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. When they set out for Germany, they were guided by the light of hope that they would become the future Mozambican élite. But, naïve as they were, they had no idea they were little more than an offering from the gods of a country capable of being wonderful, full of marvelous people, wild animals, rich palm groves, maning nice beaches, natural and mineral resources, and authentic cultural diversity; a country that hadn’t been taught by its fathers to be worthy of such abundance. Tightly clasping their German IDs and all the rights these afforded them, they studied with dedication and worked with all the goodwill and sacrifice of those who aim to advance, raising their families with life-generating solidarity. In the name of a better existence – both present and future - about 60% of their salary was withheld, along with other social security contributions and wired to the Mozambican government, or so they were told. They would be reimbursed upon retirement, when they returned home. The Wall came down. Germany was reunified. But their contracts were terminated and the Mozambicans disbanded. For some, repatriation was experienced as duress, for others, the time had come to sample the wine squeezed from the sweet grapes their dedication had sown, their sweat had watered, and their hope would obviously reap. (...) The Madgermanes are considered one of the most active groups in Mozambican civilian society. In a corner of the garden, German flags are quite visible to all, standing alongside the increasingly wrinkled faces and the voices of these men, who, to pass the time, chat about all sorts of things: the country, the world, life, inevitably touching upon the scars of a wound no less intense than the respect they hold for one another and for their ideals. Here they cook, they eat, they drink, but most importantly: they continue to dream. Every day many people walk through the garden, sit at length in the shade, meet the Madgermanes, or even clash with them when, on Wednesdays, they take to the streets, but the truth is that these people are ignorant of their story, nor do they feel the need to know. They can’t imagine the extent of the living archive of a chapter of the country’s history standing there, making a living or wasting a life -

EXTRACT FROM the introductory text Jardim dos madgermanes: a patria que os madgermanes criaram - by Obedes Lobadias

ISIDRO FERNANDO NHAVELE - Who knows him? He was in the GDR in the years between '80 and '90 (working) in the paper factory in Dresden (Papier Fabrik). Please contact Mister Baloi

Why entitle a photographic project “Jardim dos Madgermanes” when the garden never appears in the pictures? The Madgermanes garden is not merely a physical place, a vital and lively spot in the center of Maputo; rather, it is a metaphorical space, where atemporality, expectation, and the dialogue between the known past and uncertain future come to life. The garden possesses its own faces, its own memories, its own complex system of relationships, its rules, constantly reshaped according to an incessant anarchic interaction, pulsating with everyday necessity and political struggles. The garden in 100 portraits.

