This chapter follows the experiences of the Mozambican and Angolan workers who returned home from East Germany in the early 1990s. By this time, the era of socialism had passed, and all three countries were transitioning into market economies. Initially many of the worker-trainees, now returnees, were hopeful and excited about their homecoming. Many expected lives as wage laborers in industry, allowing them to build their own houses and families while contributing to the economic development of their home countries. Unfortunately, ongoing civil wars and a painful transition from planned economy to free market made this a pipe dream.Footnote 1 Returnees found themselves catapulted into conflict and post-conflict economies that were unable to provide anywhere near the number of secure blue-collar employment opportunities that were required. In addition, returnees faced governments that had neither the interest nor the ability to take care of them.

The homecoming of many workers was euphoric as they and their families and friends celebrated their reunions. The returnees came back as an elite (albeit temporary, as it would turn out) who brought otherwise unattainable goods from Europe and had a network of support between themselves. This distinguished them from those around them and acquired them clients and customers. To use Jean-Pascal Daloz’s terminology, they were big men and big women, though on a small scale.Footnote 2 Despite the turmoil of the time, they collectively clung onto the dream of a bright future with formal employment. In this early stage, workers participated in the economy as providers of goods and services and gained social standing via the goods they brought. But disappointment quickly took over as returnees struggled to find their feet economically, socially, and politically. As most could not secure formalized or regular employment, to survive they had to slowly part with their migration hauls. This resulted in an injection of European goods into the local markets. These material vestiges of socialism contributed to the transformations of the Angolan and Mozambican economies to the consumer-oriented free market.

The profound experience of loss that most returnees experienced during the 1990s was understandably prevalent in the minds of many of my interviewees. Returnees lost the future they had imagined as reward for their migration. For some life turned out well, but for many it was worse than they had imagined. Many returnees lost their goods, their social standing, their job security, and the wages which they had thought they had been transferring home, but which in fact were simply unkept promises by their governments to make good the wages unpaid by the East Germans. They also suffered the loss of their affective ties to East Germany. Many left children and romantic partners behind, with whom they frequently lost contact. Finally, many had lost the ability to get on at home without being reminded of how profoundly their migration experience had changed their attitudes, for instance regarding gender roles and sexuality. In a way that will be familiar to many travelers who return home after a long time abroad, their different perspective changed the way they saw their home and made them permanent outsiders.

The returnees navigated the ruins of socialism with a mindset that had been shaped by socialisms at home and abroad. The legacies of this remained alive in their thoughts and practices long after their governments had abandoned the ideology. The memories of their experiences in East Germany impacted their daily interactions with the world around them and provided returnees with the ideas and tools to fight their marginalization and keep alive their memory in the Angolan and Mozambican governments’ consciousness.

The two themes that drive this chapter, loss and gain, reflect the two frames of mind that coexisted in the perception of the returnees. Once again, the chapter explores the duality of experience which so often seems to characterize the migrants’ experience. It shows that while many of the returnees’ experiences were negative, the overall trajectory of their lives cannot be described as only negative. In hardship they have found agency, in their abandonment they have forged solidarity with each other, in their difference they have formed an identity. They have shown the infinite complexity and unpredictability of historical reverberations and the cussedness and resilience of the human spirit.

The chapter opens with the mass return of workers in 1990 and the circumstances under which they returned, whether voluntarily or not. Next, it features the workers’ multiple experiences of the loss of their goods, their ties to Germany, their status, their wages, and their aspirations. The second part of the chapter highlights how workers were transformed by their migration abroad and shows what they gained in the process; some came to hold different viewpoints on gender equality or sexuality, while others took to the streets to fight for the repayment of outstanding wages and benefits. These losses and gains were two sides of the same coin.

Part I: Loss

The End of Socialism: Returning from East Germany

The sweeping changes of 1989 reverberated around the globe.Footnote 3 In East Germany, it was the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall. By the time that the inner-German barrier finally came down, some East German citizens had already voted with their feet and emigrated to the West via Hungary. Within East Germany, the democratic movement had become a political force.Footnote 4 Meanwhile, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev was tolerating for the first time remarkable policy shifts in Poland and Hungary and signaled its respect for the sovereignty of its allies. For the first time, the East German socialist leadership had to deal with its problems independently of Soviet protection.Footnote 5 As it would turn out, this did not last very long.

Angola and Mozambique were still engulfed in military conflicts.Footnote 6 In June the President of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, invited the MPLA’s José Eduardo Dos Santos and UNITA’s Jonas Savimbi for peace talks at his palace in Gbadolite. Sadly, the agreements that they negotiated did not last.Footnote 7 In Mozambique, fighting continued until 1992.Footnote 8 At FRELIMO’s Fifth Congress, in July 1989, the party—and therefore the state—affirmed its interest in accommodating the private sector and free markets, at least as a privilege for party members.Footnote 9 In Angola, influential economic enclaves separate from socialism had always existed. For instance, the oil sector operated according to market principles. From 1985, the Angolan economy had started to shift away from a Stalinist model of industrialization through heavy industry.Footnote 10 The world of the worker-trainees was in flux, with both home and host countries undergoing fundamental reorganizations.

At the end of 1989, 90,600 foreigners were working and training in East Germany. This number had dropped to a mere 28,000 one year later. Roughly two thirds of foreign workers left within a few months. Of the 15,100 Mozambican and 1300 Angolan worker-trainees who were registered in 1989, only 2800 Mozambicans and 200 Angolans showed in the statistics at the end of 1990.Footnote 11 On June 30, 1994, an estimated 19,036 former contract workers still resided in Germany, the majority of whom were Vietnamese. This number also included 2018 Mozambicans and 383 Angolans who made Germany their new home.Footnote 12

In the Mozambican case, workers had returned throughout the 1980s but many of those who had returned eventually signed up for a second contract due to the combined dangers of the civil war, military service, and unsatisfactory employment conditions in Mozambique. In the Angolan case, the first cohort of workers was due to complete their contracts in 1989. Most of the workers featuring in this chapter returned home in 1990. This prevalence illustrates what the last delegate from the Mozambican Labor Ministry in East Germany, Pedro Taimo, called a “hasty return.”Footnote 13 That term was a euphemism for a messy and unforeseen mass exodus.

Renegotiations of the agreements governing the labor and training programs became necessary as many East German companies struggled in the new market conditions. They foresaw significant reductions in their labor forces, and in many cases faced an uncertain future. To this end, the new Secretary of State and Representative for Foreigners, Almuth Berger, whom we saw in previous chapters as a pastor actively engaged in helping and working with worker-trainees, led a delegation to Mozambique from May 22 to 28, 1990.Footnote 14 Key points for the East German delegation were that East German companies gain the right to terminate individual contracts, that no new migrants were to be taken on, and that the rights of those currently in East Germany were to be redefined.Footnote 15 The question that most interested the Mozambican government was the renegotiation of their debt payment, now that this would no longer be possible through the workers’ wage transfers.Footnote 16 In Angola, there were no meaningful negotiations as the Angolans simply signed the new contract proposed by the Germans without further questions.Footnote 17 This process demonstrated that reintegration or the well-being of the returning worker-trainees was not on the agenda either in Angola or in Mozambique, where governments were faced with more pressing issues.Footnote 18

Not all migrants who returned had chosen to return. Due to the chaotic circumstances of 1989–1990 in many East German companies, not all workers were informed of the possibilities of staying on. Some companies even took the law into their own hands, chartered airplanes, and flew workers back. The Mozambican news magazine Tempo reported that on September 17, 1990, an airplane full of returning workers landed without the authorities of the airport or any other Mozambican authorities having been informed.Footnote 19 The repatriation process was uneven:

My return was forced. From my point of view there were two kinds of situations. One saw everybody returned forcibly because the government pulled out of the contracts with the companies and they no longer wanted anything to do with Mozambican workers. But there were also other companies where people could stay even outside of the government contract with Mozambique.Footnote 20

Those who made an active choice to leave did so despite the ongoing civil wars in Angola and Mozambique. In East Germany foreign workers were especially exposed to the insecurity of the political, economic, and social shifts of the Wende.Footnote 21 They were foreigners with only vague rights of residence and were frequent targets for racist and xenophobic violence. Despite certain supports, employment had become a challenge and the legal rights of foreigners were subject to fundamental changes.Footnote 22 To understand why some workers decided to return despite fulfilling the criteria to stay on—basically having a job offer and a place to stay—we not only need to look at the circumstances in East Germany favoring a return but also need to examine the factors that drew migrants toward their countries of origin.Footnote 23

Many migrants looked forward to self-actualization upon return. They wanted to enjoy the economic goods of their own labor and build their own household. They sought to nurture family ties or felt obliged to take up family responsibilities. Many workers clung to a vision of employment that would allow them to continue living their lives with similar rights and responsibilities to those they had in East Germany. Jacinto’s reasoning echoes these many motives that played a role in his decision to return home:

It was the spirit of poverty. When we received that money of 3,000 marks and I looked at the money that I had saved—that was about US$14,000—I went…on a shopping spree. …I wanted to return to enjoy the new things and the rest of the money here in Mozambique. …President Chissano said that…the situation in the country wasn’t the best but that work was guaranteed to all who had accomplished their vocational training because there were open positions. Seeing that I had graduated and had received my diploma, and also taking into account the political situation that I was living [in] over there, I decided to return.Footnote 24

After the renegotiation of the agreements in May and June 1990, workers who decided to return before the end of their contract were entitled to an indemnity payment of 3000 marks and 70 percent of their net wage for three months. Moreover, the workers were guaranteed accommodation in the dormitory at first, and it was the companies’ responsibility to organize and pay for the trip home. If foreign workers were let go by the company to which they were assigned, they had the right to stay on in East Germany at least until the end of their contract period, the right to receive a work or a business permit, support for further vocational training, and help with procuring new employment. In theory, workers had options for organizing their stay in East Germany independently. In practice, these rights were often not respected. For some who did try to stay, a seven-year fight over their resident permit status ensued.Footnote 25

Quite a few workers told me that they had initially envisioned their return as temporary. In those cases, returnees planned on using the compensation payment to invest in goods for their extended family at home but ultimately expected to return to their East German families. This new return to Germany frequently did not occur for many reasons, including economic, social, and legal issues. Over the course of the 1990s, many returnees gradually lost contact with their East German families. The workers often explained this to me as having resulted from external circumstances outside of their control. For example, homes might be flooded or burned, goods were stolen, or documents deposited with family members for safekeeping during mobile periods disappeared and along with them the letters and addresses of loved ones in Germany. Initially, some German women sent money regularly to support their struggling partners and sent them invitation letters and even plane tickets to return, but not everybody who got a return invite decided to return to Germany.

