Mozambique has a complex and contested history stretching back to the migration of Bantu speaking people from west central Africa in the third century BCE. Between the 13th- 15TH centuries parts of the coastal and the inland areas were incorporated into the sophisticated Great Zimbabwe civilisation and linked up with trade routes and coastal enclaves established by Arab African Swahili traders. The Portuguese made their first appearance in 1498 having navigated the Cape Horn, before establishing garrisons and trading posts at Sena and Tete in 1530.
The Portuguese footprint in Mozambique slowly started to expand: firstly through the Prazos system of granting concessions to trading companies and secondly by being one the earliest European powers to profit from the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Slavers trafficked people captured and sold in the northern reaches of the territory. This involved transactions between Prazo and Yao slavers focused on the area around the tip of Lake Niassa. Extensive slave routes developed which shipped enslaved people to different countries including Brazil, Mauritius and Madagascar. In the first half of the 19th century numerous agreements were signed to end slavery. However, these were ineffective and “clandestine trade continued for decades”.
Portugal was one of the last European nations to formally agree to end the slave trade. Having leased out large estates as concessions to trading companies in the period 1890-1930, Portugal sought to ensure continuity in the supply of labour. In 1899 the Portuguese introduced the system of legislated compulsory labour known as shibalo. This required that where Mozambican men were unable to find wage labour, they had to provide extensive periods of free forced labour under the control of the local administration. This forced labour code remained legally in force until 1928.
The discovery of diamonds and then of gold in South Africa irrevocably changed the face of the sub-continent. The rapidly expanding goldfields on the Witwatersrand were the catalyst for the development of Johannesburg and extended the reach of the migrant labour system throughout Southern Africa.