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Mozambique's first inhabitants were the San hunters and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples. Between the first and fourth centuries AD, waves of Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from the north through the Zambezi River valley and then gradually into the plateau and coastal areas. The Bantu were farmers and ironworkers.
The Portuguese arrived on the East African coast in the early 16th century, displacing Arab rulers from many of the towns. They established settlements along the Zambezi, but were for centuries largely confined to the river valley and the coastal strip. After many failed attempts to penetrate inland (particularly to control the gold and silver mines of what is now Zimbabwe), they made a concerted effort to conquer the interior in the late 19th century. By 1914 the Portuguese had achieved the “effective occupation” required by the 1885 Berlin Conference of European powers to justify imperial claims.
In contrast to the policies of other colonial powers in Africa after 1945, the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal (1932-1968) was determined to hold on to the country’s colonies. The Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo) formed in 1962, led the struggle for independence. Following the military coup in Portugal in 1974, a joint Portuguese/Frelimo Transitional Government was established, and in 1975 the country achieved independence under Frelimo whose leader, Samora Machel, became the first president.
Frelimo initially pursued Marxist-Leninist policies, and was violently opposed by the Resistência Nacional de Moçambique (Renamo), formed in 1976/7 under Rhodesian direction. Following the demise of Rhodesia, Renamo enjoyed South African patronage as part of the latter’s “Total Onslaught” strategy aimed at disrupting the politics and economies of the black ruled “front-line states” on its borders.
War-weariness and political changes in South Africa and Mozambique – including Frelimo’s move away from doctrinaire Marxism-Leninism – helped bring about a peace agreement, signed in Rome, between Frelimo and Renamo in 1992. The end of the civil war, facilitated by both Mozambicans and the international community, is regarded as one of the most successful examples of conflict resolution in Africa.