The intended temporary return turned into a permanent one. Unforeseen obstacles to navigating the bureaucracy and financial aspects of returning to Germany emerged, ranging from visa and money hurdles to scheming relatives. For example, Pedro had a jealous sister who received letters from his German partner at her work address and simply pretended that none arrived to avoid losing her brother and only son of the family to a life in Germany.Footnote 26 A common theme in these narratives was loss of agency, a certain powerlessness. Circumstances, events, and fate conspired against the returnees. In many ways this fatalism reflected the loss of agency that affected many people in the global post-socialist world, from Mozambique to the former Soviet Union. Stuck between two homes but no longer able to assume a cosmopolitan lifestyle, many sojourners had slipped into a permanent homecoming. The promise of socialist globalization that opened new migration routes for Angolans and Mozambicans had run its course.

Homecoming: From Big Men and Women to Lost Men and Women

In retrospect, the returnees told me the stories of their homecoming as narratives of loss. After an initial period of euphoria, disappointment began to dominate. Yet immediately after their return in the early 1990s, many returnees shared Adevaldo Banze’s positive attitude:

The astonishment was great. Everybody wanted to see the ‘madjermanes,’ as we were affectionately called. We were people who possessed economic respect, who faced the future. At the first chance I left my poor, crooked reed hut behind. …The new house was already made of stone and the first electric appliances arrived from Germany: TVs, fridges, radios, video recorders and much more; the famous MZ [motorbike], the German figurehead in Mozambique. It was an ambassador for economic interests and represented so much for a returnee. Family members and friends celebrated. There were so many of them, some entirely unknown, who visited me to share in the joy that the marks created.Footnote 27

The term madjerman derived from the Changana language, spoken in the south of Mozambique, although it became common currency in the national language, Portuguese. It can roughly be translated as “those from Germany,” and, as we will see, can have both positive and negative connotations.Footnote 28 Adevaldo felt the connotations to be positive, reflecting his general good feeling about his return. As a member of the new economic elite in his social environment, he relished the social standing the goods and money from Germany brought to his life. The stone house and the appliances marked his upward social mobility. He enjoyed homemaking and was hopeful for a prosperous future. Through the experience of his reintegration, he had grown into personhood as a small-scale big man, sharing his relative riches with his family members, friends, and other people who in turn looked to him for financial support and help with decision-making.Footnote 29 The migration had turned Adelvado into the backbone of economic and social redistribution for his personal networks. In the context of the general poverty in Mozambique, Adelvado’s acquired wealth and goods were a lavish display. His influence looked set to grow. But then:

The days became darker, day after day even darker, no compensation money, nothing. The time had already arrived to look for work, but not even work appeared. I still recall those sad moments when I separated from the goods, day after day, piece after piece. The TV, the radio, until the much-esteemed MZ, I had to say goodbye because I had to live…Footnote 30

With that, Adevaldo’s story is one of initial prosperity followed by decline, a narrative echoed by most returnees, especially those who took part in the mass return in 1990. A contemporary study, conducted by Elke Ahrens and Sigrid Müller, who spoke with returnees in Maputo in the early 1990s, concluded that “they cannot really identify with their home country, they do not feel capable of proactively taking initiative and they place high expectations in help from the outside.”Footnote 31

The 12,300 returnees that descended upon Maputo changed the city.Footnote 32 Returnees arrived at Maputo airport. Many stayed in the capital with the expectation of hearing more from the government regarding their job placement and payment of their remitted wages and enjoying its relative security. Others went straight back to their home provinces. Those who stayed in Maputo became the center of attention for local women. Madjerman from outside Maputo who had no friends or family stayed in a hostel near the central railway station, and one man who lived close by observed, “there were many women who got involved with the madjerman all around that hostel. They thought they could stand out a little in life like that. Those were people who came from Europe and they [the women] thought they had a lot of money.”Footnote 33 This faded as quickly as the wealth of the returnees. A cartoon, published in the early 1990s, depicted two Mozambican women in European business clothes talking to each other while a man on an MZ motorbike wearing a jacket imprinted with “DDR” drives away. One woman asks the other: “Why are you no longer going out with him?” The reply: “Ha, the guy only owned 3,000 contos and already burned it all.”Footnote 34

The madjerman shared their goods with family, friends, and neighbors, but this could also lead to tensions. Alfredo Mandlate and Carlos Cossa, two residents of Ferroviário, a bairro (district) of Maputo, recalled:

When they arrived here many things changed. The whole world went to the house of one of them, who was more welcoming to let people watch TV at his house. He was the only one with a TV around here. They were practically the first who brought sound equipment here, very noisy, and they often played that music totally different from those that we were accustomed to hearing…sometimes we couldn’t sleep because of all the noise they made when they partied.Footnote 35

The list of goods the madjerman imported was usually long. Jacinto, for instance, imported:

one fridge, two ovens, a mattress and bed frame, dishes, clothes, tools, food and detergents; a wheelbarrow, a carpet, leather, two welding machines, twelve cut-off wheels of iron, two packages of electrodes. …I brought back two TVs, two video recorders, 26 videos, mostly pornographic films, 54 disks, a state-of-the art photo camera…I brought some books, mostly vocabulary books…I didn’t bring back much memorabilia, like photos. I could have brought a car…but…I saw how complicated it was to import a car and so I left it behind.Footnote 36

In Jacinto’s case, all this was meant to support around twelve people from his family and circle of friends. He had four brothers and two sisters, and he lived with his aunt and her family; his parents had died by the time he went to East Germany. He later claims to have sold the oven for next to nothing, seventy meticais, and the fridge for 2500 meticais. Some of his goods were also stolen. Others he was still using in 2014.Footnote 37

This type of strategic shopping, to prepare for post-migration life, is a well-known theme in southern African labor migration. Previous generations—in some cases the fathers and grandfathers of returnees—invested their earnings in blankets, pots, clothing, shoes, suits, sewing machines, bikes, and later cars and other consumer goods. It had also been common to invest in things useful for farming, such as plows or donkeys.Footnote 38 Earlier generations had focused on returning to a rural homestead, while most of those who had been in East Germany envisioned urban life and thus focused on bringing things such as household consumer items, clothing, and machines which they could use professionally. The focus shifted from farming to work machines connected to their newly acquired skills such as welding and metal work.

One thing that remained the same, or was even more the case, was that the goods the migrants invested in were as much status symbols as they were practically useful. This mirrored the value attached to Western commodities in Eastern Europe.Footnote 39 In Mozambique, for example, an MZ motorbike marked its owner as a successful returnee. It also provided personal or professional transport services for themselves and their communities. In other words, the owners could use it to generate income or to provide favors. Spare parts for the MZ could be found in informal markets along with returnees who knew how to repair it, guaranteeing the bikes a relatively long life.Footnote 40 An investment in an MZ granted status, setting the returnees apart from their community; at the same time, it helped to integrate them socially and economically.

Returnees initially became an important part of the Mozambican informal economy. Abdou Maliq Simone’s notion of people as infrastructure is a useful framework to conceptualize the role of the returnees. There was an economic collaboration between returnees and residents in their neighborhoods, which expanded types of economic and cultural activity available to residents with limited means. A good example would be a returnee who allowed people in his neighborhood to watch his television, opening a new horizon to those around him. People who had rarely watched a TV before were exposed to the area outside their own neighborhood, but also to the possibility of owning a TV themselves. An MZ motorbike would have had a similar effect on the people around its owner. The returnees brought the wider world into their home patches.Footnote 41

At first, many goods were exchanged in the barter economy, an important part of the economy in Mozambique and Angola, as it also was to some extent in East Germany. The wars in Angola and Mozambique had halted production. In some respects, cash was not always useful because of the lack of goods available on the market. As a result, products and services were often exchanged as in the example of the MZ above; the MZ and other goods thus became currency. TVs as well as refrigerators were items commonly shared with neighbors as bargaining units in the barter economy, as an income-generating activity, or to invest in relationships.Footnote 42

Over time, the returnees’ economic contributions shifted from using the imported goods to generate profits in the barter economy to selling them in parallel markets. As the months passed, the returnees’ savings dwindled, their transferred wages remained inaccessible, and they increasingly resorted to selling their possessions from overseas. Some of the international socialist vanguard became traders on the informal markets of Mozambique’s unregulated parallel economy. One such informal market was the Mercado do Estrela Vermelha, the Market of the Red Star. This was nestled on the sidewalks of central Maputo, in the vicinity of what is now known as the park of the madjerman.Footnote 43 The market still takes up much of the street along Avenida Emilia Daússe.Footnote 44 The street is named for Emilia Daússe, a member of a FRELIMO women’s detachment who was active in the liberation struggle and died from a Portuguese bullet. The street eventually became an important base for the madjerman as they fought for survival in the early 1990s, as they struggled to find employment and could not access the money they had been promised.