1. Sergio Clemente Manhiça,Leipzig/Suhl 1980-1990, VEB Braunkohlewerk Borna Leipzig,VEB Simson Suhl

2. Eurico Santos Nachengua,Weimar 1981-1991,VEB Weimar-werk Landmaschinenbau

3. Formiga Macamo,Sangerhausen 1988-1990, VEB Feilenfabrik Sangerhausen

4. Laurindo Albino Chambo, Apolda 1981-1990,VEB Thüringer Obertrikotagen

5. Fernando Zefanias Macamo, Chemnitz (Karl-Marx-Stadt) 1981-1989,VEB Starkstrom-Anlagenbau

6. Domingos Esteban Júnior,Eisenach 1980-1987, VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach

7. Faustino Ernesto Jorge,Neubrandenburg/ Dresden 1981-1990,VEB MkN Neubrandenburg,KFZ-Zubehörwerke Dresden

8. Miguel Moisés Langa, Berlin 1988-1990, VEB KWO Kabelwerke Oberspree

9. Maria Joana Cumaio,Leitersdorf 1985-1990,VEB Oberlausitzer Textilbetriebe


- (...) First of all, I should say that when we left we were like babies. All we knew was the world of our mom and our dad and of our grandparents. The first difficulty was, first of all, to leave our family, and then to go to a place with a different culture. Besides that, we also had to learn the German language. Some of us spoke a little English, but the majority of us only spoke Portuguese. As time went by we settled in: after our German classes, we had four-hour shifts to learn how the machines worked. Learning to use the machines was quite difficult, we had to pay attention to the person telling us: « This machine is for filing, this one is for cutting...» and memorize everything. First of all, however, you had to understand German. In fact, after those four hours of demonstration, we were sent back to our German lessons. We came from a totally different country, which was also a socialist country, but with a different level of development. And above all a different climate... (laughs). As for the work, it was very important for us to meet many people who comforted us and put us at ease... there were many workers, German and non-German, who were older than us and treated us as if we were their children, giving us comfort. The best moments were certainly when letters arrived from Mozambique. It was a celebration. We also wrote letters and sent photos taken with our friends. There were plenty of occasions to celebrate: May Day, a few weddings… On these occasions we listened to the same music we listened to in Mozambique and we mixed these tapes with other music from other countries. We got together to celebrate and to dispel our homesickness, which for some people was very strong. Some even cried when the letters came. In any case, occasions to party always arose, one beer here, another beer there... but there was always someone missing, because the companies had shifts and someone was forced to work. Our relations with the Germans and the Poles were good. There was only one drawback: sometimes they were jealous of us because their women looked at us. We didn't do anything, the point is that we danced better than them, those were the years of funky Micheal Jackson-style music and we danced to it very well, and the women liked that. We couldn't help it. Then there was this place with harsh, punk-style music and crazy people. (disco de confusão mesmo) When we went there, they looked at us like we were aliens and we couldn't communicate much. I even had a German girlfriend, and... can you imagine... her dad was a little old-fashioned and racist, and he was also my supervisor? (laughs). But in time we managed to find a good compromise. There were so many Germans who were really good to us and many of them suggested we stay after the unification and said: « What are you going back to Africa for? » - .


I loved Germany so much, even though I didn’t stay long. I left in 1988 and came back in 1990. I would have liked to stay. I lived in Dresden and worked in the textile industry. All our supervisors were good, I didn’t faced any discrimination.I remember once we went out for a walk, we had only been there a short time, about two weeks. We wanted to buy a suitcase that we had seen in a shop in Dresden. But we accidentally took a train to Poland, got lost and were on our way to Gorlitz. For us it was an adventure! But since there is a country where everything is well-organized, the police came and asked us where we were going and we didn’t even know how to answer because we didn’t speak the language yet. They took us back to our dormitory! It was a very nice gesture. I didn’t have the problem of getting pregnant there. But two friends got pregnant, one gave birth there and came back with the baby, the other unfortunately lost the baby and was treated very well in the hospital. Our situation here is not good, we are not happy. We have no work, many women who have returned from Germany are single mothers, without work, without anything. But, thank God, we are all still here waiting for everything we expect to happen. I would like to touch that soil once again, because it is a country I love so much. At work, the Vietnamese women didn’t understand us well, because we didn’t know German very well, but everything was fine with gestures. We got on very well with the Vietnamese. I worked with a man who always tried to teach me Vietnamese. We were very close because we worked on the same machine, making blankets.

It was all very nice, it’s a pity those days are gone...

The only thing is that Vietnamese women were very modest and wanted to bathe alone, they didn’t want to share the bathroom with us. We respected them because it’s their culture. I miss them, I think where they are they will remember us too!




birthday party in zwickau

This chapter explores the daily life, youth and moments of pleasure of Mozambican workers in the GDR through their private archives. In particular, a comparative reading is made of two types of archives: those that tell the private story of an individual who collected photos taken of him during his experience in Germany, and the archive of Geraldo Paunde, a Mozambican worker who was a photographer himself as second job and immortalised various official and unofficial moments of life through his visual diary through his art and presence.

courtesy of geraldo paunde

courtesy of geraldo paunde


In this chapter, 13 former students from the Friendship School in Stassfurt are traced. In 1982, 900 children from all over the country were selected and sent to attend the Friendship School in Stassfurt. Personally desired by Samora Machel and the result of cooperation between the German Democratic Republic and Mozambique, this school was supposed to guide these youngsters to learn as much as possible in order to train other young people in their homeland. Unfortunately, once the decision was made to return home, they had to go immediately for military service.

