Labour on the Frontlines: An entangled history of southern Africa and central Europe

The southern African struggle for liberation deepened regional entanglements as far north as Tanzania and stretched them farther still, thanks to the Cold War, creating new ties that sustained the struggle. This paper examines experiences of Africans who laboured in East German industry from 1979 until the Cold War’s end. The principle of ‘friendship of peoples’—a core precept of socialist internationalism, especially between ‘Second’ and ‘Third World’—helped guide the relationship between Mozambique and the German Democratic Republic. The focus is on young Mozambicans sent to train as industrial workers in East Germany, with the goal of strengthening internationalist ties, and with the idea that these ‘new men’ would return home to continue the revolution. Based on archival research and interviews, the paper explores the daily landscapes in which these young African workers lived: at work, in home life, and in their connections to East German society. In bringing together African history, Cold War history, and labor history, the research also explains how relationships between workers and the state evolved in the context of east-south solidarity arrangements. For many people, these landscapes remain relics that powerfully shaped their perceptions of what is now seen as a bygone era.

About the Author

Eric Allina (A. B. in Social Studies, Harvard College; M.A., Ph.D. in History, Yale University) has taught history in the United States and Canada since 2001. He is currently associate professor of history at the University of Ottawa, where he teaches courses on the history of Africa, of slavery, and in historical methodology. Most of his research deals with histories of labor and the state in southern Africa. He has published a variety of work on questions of migrancy, resistance, and social history. His book, Slavery by Any Other Name: African Life under Company Rule in Colonial Mozambique (Charlottesville, 2012) won the Canadian Association of African Studies Joel Gregory Prize in 2014. His current research explores an interlocking set of questions in comparative and transnational histories of labor and the state; a particular interest is the historical connection between East Germany and Mozambique from the 1960s until 1990, with a focus on the experiences of young Mozambicans who worked in East Germany industry.


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