Socialism under Samora Machel meant stamping out informal employment and petty criminality and maintaining a clean and orderly city, though those goals were not entirely met.Footnote 45 Ask any Maputense—the name for inhabitants of Maputo—about the Mercado do Estrela Vermelha today and three associations come up: illegality, informality, and the madjerman. In the words of a madjerman who has been selling at the market since 1990:

This market became famous for the products that the returnees from East Germany brought with them. …When we returned from Germany and neither encountered integration nor the money we had transferred, we had to arrange ways of surviving. The only way to survive was to sell the goods we brought from Germany, for us this turned into employment.Footnote 46

The four madjerman vendors whom I interviewed in April 2014 started by selling their own East German goods in 1990. They then bought goods from other madjerman and made a living reselling them until about 1998. They remembered about twenty madjerman sellers on this market at that time. Some had died, others had left. They described the choice to sell in the market as an “informal and spontaneous process. …Here we had no rules, we just put the goods out and waited for people to come. We put a just price on the goods, but everything was negotiable.”Footnote 47 They stored the goods, mostly electronics, refrigerators, ovens, and motorcycles, in an adjacent warehouse. Business went well because European products were highly sought after. When I spoke to them, the four vendors were no longer selling East German items. They were mainly reselling secondhand goods or trading in South African items.Footnote 48 The Market of the Red Star has become a fixture in capitalist Maputo’s economy.

Returnees also bemoaned their loss of job security. When they spoke to me in 2014, despite having worked on the Mercado do Estrela Vermelha for decades, the interviewees, like the vast majority of madjerman employed in the informal market, perceived themselves, in line with traditional definitions of unemployment, to be unemployed. Their measuring rod remained their East German experience of formal employment: “We lived a normal life [in East Germany], we left to work and returned home like normal people.”Footnote 49 “Normality” to them was equated with formalized, secure, permanent, or contractual blue-collar employment with benefits. This was in spite of the fact that normality in Maputo was, and is, informal self-employment such as had been the case since the 1990s.Footnote 50 Many returnees continued to see informality and insecurity as an abnormality, against all evidence to the contrary. As one returnee expressed it: “Normally, when a government sends a person away, it has a responsibility to reintegrate this person but what happened with us is that when we returned, they abandoned us at the airport. We received neither job placements nor our money.”Footnote 51 This discourse of normality and abnormality was in some respects a device to press their claims for compensation from the government, alongside being a change in their expectations after their German sojourn.

In the early 1990s, it was not apparent to every returnee that the government would not be able to live up to its promise of providing jobs upon their return. Instead of actively looking for a job, many simply waited for the government to approach them with a job and their deferred pay. To a certain extent, their years in East Germany had left them with the expectation that institutions would provide. As Santana, the president of one of the returned workers associations in Luanda, explained in 2015:

After our return, we needed to be integrated into the labor market. At the time of our return communism in Europe and Angola collapsed and the economic system changed. From that point onwards, it was no longer the government who gave you employment but the individual companies. This was already a market economy. In this new context, many of us did not achieve employment. At the time, we were also still in civil war and many people were unemployed.Footnote 52

Mozambican returnees who finished their contract during the 1980s were more often placed in positions that corresponded to their training. Marieta from Nampula trained at the VEB Malitex Hohenstein-Ernstthal, a textile company, from 1980 to 1984. She completed her training as a skilled textile worker “satisfactorily,” “with a spirit of mutual aid,” and was a “friendly” and “quiet” part of the “socialist work collective.”Footnote 53 After her return, she was placed by the Mozambican Labor Ministry with Texmoque, a Mozambican textile company, where she worked until the company closed in 1992. After that, she was mainly unemployed, apart from a short period of domestic service.Footnote 54 The textile industry was not the only Mozambican industry that employed returnees. Some returnees who previously worked and trained in the harbor of Rostock were able to find regular employment in Mozambican harbors.Footnote 55 Others who had trained in coal mining went to work for Carbomoc, a coalmine in Tete in Mozambique.Footnote 56

The wars in Angola and Mozambique often derailed professional paths. Alfredo was among the first Mozambican worker-trainees to be sent to East Germany in 1979 to work and train at the VEB Braunkohlewerk Belzow, a coalmine, where he was “respected by his collective” and judged a “promising cadre” who “showed great interest in his education and good work.”Footnote 57 He returned as a skilled electrician in 1983 and was placed with Carbomoc. There, he worked as a mining electrician and in a leading position as chief of general offices.Footnote 58 Despite being able to apply his knowledge and having achieved a senior position at just twenty-two years old, Alfredo was not willing to take the security risk that living in Moatize, a civil war hotspot, entailed at the time. He asked for a transfer to Maputo, which he received. Originally from Boila, near Angoche in Nampula, Alfredo wanted to be closer to his family and went back to Nampula to find work on his own initiative. He succeeded, and worked at Texmoque, a textile factory, as an electrician and later as the chief of maintenance and supervision. He also taught at the company’s secondary school from 1985 to 1987. Despite these early successes, Alfredo decided to go back to East Germany after he discovered his supervisor’s poor treatment of employees. During his second contract, Alfredo served at a car factory, IFA Automobilwerk Berlin Ludwigsfelde, as an electrician and assembler from 1987 to 1990. He then returned to Mozambique as he became afraid of continuing as a black man in unified Germany.Footnote 59 Like Alfredo, many of those early migrants who were able to use their East German skills training to work for Mozambican companies decided to return to East Germany on another contract after failing to find a place in Mozambique that satisfied them.

The returnees’ professional paths diverged throughout the 1990s. A few worker-trainees were employed long term in the fields that they had trained for. However, as Santana explained above, those who were part of the mass return had to look for their own employment. Some returnees eventually used their skills and the machines they brought home with them. Some opened up unregistered mechanic shops or guesthouses and employed others off the books.Footnote 60 Others never succeeded in using any skills and lived in poverty as porters or ambulant traders, or on the handouts of fellow madjerman.Footnote 61 Those with the means sometimes tried to further their education after their return and succeeded in adding a few more grades to their formal schooling. Some found employment opportunities in the service sector, as staff in restaurants and hotels, as drivers in transport, as security guards, and as shop assistants. These are positions which many still held in 2014.Footnote 62 A few chose other professions, such as the artists Xefrino and Dito, the latter of whom painted the cover for this book.Footnote 63 A small number of returnees succeeded in completing tertiary studies and subsequently found governmental positions or worked in the private sector.Footnote 64 Unsurprisingly, the returnees developed into a heterogeneous group.

The legacy of being a former worker could be advantageous or disadvantageous to the returnees. Having been to Germany helped some, such as Boato, in serendipitous ways:

I returned to Inhambane and tried to stay, but it was too difficult, and I came back to Maputo in 1999. I worked again in a security firm. While I was sitting outside a house, guarding it, I saw a lady walk by with her little girl and they spoke German. I talked with them for a while. It turned out that this lady was the director of the DAAD. I started working for the DAAD, then for ICMA and later for the GIZ.Footnote 65 I have been with German institutions since the 1st of September 2002 now.Footnote 66

While some returnees tell stories of getting a job because they spoke German or had been to Germany, the more common reality is that of those former workers reporting that they faced exclusion because of their affiliation with the madjerman:Footnote 67

I worked as a governess in a family and as soon as they discovered that I was a madjerman I was sent away. …We don’t have the right to work, they don’t want to pay us and on top they are discriminating against us. When I go to look for work, I can’t write on my CV that I am a madjerman.Footnote 68

As we will see later in this chapter, the madjerman acquired a reputation as troublemakers when they organized and campaigned for their rights during the 1990s and 2000s. Other Mozambicans are often less than sympathetic to their cause. For the more marginalized former migrants, what was once intended to guarantee stable employment in industrialized Mozambique became instead an impediment to employability in the contested labor market of post-socialist Mozambique. Life at the margins for many returnees was, and is, a far cry from what they had imagined their future to hold. This disillusionment put them in the company of millions of their compatriots.

In Angola, the story was similar, albeit with four significant differences. Firstly, only about 1100 workers returned in 1990, so the government had to respond to a much smaller group of returnees.Footnote 69 Some Angolan returnees from the VEB Gas- und Elektrogerätewerk Dessau found work at Sonangol, the state oil and gas conglomerate. Some of those who trained in Leipzig and Gera in textile production worked in the same field in Benguela. Others found work at Elisal in Luanda in garbage collection and processing. Still others, from the Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau, IFA, were employed in car repair around Luanda and Benguela in connection with the transport ministry.Footnote 70 The majority of returnees, however, struggled to find employment or further training opportunities in Angola, as was the case in Mozambique.

Secondly, in Angola, civil war continued for another twelve years, albeit with a brief interlude between the Bicesse Accords in 1991 and the multiparty elections in 1992.Footnote 71 Returnees and their fellow citizens were primarily concerned with the war, especially since the conflict spread to Luanda in 1992 and continued to be waged in the cities. This was different from earlier conflicts that had primarily affected the countryside and smaller towns. In this context, neither the government nor the public attached much importance to the workers’ return: “The government did not give even minimal attention to the fact that we returned. They said nothing about what should happen to us. They limited themselves to silence.”Footnote 72 About ten years passed, in which “everybody went about living their own life on their own costs,” between return and the first conversations about forming an association of returned workers.Footnote 73 “We expected to be integrated [into the Angolan labor market]. We did not have access to the agreement, and we had absolutely no way of…questioning the state as we are doing now.”Footnote 74

Thirdly, Angolan returnees refrained from large-scale public protest and did not develop a separate public group identity as in the case of the madjerman. Finally, although the Angolan economy was hard hit, thanks to the country’s oil wealth its recovery after the end of the war was impressive, albeit very uneven. My interviews suggested that between 2002 and 2014 many Angolan former migrants were able to profit from the new economic world to a larger extent than their Mozambican colleagues.Footnote 75 Alongside the greater opportunities afforded by the Angolan economy, as we will see later in this chapter, Angolan returnees were eventually granted significant financial compensation by the government. This was in stark contrast to events in Mozambique.