"Well, my trip to the School of Friendship started in 1982 when I was studying at the Primary School Terceiro Congresso in the village of Macimboa da Praia, in the north of Mozambique. In October I started to hear news that children were needed to study at the School of Friendship in Germany. So, after the exams, I was selected in my class together with a girl, but she couldn‘t go for religious reasons. Her family did not let her go saying that in Germany they would eat pork.They were Muslims. Another boy was chosen in her place. So there were two of us from that district. In February we took a bus to Pemba. From there I was lucky enough to be selected to be part of the first group to travel to Germany, the famous‚advance group‘. We were 35 students in total. Our province sent four. We were concentrated in the São João Parish of Lhanguene. We stayed there from March until 19 May when we took the flight directly to Berlin."


"When I finished 4th grade, there was no secondary school in our neighbourhood anymore, and we had to look for vacancies in Secondary Schools in other neighbourhoods and we were lucky enough to find vacancies in the Estrela Vermela School. It was just a bit late, because we hadto go through several schools. Three months went by. So the school received us and they had to create a special class because the others had already started classes. That‘s when the project to continue our studies in Germany came up. The direction of the school gathered us together and informed us that whoever wanted could continue their studies in Germany. When I got home, I told my parents and they accepted. When I returned to the school I enrolled and, in a short time we moved on to the hostel. Everyone signed up. It was the time to go through all the bureaucracy the medical examinations, the documents, and when the day came we moved on to Germany. That was in August 1982. I was part of the 6th flight and we arrived at the airport at night. We found a place to rest already prepared. We slept and in the morning we woke up,had breakfast and got on the bus directly to the centre. Once we got there, we were welcomed by our colleagues from the‚advance group‘."


"It started as follows: I went to a school very far from thedistrict headquarters, practically in the countryside. Mydirector showed up in our class, the only existing 4thgrade class in the school at the time. He came into theroom and said that the state was selecting pupils to goand continue their studies in Germany (GDR). I didn‘tknow what the GDR was, I had never heard of the GDR, Icouldn’t imagine what the GDR would be like. But sincemy situation at home was not good, our financial andsocial situation was not good, I said: «Yes, I will go!».My parents were separated, my mother was living in oneplace with another husband, in another place my fatherwas with another wife and I was practically living withmy aunt. So I saw a great opportunity to continuestudying because I couldn‘t even get notebooks, or mo-ney to buy books. That opportunity was very good forme! But people‘s comments started...

At school the director said they needed two girls andf our boys and I was one of the candidates. They wantedthe best students. When the parents heard the news... In my case, my parents had no problem, my father had studied...but the others, they said no: «Those children will be turned into sardines in Germany!», because we had heard that white people eat people. Others said we would come back dead, others said we would come back old, others said we would come back in boxes. A lot of negative comments came out about the GDR. But I always stood my ground. I would rather be made a sardine than what I was experiencing. The director encouraged me a lot. He said: «Francisca go, nobody will sardine you! That‘s a lie. These are people who haven‘t studied, they have no idea, they don‘t know what another country is. Nobody will make sardines of you, go!». I said: «I will go!». And that was my watchword, I said: «I‘m going!». And so it was."












"After we started going to school, sometimes we went out as part of our studies, we called them ‚schooltrips‘... we got to know other cities, museums, cultural centres, etc. We met several German families, some young people, we exchanged impressions, we talked with them. We also began to familiarise with the ‚German Youth Organisation‘. As time went by, some families offered to take in some children as their own. They contacted school management and the school management agreed for some children to be raised by these families as their own. They were the ones who asked us to be able to raise us as their children, with all their love... (...) For example, on Fridays the families often came to pick us up at school by car or on foot depending on the distance (...) In my class 2 children had been requested. Many families asked for 2 children (1 girl and? 1 boy) depending on the tastes of the families. Those who lived nearby came on foot. In my case they came from further away (like from here to Shoprit) so they came by car. I was not alone because they had requested two children, because they could afford it.