Overall, most returnees in Angola and Mozambique would have agreed with Adevaldo Banze, in that they were welcomed with open arms but thereafter experienced a gradual fall from grace. Many felt alienated and betrayed as they failed to see long-term benefits from what they perceived as time spent abroad serving their country. While the workers’ willingness to serve on the factory floor remained constant, the governments became disinterested in their now outdated skills. The workers’ mass return in 1990 thus brought to light the mismatch between the programs’ stated aims and their reality. In many ways, the returnees’ fate was a reproduction of their pre-existing status, in the sense that most workers came from modest backgrounds and returned largely to similar positions.Footnote 76

It had become clear that the Mozambican and Angolan war-torn economies had failed to industrialize on the envisioned scale, thus limiting the number of functioning factories that could absorb the returning skilled laborers. Another problem was that not all returnees returned as skilled workers. The last years of the migration scheme saw a dramatic drop-off in training outcomes. According to Ulrich van der Heyden, the percentage of Mozambican workers who acquired a useable level of training actually rose to 70.5 percent from 1983 to 1985. Of these, only 1 percent received certificates of professional competence in individual skills rather than certificates as skilled laborers.Footnote 77 However, these numbers fell thereafter for several reasons. These included East German preference for labor power rather than skilled work, especially in the textile, chemical, and energy industries and mining. Also, individual workers often chose to prioritize working extra shifts to earn money over education. Language classes also seem to have become less intensive, resulting in difficulties in qualifying for training. The highest numbers of foreign workers in East Germany were registered at the tail end of the 1980s, leading many to experience less rigorous vocational training than earlier generations. The disconnect between the workers’ training and dismal economic reality became ever-more apparent. Something similar happened to millions of East Germans after unification. The world for which they had been trained had ceased to exist. The difference was that in Angola and Mozambique this world had never come into being in the first place, and all ambitions for making it exist had been abandoned.

These historic shifts cost the returnees their expected role as members of a vanguard workforce and inspired their struggles for repayment in Angola and Mozambique. We will examine the ongoing claims against the Angolan and Mozambican governments in the last part of this chapter. But for now, we turn toward the loss of affective ties the migrants experienced during the 1990s.

The Loss of Transnational Ties

Hello to East Germany and to my lost son,

I was only with you once—it was beautiful. You know, East Germany, you’ve hidden my child, my blood, my sunshine! Blood of my blood. What should I do now? It was so long ago, but nobody comes to help me find you. God is no devil—one day a light will appear, somebody will come to help me to find my sunshine, blood of my blood. Small Friedland, where you, Heiko were born, tell me, you peace-land, where do you hide my son? Do you finally hear me? All that I had of you, the pictures, and your date of birth, I lost in the flood in 2000. All that I know is that your mother is called Marina and that you were born 1984 in Friedland. My son, I would like to get to know you one day.Footnote 78

Many of the relations that migrants had created with East Germans were destroyed in the chaos of the programs’ end upon German reunification. This was one of the most poignant aspects of the human cost of the Mozambican and Angolan migrant schemes.

Transnational families were one of the most visible results and tightest ties of the contract labor migration to East Germany.Footnote 79 The new generation of Afro-Germans that Angolan and Mozambican workers fathered in East Germany were a durable legacy of their presence and their intimate relations with East German women.Footnote 80

Many of us created families over there because we left when we were still young, and we lived with the people from there. We had women, we fathered children, and all that leaves a mark on a person. I always say that we sowed trees in Germany because our blood flows through the veins of many people there. These are things we will never forget.Footnote 81

To many Angolan and Mozambican fathers of mixed-race German children, their relationships were about blood bonds, roots, and seeds.Footnote 82 Even in the abstract, fatherhood was still important, regardless of the degree of separation or connection with the child. The return logic integral to this labor and training program meant that workers had to sign up as individuals without family attachments. As people do everywhere, workers created new families in East Germany. Many then lost them.

As with all utopian schemes to remake humankind, creating New Men and New Women carried a human cost. Workers were temporarily or permanently separated from a generation of children who grew up disconnected from at least one biological parent, whether that parent was in Angola, Mozambique, or East Germany.Footnote 83 Female worker-trainees more often left a child behind with family members when they migrated to East Germany than did male worker-trainees.Footnote 84 Some returned pregnant from East Germany, leaving the father in Europe.Footnote 85 Therefore, many children in Africa grew up temporarily separated from at least one birth parent, if not both. While distance and the need to earn a living separated children from parents in the African context, in East Germany racism played a large role. In (East) Germany, some of the children of Angolan and Mozambican and East German parents were separated from both birth parents and grew up with foster parents, in children’s homes, or with grandparents. Many grew up with their mothers, sometimes in new patchwork families. Not all biological fathers lived with their children or were active parents while in East Germany; some East German families barely accepted the children but not the black fathers. Some workers were sued to pay child support but never met their children.Footnote 86 Yet, in other cases intercultural families stayed together and actively parented their children.Footnote 87

Despite this diversity of circumstances, a pattern emerges: after the mass return of workers to Angola and Mozambique, many of their children in Germany lost connection to their biological fathers. Most grew up without knowing much about them and their African roots; many started actively searching for these lost connections in their teens and as young adults.Footnote 88 Manuel, for example, grew up in Halle and Hamburg. In 1995, six years after his father returned, letter exchanges between his parents ceased. Manuel recalled:

I resigned myself to the idea that I would never meet my biological father. … When I was fourteen, I talked with my father on the telephone for the first time. …The first conversation with my father was not that great, because I was not interested in getting to know him or even in calling him ‘Dad.’ …I had no interest in being involved with Mozambique or with my father until I noticed that…I desperately wanted to know who my real father was…and what I might be like in relation to him. So, in 2012 I initiated the contact by calling him myself. In 2013 the opportunity arose for us [Manuel and his mother] to fly to Mozambique. It was an incredible experience. Half an hour before I met with my father, I started feeling very nervous and I realized how important this moment was…this was the piece that had always been missing from my life.Footnote 89

Upon meeting his father in Maputo, Mozambique, Manuel was confronted with conflicting emotions. On one hand, it was a joyous occasion because he was welcomed by his father’s Mozambican family. On the other hand, Manuel confronted his father with his feelings of loss:

I was also upset with my father, because it was through him that I got the skin color which I have, my dark skin…I always had to explain myself because of it, I had to put up with so much because of it, I was always a target, and my father was never there to protect me.

Manuel was marked by his experience with racism in Germany. He not only experienced the stigma attached to his skin color, but he also suffered the loss of his black father and was missing a source of positive identification with blackness in shaping his identity as a black man.Footnote 90

Another child born of the migration schemes is Adelino, born in 1990 to a Mozambican father and East German mother in Leipzig. Like Manuel, he had a complicated relationship with his own national and racial identity. Adelino grew up believing his birth father had died, but then as an adult managed to establish contact. This made Adelino reconsider who he was: “You aren’t German and the more you grow up the more you notice that. I am Mozambican, but what that means I don’t know. That I will still have to find out.”Footnote 91 Adelino had not yet been to Mozambique when I spoke to him in 2014.

Peter, born in 1984 in Radeberg, “grew up like a German boy, with a German mother and a German father because my Mozambican father left again in 1987.”Footnote 92 His mother told him early on that he had a Mozambican father, but he was not interested in the topic until he turned twenty and wrote a letter to his father’s work address in Maputo. He received a reply. Peter traveled to Mozambique to meet his father and new family. Afterwards he started learning Portuguese and made plans for a return. One thing led to another, and in 2014 he was living in Inhambane with his Mozambican partner and children. “I think I am one of the first ones to return to Mozambique,” he proudly states.Footnote 93 His use of the word “return” was interesting given that Peter had been born and brought up in Germany and had previously never been to Mozambique as an adult. He had fully embraced his father’s identity. Peter held German and Mozambican citizenships and saw his future between the two countries.

Many returnees and their children are not as lucky as Manuel, Adelino, and Peter, and their fathers. Fathers and children were not always able to find each other. Aniko from Dresden, for instance, took up the search for her father. This was against the wishes of her mother. Her father still wrote to her for ten years after leaving. Aniko’s mother kept the letters from her to shield her daughter from a geographically distant, and what she perceived as unreliable, connection. Aniko finally flew to Maputo and followed the traces of her father to South Africa without finding him.Footnote 94 Both Angolan and Mozambican fathers and German children sought to fill a void in their lives by rebuilding a connection that had been severed, or perhaps never even established. The many active ongoing searches for one another speak to an emotional, though abstract, family connection and a need to transform this into a real bond.Footnote 95

Fathers’ searches for their offspring have often been equally emotional and tenacious. Santana’s case was instructive because it illustrated how deep the commitment to establishing connections could be in the face of adverse circumstances:

I did not return [to Angola] with the intention of staying because I already had assumed a commitment with a woman in Germany who was pregnant. When I returned in November, I was informed the child was born on October 20 and it was a girl. I tried in vain to get in contact with the mother; she did not respond. The child was in the care of the youth welfare service. I got in contact with a German lawyer now…who found out that the woman died in 2010 and that it was a boy rather than a girl. …Later, they made me take a paternity test at the embassy. …I am now waiting for the results of the second test. …At the time, she had all my documents, and she had my address but unfortunately, she decided to give the child up for adoption when it was four months old. And now I don’t know.…so this is what is gnawing inside of me.Footnote 96

For Santana, the search was also related to his life cycle. As a pensioner with more free time and a level of financial independence, he was able to establish contacts with Germany, and make a serious effort to find his lost son.

Fathers approached me with different stories. Some had left their young children and their mothers, later tried to get back to Germany, but failed. Others did not remain in contact after their departure. Some no longer recall the names of the mothers of their children; others remember them as the love of their life. Some had children with different German women; others had several children with the same women. Very few have managed to visit their children—and grandchildren—in Germany.Footnote 97 All spoke of the desire to rekindle a connection with their far-away offspring.

The reasons that Angolan and Mozambican fathers lost contact with their East German families were many, including shame, trauma, lost or destroyed contact information, relocation, and sabotage of communication by family members. The children who grew up in Germany were often unfamiliar with the precarity that returnees faced and had difficulty understanding the forces that brought about familial ruptures. Many relationships proved problematic due to language barriers and different cultural expectations about parenthood and parent-child relationships. Augusto, who lived with his daughter’s mother in Berlin for two years, told me:

Our daughter was born in 1987. …I started having contact with her last year but one day she got very angry and cut all contact with me and even my friend who helped me locate her is no longer answering my calls and I was left without understanding the situation that led to this attitude.Footnote 98

Augusto’s experience is not unique, as there was much room for misunderstanding.

Family relations and child-rearing was one area where cultural differences emerged between the Angolan, Mozambican, and East German norms. In the GDR, custody resided with both mother and father in the name of equality, even in the case of small children, but it was usually mothers who won custody.Footnote 99 Many Afro-German children held expectations about a father’s role that did not correspond to their father’s understanding of their role. Many former worker-trainees saw children as central to a complete life. However, they had grown up with more expansive family relationships than a German nuclear family. Many had experienced separation from one or both parents during their childhood and youth, for instance because they left to pursue secondary education in a city or because their parents left for work. The civil wars in Angola and Mozambique introduced an additional level of precarity, which included the loss of family members and an increased burden on mutual help networks and kinship care.Footnote 100 In many parts of Africa, child-raising is not the sole responsibility of birth parents as is the norm in Europe. Shared parenthood and child-circulation among kinship and other support networks are socially accepted and widely practiced in Angola and Mozambique.Footnote 101

The rupture of transnational romantic relationships and the associated emotional costs was another narrative of loss for both returnees and their East German partners. What remains striking is the loss of agency in the worker-trainees’ retelling of separation narratives, which mirrors the lack of agency many worker-trainees felt vis-à-vis their careers, and ties in with a certain feeling of post-socialist fatalism familiar from around the world. Returnees detailed to me many cases in which a couple at first maintained a long-distance relationship, until they lost contact by accident or through jealous family members’ interference. It is important to note just how separated from a globalized socialist world the lives of many returnees became as their prospects deteriorated after their return, postal service was not reliable, often workers lacked stable addresses, and phone conversations were beyond their means. In other cases, lovers simply grew apart or found new partners in East Germany, Angola, and Mozambique.Footnote 102 Given that many migrants intended to return home only temporarily, they often saw separation as an unintended consequence of life decisions, made with incomplete information about the medium-term effects of the transition in East Germany and migration policy changes in Germany and their consequences for romantic partnerships and family life. The following extract, from a letter written by a German woman to a Mozambican returnee in 1990, underscores this difficult negotiation:

I hope that you have reintegrated well at home and that you don’t have any problems. What are you doing now? Will you work somewhere or is that impossible? I still have work but in the next couple of weeks many workers will be let go. I hope I can keep my work. There are already many unemployed. You write that you want to return. Do wait at least until 1992. We will need that time to create order in our country. After October 3, the GDR will cease to exist. It would be very difficult for you to live here through this time. There is no work and the hatred of our people towards foreigners is really bad right now. I am very sorry for all this, but I would be distraught if I knew stupid people would hurt you. Do you know, little one, I miss you terribly. Sometimes I think you aren’t really gone, and you will soon walk in through that door. But that is impossible. You remain many thousands of kilometers away from me!Footnote 103

Though none of my interviewees brought a German woman home with them, some East German women lived in the bairros in Maputo and other provincial capitals where they were a visible presence in the early 1990s.Footnote 104 Faced with the harshness of the living conditions there, most eventually left again for Germany.Footnote 105 A popular song, by well-known Mozambican musician José Guimarães, called “Miboba”, referred to the returnees from Germany with the line “other boys came back with motorbikes and white girls from Germany.”Footnote 106 In the popular memory returnees were linked to material possessions and to white women. Both were lost to the returnees.

Part II: Gain

East German Legacies: “When We Came Back, We Had Another Way of Being in the World”

A quick glance at a map of central Maputo is a reminder that the socialist past has not vanished. Street names feature prominent socialist leaders, among them Marx, Engels, and Lenin, and many of Africa’s socialist-inspired leaders: Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Guinea’s Ahmed Sékou Touré, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Angola’s Agostinho Neto, and Mozambique’s Samora Machel and Josina Machel.Footnote 107 In Luanda, on the other side of the continent, visitors can stroll along streets with strikingly similar names and stumble upon other reminders of a socialist past: both a stranded ship in Luanda’s ship graveyard and an abandoned cinema are named after Karl Marx; and socialism’s great men such as Agostinho Neto, Leonid Brezhnev, and Fidel Castro adorn decayed murals.Footnote 108 Maputo and Luanda continue to bear witness to FRELIMO’s and the MPLA’s quarter-century flirtations with socialism.

The attentive visitor to both Maputo and Luanda will also detect the enduring presence of socialist material relics. Occasionally, one might come across an old MZ or other goods with Eastern Bloc brand names that migrants brought back home from their extended stays in the East. Listening closely, one might detect a linguistic legacy of the former global socialist links. Some Angolans and Mozambicans can switch from Portuguese to German, Czech, Cuban-accented Spanish, Bulgarian, Romanian, or Russian. These fragments of the past remind a visitor who is paying attention to such things that well into the new millennium there are still echoes of a time in which the promise of a socialist utopia inspired Angolans and Mozambicans. These echoes are a reminder of how Angolan and Mozambican migrants shaped and were in turn shaped by these internationally entwined national histories.

In Mozambique, names emerged to describe former workers in East Germany. The most common is the term madjerman. It is an ambiguous name. On one hand, it is an externally imposed identifier with negative connotations: laziness, arrogance, a sense of entitlement. On the other, it is a positively affirming and internally ascribed name.Footnote 109

We feel good about the name [madjerman] because we were there, and it corresponds to the truth. Sometimes we are called Djerman Kohl, that was our adaptation. …We ate cabbage there and here we continued eating it. We called each other by that name, and nobody gets angry because we all ate that product in that country. …Our official name is ‘returnees from Germany.’Footnote 110

Returnees are perceived as a collective group by the public in Mozambique. Decades later, when I conducted my research, whether former migrants were referred to as madjerman—“those from Germany”—or referred to themselves in self-mockery as “German cabbage,” there was nevertheless recognition that this group of former migrants had developed its own identity and had been transformed to a degree that distinguished them from those who stayed. In Angola, due to the significantly smaller number of returnees, they had not had the same public attention and were simply referred to as returnees.

Not all was negative. Returnees brought with them memories and experiences of life under East German real socialism that continued to mark them and their behavior after their return:

We learned many things and in life all types of experiences count, especially when people emigrate and go to another country, get to know other cultures, habits, and customs. That person adopts other habits and evolves intellectually. …we also transmit what we have learned regarding social questions living together with other people, to our countrymen who stayed. When it comes to education you never lose anything. I can say it was definitely worthwhile that I learned to speak German. …I also learned about German history and saw some culturally significant places such as Weimar, the Berlin [TV] tower, and the Dresden picture gallery, which is one of the biggest in the world. …I also got to know the old town of Dresden which the Americans bombarded during the Second World War. …These are memories that we will never erase.Footnote 111

Migrants brought with them material possessions, new blood ties, and non-material legacies. In the following pages, we will explore one subset of ideas and practices that distinguished returnees from their home communities, namely their ideas about sexuality and gender roles.

When in 2015 I asked Bernardo a question about the applicability of the knowledge that he had acquired in East Germany to his present life, I was expecting an answer about his professional skills. However, he surprised me with a reference to his intimate relationships:

Simplicity in terms of intimate relationships. I don’t have problems with kissing my lover or wife in the streets. That sort of behavior is until today still complicated in this country [Angola]. That is why my family says that I am very German. [Another difference is that] when I say ‘no, I don’t want to’ it is because I really don’t want to do something and when I want to, I say, ‘Yes.’ My family asked me whether I would like to marry again, and I said yes, I would like to marry a white woman. They asked me why, and I said because a white woman is more loving and attentive.Footnote 112

Bernardo’s perception of white women as “loving and attentive” compared to Angolan women, whom many men portrayed as solely interested in economic gains, was consistent with the general idea migrants had of East Germany as a land of sexual freedom. Dagmar Herzog’s analysis of sexual behavior and morality in East Germany argued that an affirmative attitude toward sexuality developed over time.Footnote 113 In Angola, gender equality is enshrined in the constitution. Yet the notion of male supremacy remains ingrained in many Angolan men and women.Footnote 114 João Baptista Lukombo Nzatuzola claims that a “man flirting with more than one woman is seen as a sign of social prestige, reinforcing male authority.”Footnote 115 Bernardo picked up on the different degrees of equality practiced in the two societies, albeit both being countries that professed women’s equality before the law and lacked in practice.

Bernardo’s statement also highlighted differences between direct and indirect communication styles, which in turn shapes relationships. He was exposed to, and subsequently adopted, a direct communication style in East Germany, which, now that he had returned to Angola where indirect communication was more usual, made him an outsider and earned him the label “German.” It was this difference in communication style that probably contributed to his generalized reading of Angolan women as “difficult”—presumably, not a one-way street.