They would pick us up and take us to their homes. We would leave after class was over, even before lunch. That was up to them, but they liked to be with us at lunch. We would arrive and everything was already organised, lunch already made everything on the table. Nothing was missing. Starting with milk, every kind of drink of our choice. We were not served,e veryone took what they wanted to eat, what they wanted to drink. Obviously with the exception of alcoholic drinks because we were children, under age (...). But the rest was there, available. Early afternoon lunch was there, cakes were there, baumkuchen, oh I can’t forget that! It was a chocolate cake that I loved, I adored it...baumkuchen...I don‘t know the Portuguese word for it, but in German it was baumkuchen, I can‘t forget it. And then biscuits of different types...a kind that I have never left on the table were cocoa biscuits. Really very good, I even ate two or three packs of them. The family knew it, they always had them for me. I liked them. There were different kinds of chocolate...

That life only happened there and stayed there. I believe it might be possible in another corner of the world, but that love, that tenderness...you grow to the point where you forget where you came from. I came from a very poor continent, like

(...) Our bodies took on a new look in no time, we were new people, healthier than ever."



This chapter consists of a series of 15 portraits, intertwined with personal statements and personal archive photos, tracking 15 victims of the Hoyerswerda riots who returned to Mozambique.. The Mozambican community of Hoyerswerda is symbolic of the rise and fall of the Mozambican Madgermanes. It was in this town that "Group 1", the first group of Mozambican workers in Germany, arrived. Stimulated and blessed by the visit of Samora Machel in person, many workers here began a journey steeped in personal and collective expectations, along the path of integration proposed by socialist internationalism. Until the tragic epilogue. Surprised by the new course of events that followed reunification, many ended up being victims of various racist incidents until the final riot, cause of the abrupt departure.

arrival of group one
samora machel's visit in Hoyerswerda
the last night

Alberto Magaia e David Macau


Eduardo Wique e Felizberto Matje

Jaime Mulungu

Mozambican workers packing

We lived well, our main pastimes were football and listening to music in our rooms. I was always the one who played music at our parties. For fun, when Saturday came around, I would have liked togo to the clubs. But it was difficult for us to go to the clubs. We had to be more than five, so we could get into fights, otherwise we couldn’t go in. Or we could bring a Mozambican girl, who didn’t pay to get in. Other people would pay to get in and be able to dance with her! But if we men went on our own, we would get beat up! We all would have liked to go out to the clubs, but there was always this fear.
So we made do. We organised our own club in the dormitory, and I spent a lot of time playing music there. Instead of going out to the club, we had our own club! To avoid trouble, we chose a large hall in the basement, with tables, chairs, and lights to create a club-like atmosphere. We got used to it, and we enjoyed it more than the actual club! I remember that when we hadn’t been there very long, each us of pitched in to have a party at the club. Our supervisor congratulated us, he said: «You started partying at 7 p.m.one day and finished at 2 p.m. the next». This is my best memory (he laughs...)


After the attack, we had to figure out how we were going to continue living there. When we went to the supermarket, we had to be accompanied by the police, when we went to work, we had to be escorted by the police to the bus stop.These facts left our company with no other choice. In that period of reunification, nobody knew what would happen, what political choices would be made. Not even the Germans themselves knew what was going to happen... Some blamed us, as if their lives would get better once we left. Some thought we were paid in dollars. We were normal citizens suffering from the unification more than they did. They did not know about the deductions from our salaries, about our sacrifices. Today we are struggling here in Mozambique, but I am sure that some of them are also struggling there, and if they had the time to sit down and think, some of them, though they might not repent, would realise that it was foolish to think that it was our fault. We had to go. Because of the short notice, we weren’t able to say goodbye to our girlfriends, to our friends. We had no time to say goodbye to anyone. The company arranged for our belongings to be stowed in containers that left the port of Hamburg. Plane tickets were issued. Everything was decided within 48 hours. We could not say goodbye to our girlfriends, to our children! Twelve years in one place is a lifetime, we had friends we considered family members and we could not say goodbye to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought we weren’t good friends, because real friends say goodbye.



What remains of the international working class today in Africa? t’s a Wednesday like many others: just like every Wednesday for the past thirty years, the Mozambican workers, proudly bearing their German flags, march towards the Ministry of Labour in Maputo asking for the return of the withholdings made on their salaries when they were in the GDR. And this brings us to the topicality of this story: if in the eyes of the European public opinion most GDR-related issues are now just a matter of unsolved history, in Mozambique they are still a reason for protest and the centre of a political and identity-focused struggle.

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