In Mozambique, Bernardo’s colleagues dealt with similar changes to their behavior that rendered them different. This notion of being an outsider also came with changed ideas about masculinity that seemed to some to undermine what they thought of as traditional “Mozambican” masculinity based on the role of the man as the provider. Particular points of difference were the relatively domestic role of men in East German society and associated approval of women’s active participation in the workforce. Adriano stated:

[In East Germany] we saw the men get up and walk into the kitchen to wash dishes. If you do that here, you won’t find a woman. The woman controls a lot [in Mozambique]. But we are already acculturated, and we say we are all human beings and if I wash the dishes, you will go and iron, and if you sweep the rooms, I will do another thing in the house over the weekends. …We do not hide [what we have learned in East Germany].Footnote 116

His colleague, Alves, shared the housework with his wife on the weekends.Footnote 117 Alfredo and his wife also made a conscious decision to only have two children to ensure they could finance their education, a decision he attributes to the nuclear family he experienced in East Germany.Footnote 118

East German women in East Germany were expected to become part of the workforce, were encouraged to pursue further education, and assumed leadership positions in companies, albeit rarely achieving top leadership positions.Footnote 119 The subsequent economic independence of women resulted in a shift in gender relations as women increasingly had bargaining power with their partners and the state.Footnote 120 As the regime encouraged men to actively participate in household chores, a particular brand of East German manhood emerged. Dagmar Herzog describes this as a “distinctive egalitarian style of heterosexual masculinity” based on “East German men’s domesticity and self-confident comfort with strong women.” This move toward equality, however imperfect, according to Herzog, was different from the “socialist machismo” seen in other Eastern European states, where patriarchy and misogyny existed side by side with gender-egalitarian rhetoric.Footnote 121 What is more important than the extent to which East German households were actually marked by shared tasks here is that many worker-trainees perceived the roles of East German men to be different from the cultural context from which they emerged. The extent to which many worker-trainees picked up on gender roles and cultural cues in East Germany once again demonstrated the importance of their affective ties with the East German population; the fact that they acted (or at least claimed to act) upon some of these new ideas, despite causing friction in their home environments, speaks to the lasting effects of these socialist ideas.

In East Germany, workers were also exposed to a different relationship to the body. Regina described her discovery of nakedness in the following terms: “There are things that for our Mozambican culture are unacceptable. After having come back from Germany we already thought of them as normal. For instance, when the people heard us talk about having gone swimming all naked, they thought it was very strange, but we already thought of it as normal.”Footnote 122 Not all interviewees embraced East German nudism (Freikörperkultur, FKK), as Regina did. This form of nudity was one of the freedoms the East German people carved out from the regime starting in the 1960s. By the 1970s, full nudity was the norm at many beaches and lakesides.Footnote 123 In a culture that promoted a non-commoditized relationship to sex, many East German women felt safe stripping and being seen without feeling as if they were being consumed.Footnote 124 Regina captured this general sense of freedom around the female body, read against her own experiences of sexual violence in Mozambique:

we saw so many white women wearing very little over there and in contrast here we have old women who dress in capulanas [traditionally worn type of sarong] and hide every part of their body, and they are still violated. These kinds of values that we learned in Germany; these are the values we really need to transmit to the next generation.Footnote 125

What Regina had seen and adopted as desirable, she did not want to keep for herself. She was driven to work toward greater gender equality in Mozambique. To that end, Regina was raising awareness about domestic violence in Mozambique and was volunteering for various social projects in Namaacha.Footnote 126 Whether it was Regina’s empowerment, Bernardo’s willingness to show affection publicly, or Adriano’s and Alves’s domestic chores, these workers’ stays in East Germany had shown them aspects of a society striving toward gender equality and a more liberal expression of sexuality. They were keen on keeping these aspects alive despite criticism from neighbors and friends.

A Luta Continua! Activism for Redress and Acknowledgment


Verse So many years of work, but all in vain, Madjermanes don’t know anymore whether they have The right to those moneys they conquered With the sweat of their undershirts And that they confiscated from them. Where is justice? Who has the power tramples on the hand. The poor stay even poorer and are left with xiça.Footnote

Workers use xiça, or chiça in Portugal, to express pain and dissatisfaction when they get hurt or things go wrong.

Injustice! The most common word used among us. We complain so much, we practically lose our voice.Footnote

Marrabenta refers to a popular Mozambican music style. “País Da Marrabenta” by the Mozambican rap group Gpro Fam. The song was launched as an advanced single, part of the first Mozambican hip hop album Um Passo em Frente. Translation: Inês Alves. Thank you to Janne Juhana Rantala for introducing me to this music.

Verse from “O Pais da Marrabenta” by Gpro Fam

In Mozambique, madjerman collectively gained an ambiguous reputation; loss and gain in this section lie as closely together as admiration and contempt for the madjerman in Maputo. Hip hop artists like Gpro Fam, Azagaia, and Tira Temas composed songs that reference the madjerman’s ongoing struggle for vindication. These songs portrayed madjerman as people who stood up for their rights against a FRELIMO government that betrayed them.Footnote 129 Yet, many a Maputense sighed when stuck in a traffic jam caused by yet another madjerman demonstration.Footnote 130 Some even saw the madjerman as ungrateful troublemakers who had already had the privilege of living abroad while others suffered through the civil war and were now claiming preferential treatment yet again. Despite this criticism, the group became a reference point for civil activism against the government. This sentiment was humorously expressed in a caricature published in Savana in 2014 that depicted masses of people demonstrating and holding signs that identified them as interest groups. Among them were the madjerman, the resettled, the demobilized, and opposition parties such as MDM and RENAMO. In this depiction, a line of heavily armed police officers from the rapid intervention unit kept the troublemakers at bay to allow the then President Armando Guebuza and Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina to walk to work. Guebuza beamed: “What is important is that the same remedy works for all diseases!”Footnote 131 The madjerman thus earned a certain prominence in the political landscape of post-socialist Mozambique.

They also gained a collective voice. The overwhelming majority of returnees in Angola and Mozambique expressed disappointment, anger, and continued hope when it came to the tense relationship between them and their respective governments. They felt as if the government had betrayed them. The various organizations the returnees formed proclaimed to fight for the workers’ rights. These rights involved the repayment of outstanding wages, which had been withheld in varying percentages from 25 to 60 percent, as well as social security and pension benefits. Deferred pay was nothing new to many migrants as it had also been practiced in the labor migration to the South African mines; likewise Angolan and Mozambican workers were not the only foreign workers in East Germany for whom the plan was to find parts of their wages in bank accounts upon their return home.Footnote 132 In the Angolan case discussed below, the workers fought for a collective compensation settlement, rather than restitution of the exact amount owed to each individual worker. In Mozambique, the ATMA (Associação dos Trabalhadores Moçambicanos na Alemanha, Association of Mozambican Workers in Germany), the largest organization representing the madjerman countrywide, leaned toward group compensation in its demands but individual workers often expected specific restitution of the exact amount owed per worker. Most individuals in Angola and Mozambique remained unclear about the details of the claim-making; they did not relate to the ongoing fight as a technical negotiation but rather as a moral discourse. They felt economically, socially, and morally wronged by the actions of their respective governments and sought to redress this injustice by claim-making. Even on the level of the leadership, facts and wishful thinking intertwined, and the movement leadership has changed repeatedly over the last two decades.

As soon as it became clear that the government would not honor their agreement to make good the deferred wages, an angry opposition formed in Mozambique, which saw the formation of various organizations of returned workers and public protest marches. A similar process later occurred in Angola.Footnote 133 The public protests by angry Angolan and Mozambican workers in Maputo, Luanda, Berlin, and Brussels were a direct result of the migration experience to East Germany. The money and benefits claimed were a product of the workers’ labor in East Germany. In a less material legacy, their methods drew on the active protest culture they witnessed in East Germany. Most important in this respect were madjerman participation in and leadership of company strikes, and in 1989 to 1990, their witnessing of, and occasionally participation in, the Monday Demonstrations when people in East Germany came out to peacefully protest the government. The madjerman protest movement has been the subject of countless news reports, exhibitions, and analyses over the years.Footnote 134 Madjerman have taken part in creative May 1st demonstrations, occupied the German Embassy in Maputo in 2004, and marched into the Mozambican parliament, all in an effort to get the respective governments to pay out what is owed.Footnote 135 Rather than drawing a complete picture of the protest movement, I focus in the following on the political voice of the protesters, a voice they gained after coming back from Germany.

The returnees foremost criticized their governments for exploiting them. At the heart of their grievances was less the deferred payment policy per se and more the bitterness about the (non-)repayment process. One worker in Maputo remembered:

We thought it [the deferred pay option] was a good thing because we would receive the money after our return. It was better only to receive 40 percent of our wages there because we didn’t have a future in that country [East Germany]. So, it would have been better to get the other portion here and live very well but that never happened.Footnote 136

The deductions varied from 25 to 60 and later 40 percent of the wages of the workers. Many workers mention that they had to part with their documents outlining how much money was deducted from each of them at the airport upon returning. Subsequently, some workers received some payouts but could no longer prove how much the money they received was compared to what they had once earned. The fact that many workers did not receive the withheld portions of the wages gave rise to allegations of government corruption and continues to fuel the demonstrations.

Workers also gained a political voice as some compared their situation to slavery, as in Momade’s critique: “When FRELIMO sent us to Europe they said it was for our vocational training but in reality they used us as political slaves.”Footnote 137 Momade’s realization came after he learned about the use of his transfer payments to pay off some of the Mozambican debt resulting from imports from East Germany. It is a retrospective evaluation of the migration scheme on a continuum of forced labor practices. The fundamental economic rationale for slavery is extracting value from people’s labor by not paying them. Mozambicans did receive a wage, and one that—without the subtractions—would have been equal to that of an East German worker in the same position. But both governments party to the bargain did indeed extract value from the workers’ labor. The government officials involved in negotiating higher numbers of Mozambican worker-trainees to East Germany and a higher percentage of mandatory transfers in the mid-1980s with the explicit aim of reducing rising Mozambican debts must have been aware of the fact that there was no feasible way for Mozambique to pay the workers upon their return. They must have realized when they stipulated that pension entitlements were to be credited in the Mozambican system that no such system was in place at the time. It was only introduced in 1988.Footnote 138 The program was thus built on deceit and a level of exploitation that rendered all claims to socialist solidarity absurd. Foreign workers (and East German companies) were left in the dark about the machinations regarding their transfer payments. As of June 1, 1987, the standard contract to be signed by Mozambican workers and their East German employers simply stated that with their signature, workers agreed to transfer 60 percent of their net wages to accounts at the Banco de Moçambique for their benefit, where the money would arrive “through the intergovernmentally agreed channels.”Footnote 139 Nebulous formulations such as this kept the actual schemes hidden from the workers.

Outright slavery cannot operate without force; here participants were attracted and kept motivated with promises that were in reality to be broken, a sad echo of forced and indentured labor programs throughout world history.Footnote 140 While the daily lives of Angolan and Mozambican contract laborers as remembered here departed significantly from those of earlier, far more exploitative contract labor migrations of indentured laborers in the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Chinese or Indian contract labor to Cuba or Peru and South Africa, the fundamental rationale was built on state-sponsored deception in both cases.Footnote 141 Labor exploitation happens on a continuum from unfree to free labor and the fact that workers’ payments and benefits were traded for debt reduction without a plan in place for how to compensate the workers in full reveals the East German and Mozambican propaganda about the labor migration programs as woefully incomplete.

The fact that the money the workers had earned with their labor was used to pay back Mozambican debts was the issue that continues to incite former workers. Juma from Nacala compared his father’s life under Portuguese colonialism to his own under FRELIMO leadership:

I felt aggrieved because we did not see the benefit of the things for which we worked in East Germany. It was as if I were my father. When he was taken to São Tomé e Príncipe, he only received a subsidy. The real money went to the colonial government. That is why he returned only with a suitcase of ragged clothes and a pair of shoes. …I had a contract for Germany and worked there for three and a half years but 60 percent of my wages was subtracted, which I was supposed to receive after my return. I never received anything. That is exploitation like the labor of my father. The difference is that I am exploited by compatriots. That is the difference between the colonial government and that of the FRELIMO…I returned with the same clothes here, with the same shoes. I did not construct my house, I did nothing, and they kept my money. For me there is no difference between colonialism and the FRELIMO government.Footnote 142

The comparison is fair, to the extent that the same basic economic idea sent Juma’s father to São Tomé e Príncipe and him to East Germany in the late 1980s, where 60 percent of his wages were taken from him. We can therefore speak of a continuum between contractual labor practices between colonial and postcolonial governments in this case. Yet, the working and training conditions, the remittances, and the degree of freedom with which the migration started varied significantly. The comparisons with the colonial regime were drawn by a generation of migrants who had never lived with the threat of forced labor producing cash crops to enrich the colonial masters. They grew up instead with the promise of socialist revolution. Collective labor practices drawing on the labor power of subjects/citizens to develop the colony/country through infrastructure projects showed marked continuity from colonial to postcolonial times, not only in socialist Angola or Mozambique but across Africa. Yet, what changed fundamentally was the relationship between citizens and the state.Footnote 143 Many workers I interviewed embraced the development dream of the Cold War period wholeheartedly. They bought into the postwar dream of development “as a promise of a better future, as a tool of liberation, and as a vision of a feasible alternative to the past and present.”Footnote 144 They sincerely expected development to lead to a better life for everyone and to be the result of schemes like the one in which they had participated. They believed in the importance of their training. Instead of a blue-collar job, they received decades-long warfare and the precarity of an economy unable to provide formal employment for many. Juma’s disappointment and anger were real. His were the sentiments that continue to fuel the ongoing protests decades later.

The fact that the money the workers had earned with their labor was used to pay back the debts of Mozambique was the issue that continues to incite former workers, where they are aware of this aspect of their history. Having grown up with the memories and histories of slavery and forced labor in the colonial context, labor migrants watched closely how their working conditions compared. One worker from Ilha de Moçambique remembered: “We knew it was a real offer because we had a contract and all types of guarantees that this was not slavery. When we arrived there, we met people from other nationalities, and we were all treated the same as the German people.”Footnote 145 This worker’s assessment rings true, too, to a certain extent, especially if we think of the first generation of worker-trainees, who on the whole received better training and job placements upon return. If the workers had received their full wages and benefits either in East Germany or upon return, they would have likely returned with grievances about working conditions in East Germany but not with the fundamental distrust of the FRELIMO government which continues to govern the country in 2022.

Former worker-trainees also gained a place to cement and maintain their group identity. The central gathering place in Maputo, replicated throughout the provincial capitals of Mozambique, is the Jardim 28 de Maio, colloquially known as the park of the madjerman. Situated in downtown Maputo, close to the Labor Ministry, the park serves as the headquarters of the umbrella organization for returned workers, the ATMA, and as the central rallying spot for weekly demonstrations.Footnote 146 A memorial bears witness to comrades lost to the past two decades of the workers’ struggles to claim government payments. The park also serves as a social, economic, and protected space for various madjerman groups. This includes the destitute, who sleep in the park and spend their days living off the alcohol and food given by fellow madjerman. There are also many madjerman traders and informal businesses along Av. Ramao Fernandes Farinha. Someone from the ATMA leadership is usually on hand at the tables next to the organization’s office. This person is the initial point of contact for the constant trickle of madjerman from all over the country who stop by to be updated on nossa luta—our struggle. “We are a family,” observed Juma in 2014.Footnote 147 Madjerman support each other in this space with connections and advice. They can also find a place there to recuperate and anchor their collective memory of their shared past. They use the place to express solidarity with each other and lend weight to their collective claims on the government. While a renovation of the park and the Covid-19 pandemic have altered the use of the park in recent years, it continues to be the place to which madjerman turn in search of information about ongoing demands for restitution (Fig. 6.1).

Fig. 6.1
A photograph of a group of African people standing in a natural setup. An African woman wearing a cap, praying by bringing the hands together and closing eyes, stands at the front and the others look on.

Prayer time at a madjerman reunion in the Jardim 28 de Maio on February 4, 2014. Source: Photo taken by the author

In Angola, there are no madjerman, or rather there is no equivalent term, and no cohesive organization representing former worker-trainees as a whole. Instead, two single-story brick houses in the Luandan suburbs, one in Prenda, the other in Tala Hady, serve as the offices and meeting places for two rival wings of AEX-TAA, the association of the Angolan ex-workers in former East Germany.Footnote 148 In 2015, the acting president of the Prenda wing was José António. He spent four years in Ludwigsfelde at the IFA car factory before returning to Luanda in 1990.Footnote 149 The president of the organization in Tala Hady was Estevão de Santana Maria Dias de Elvas, who was also part of the first group of Angolan workers sent to IFA Ludwigsfelde to work in truck assembly in June 1985, and who later worked as a translator at various companies in East Germany.Footnote 150 AEX-TAA was formed in 2003 to negotiate with the government in the name of approximately 2500 former Angolan workers in East Germany.Footnote 151 The reclaiming process started officially in 2004, to which the government responded positively.Footnote 152 In the meantime, the organization had split into two wings. The key difference between the two factions was that the Prenda wing was still pursuing its claims against the government, while the Tala Hady faction had accepted a settlement. Rather than making new demands, Prenda focused on signing on all former worker-trainees who were eligible for the benefits that had been agreed.

The agreement in question was signed on February 11, 2011. The government agreed to attribute the status of Técnico Médio de 1a classe, a category identified in Angolan labor law, to all workers who had labored in East Germany. This categorization made Angolan laborers, who had been subject to East German labor laws, visible in Angolan labor laws. The amount allotted to each worker was 1,278,000 kwanza (US$13,462 at the time). This consisted of the payment of a fee for the contract cancellations, holiday subsidy, Christmas subsidy, departure subsidy, money to kickstart self-employment, and money for re-training. In addition, every worker fifty years of age and older could sign up to the system of the National Institute of Social Security (INSS) to receive a pension calculated as if it were for twenty-eight years’ work—this was worth 45,000 kwanza per month.Footnote 153

As of August 2014, the Angolan government viewed the case as closed, having made available 4,016,604,800 kwanza since 2004.Footnote 154 This would mean that by 2015 each of the 1600 registered former worker-trainees had the opportunity to receive a total of about US $26,000 in compensation, regardless of their time in service. In addition, they were entitled to a monthly pension of roughly US$450. President Elvas thought that the settlement was fair:

Normally sixty is the retirement age here…many of us, when we are 50 years old, we receive our pension but still continue working. …This was one of the advantages that we had based on the agreement. Today we are in a good place because the state already grants us a monthly pension.Footnote 155

Members of AEX-TAA Prenda disagreed and continued mobilizing for higher remuneration:

This is impossible, we are on our way to 30 years of involvement in this process and they just say, ‘you like demonstrations, you are cooked and grilled!’ Nobody likes demonstrations. People demonstrate because they feel injured. If MAPTESS [Labor Ministry] had paid, nobody would be on the streets to demonstrate.Footnote 156

The campaigners cast themselves as victims:

Give us back what is ours, our sweat. It isn’t easy to leave a place and then come back and not find what you have worked for; it hurts. You know, in Europe we worked in the cold, in the rain, everything. We had to get up at 4:00 AM and by 5:00 AM we already had to fight the cold.Footnote 157

They also cast their demands in terms of human rights. José António maintained: “Angolans have to learn to fight for their rights and demand dignity!”Footnote 158 This rights-based discourse was, and continues to be, central to both the Mozambican and Angolan processes, and it indicates the larger meaning that these individual cases hold for the country as a whole.

In an interview on a Voice of America podcast, Angola Fala Só, José António made a connection between his cause and the wider state of democracy in Angola: “Angolans need to claim their rights and voice their positions because one day the situation will change.”Footnote 159 He expressed his conviction that it was important to stand up for one’s cause, because of the potential this act has to collectively contribute to political change. He connected the rights of the former migrant workers with a larger human rights framework: “They have to respect the rights of the workers because these are also human rights.”Footnote 160 Asked how much longer they are willing to continue their fight, José answered: “As long as necessary, until our claims are met. We are also citizens of this country and we have earned recognition. We conformed to all our duties for the fatherland until the moment of peace and now we demand our rights.”Footnote 161 This statement clearly demonstrated an idea of a bargain between citizens and government—a social contract that Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have recognized—that had not been upheld.

Public opinion is generally supportive of the former worker-trainees’ claims because dissatisfaction with the Angolan government is widespread.Footnote 162 On the other hand many perceive the claimants as a privileged group: “They went there and ate and drank and had a good life. They ask for more than US $200,000 but nobody speaks about the money for former FAPLA soldiers who gave their very best while those in Germany ate, drank, and went out with prostitutes. We […] only ate gunpowder.”Footnote 163 Or worse, they accuse them of opportunism: “They want to use the disorganization…If Angola was still in the hands of the oldest brother, Dr. Savimbi [leader of UNITA, the MPLA’s civil war opponent, killed in 2002], they would all be thrown into the fire because this is absurd.”Footnote 164

Former worker-trainees have protested in Angola.Footnote 165 But given the tenuous security situation for visible protest in Angola, more open demonstrations are outsourced to the Angolan diaspora in Europe. There are about 300 former Angolan workers still registered in Germany.Footnote 166 The press attaché of the Angolan Embassy in Berlin, Fernando Tati, stated in December 2014: “They are attempting to extort the Angolan government. Today they ask for a predetermined amount, tomorrow they ask for more. It practically amounts to racketeering.”Footnote 167 In another Deutsche Welle article, the embassy is quoted denouncing the workers’ ongoing demonstrations as “irresponsible” and as “misleading propaganda.”Footnote 168

In the opposition press, the demonstrations in Germany are characterized as expressions of the “profound indignation of the Angolan diaspora, which is faced with corruption and impunity in Angola.”Footnote 169 At least ten demonstrations took place from 2011 to 2017 in Berlin, Frankfurt, and in front of the European Parliament in Brussels.Footnote 170 The protest march in Brussels in June 2015 was attended by about 250 former worker-trainees, mainly men, now living in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. Key protest slogans were: “Down with corruption!” “Long live democracy!” “Down with the dictatorship!” “Long live freedom of expression!” and “We will win!” The wider aims and claims of the movement were clear in these phrases.

Miguel Cabango, the organizer and president of Assoextra e.V., maintained: “it is not our intention to stain the Angolan image here in Europe, but necessity obliges us. This is our right because we worked but never saw our money. Until we see our money the marches here will not stop.”Footnote 171 The protesters delivered a letter to the President of the European Commission and addressed the then Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, calling on him to intervene on their behalf. Diasporic Angolans saw and portrayed themselves as patriotic Angolans, on the right side of history, holding the elite accountable while demanding their own rights, and campaigning for greater accountability and responsiveness in Angolan governance.

Employing patriotism and the independence struggle has allowed for a critique of corrupt elites. The victimization narratives and the rights dialogue aimed at both an international and national audience. The desire for recognition and further payments motivated the protestors, some of whom acknowledged that the current political system allowed greater leeway for this kind of action: “Now we have the right to claim our rights if we think that things aren’t going well. That was not possible earlier on…During socialism we had a one-party state and that was an authentic dictatorship.”Footnote 172 Ultimately, Angolan former workers achieved a settlement that allows them many more benefits than the former workers in Mozambique. The crucial difference is that the Angolan state is flush with oil money, which has allowed it to buy off the former migrant workers and, in so doing, draw much of the sting from their protests. Mozambique, lacking the oil riches of Angola, does not have this option.

In recent years, the Mozambican community in Germany, represented by the CMA (Comunidade Moçambicana na Alemanha, the Mozambican Community in Germany), has engaged lawyers to claim missing repayments for members of the Mozambican diaspora.Footnote 173 Formalized relations between the campaigning groups for the former workers in Germany and Mozambique, the CMA and ATMA respectively, came about in 2014 and allow for a certain level of coordination with regard to demonstrations and preparations for different legal proceedings in Berlin and Maputo.Footnote 174 As of 2019, former Mozambican workers in Germany and Mozambique, working alongside German civil society actors with a background in East German resistance networks and the Sant’Egidio community, have organized with the goal to have former contract laborers recognized as victims of the East German SED regime and to reenter negotiations with the German as well as Mozambican governments about retributions.Footnote 175 Key to this was a conference on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the signing of the 1979 agreement between East Germany and Mozambique.Footnote 176 It brought together participants—former workers and school children from Mozambique, former workers’ German children, East German development experts posted to Mozambique, those having worked with Mozambican laborers in East Germany—with state representatives from Mozambique and Germany, researchers, artists, and interested citizens.Footnote 177 The central concern of the conference was to seek a solution for the missing wages, social security contributions, and unclear pension entitlements of the Mozambican contract workers. In this context, journalist and legal expert Dr. António Frangoulis brought out the exploitative nature of the agreements when he stated: “In fact, the inheritance of the GDR is a dark chapter in the history of the relationship of friendship and cooperation between Mozambique and Germany.” He called the labor migration to East Germany “a living history of modern slavery […] smack in the middle of the twentieth century” and referred to the workers as having been “sold like things” and having been “robbed of their fundamental rights, in clear violation of the universally applicable Declaration of Human Rights.”Footnote 178 Günter Nooke, personal Africa representative of Chancellor Merkel in the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and Africa Officer in the same ministry, represented the German government and emphasized that no valid outstanding payment liability existed for the German government. However, he also admitted: “For the GDR, its engagement in Mozambique and the contract labor agreement was not just socialist fraternal assistance but also business. East and West both instrumentalized African states, their governments and especially the people of those countries for their political and geopolitical interests.”Footnote 179 The representative of the Mozambican Embassy, Julião Armado Langa, recognized the contribution of the workers to the development of Mozambique “in one way or another” and underlined his wish for a continued close German–Mozambican relationship.Footnote 180 Since then, the new momentum has carried the issue into debates in the German Bundestag where MP Dr Karamba Diaby has called upon parliament not to forget the Mozambican workers in debates about East German pension transitions, and Katrin Budde and Matthias Höhn have exchanged viewpoints on whether Germany needs to accept financial responsibility vis-à-vis former contract laborers in East Germany;Footnote 181 Vice-President of the Bundestag Dagmar Ziegler acknowledged that parliament needs to ask the moral question. She underlined that the East German side knew perfectly well that workers did not receive what they had worked for, and opened the door toward recognizing the continuing workers’ demands as moral demands.Footnote 182 Moreover, well over 400 researchers signed an open letter to the German government in support of compensation payments.Footnote 183 These developments have not gone unnoticed in Mozambique. The madjerman have, after pausing due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, resumed their meetings in the park of the madjerman, where they discuss the ongoing developments in Germany.

This migration had far-reaching unintended consequences which continue to echo in the lives of Angolans, Mozambicans, and Germans. None of the program planners could have anticipated the transnational protests which are its most recent reverberations. What becomes apparent when Angolan workers march in front of the European parliament, or Mozambican workers march through the Brandenburg Gate, are the ongoing ties that bind Angola and Mozambique to Germany through the legacies of their shared socialist histories even as all three countries firmly form part of today’s globalized world. The diaspora, at home and abroad, has found its political voice and is utilizing it, as fiercely proud Angolans or Mozambicans, to stake their claims to consideration in domestic policy.Footnote 184 What will happen next is history’s unfinished business.


Angolan and Mozambican workers returned home to rebuild their personal and professional lives and to support their country’s development through industrialization. But they soon realized that their dream of living life as blue-collar workers, with similar benefits and privileges to those they had encountered in East Germany, was to remain just that—a dream. What originally was a euphoric return, followed by active participation in the sharing economy and enjoyment of newfound social capital, soon turned into disappointment and marginalization. The workers thus narrated their return through the prism of their loss: loss of their goods, their deferred wages, their social standing, their ties with Germany, and their professional and personal dreams.

Despite this, they also spoke of the transformations they underwent abroad and the gains from this journey. They came back with a group identity that bound them together and provided them with a community. They adapted their worldview in lasting ways about issues such as gender equality, sexuality, and partnership. And finally, they gained agency and successfully negotiated repayments. Their experiences with life under real socialism heightened their political consciousness as civic actors, taught them the skill of protesting, and allowed them to envision the possibility of an alternative present. The migrants are part of their national histories; through their lives, the East German experience became interwoven in the fabric of Angolan and Mozambican history. Through the Angolan and Mozambican protests in Europe, their national histories once again became situated within a global context. But this time, it was a post-socialist one.

The German Democratic Republic, the People’s Republic of Mozambique, and the People’s Republic of Angola have all ceased to exist. The legacies of the historic entanglements of all three states are complex. The positive and the negative exist side by side. In telling this multifaceted history we must have the patience to balance workers warmly recalling facets of their East German lives with the structural critique that exploitation became part of the system once it was clear to the parties involved in signing the bilateral government agreements that no provisions were made to pay workers their full wages, social security benefits, and pension entitlements upon their return. The next chapter examines how the memories of the migrations have continued to shift and evolve, and how this relates to their overall meaning. For thousands of present-day Mozambican and Angolan returnees, the legacy of this migration continues to live on in their memories in the form of eastalgia, a longing for aspects of their East German experience.