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  • on 05.06.2014
  • at 12:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

The Friendship Between China and Mozambique Will Last Forever Like the Heavens and the Earth 0

In Maputo, the “Garden for Sculptors” behind the Museu Nacional de Arte on Avenida Ho Chi Minh has become a kind of prison yard for Mozambique’s various Ozymandiases, a semi-public dumping ground where colonial monuments now crumble quietly away. A marble European baroness reclines in thick robes, the grasses growing up around her base.

Both of her arms have been lopped off, but her amputated left hand still touches the midriff of a black male slave crouched in a loincloth by her side. Nearby, a decapitated Lady Justice presides over a small patch of weeds and bare earth. No longer public art, but not quite garbage, these are the monuments which were extracted like rotten teeth from the city’s squares and public buildings when Portuguese colonial rule finally ended, but which nobody could quite bring themselves to destroy.

One August afternoon I chanced upon the newest addition to this miserable collection. Facedown in the dirt lies an enormous bronze angel, wings stretched high over its head like some kind of massive avian Academy Award. Walking around it to its jagged base, ripped from wherever it had once been rooted, I found that the figure was completely hollow. Inside there was a small plaque whose Chinese characters I could not read. Intrigued, I went back into the museum, and asked the receptionist there where this gigantic statue had come from and why it had been dumped here. He answered with the air of someone patiently explaining something very obvious to someone very dull. The angel had been erected in 2011 by the Chinese government in front of the new national soccer stadium, to give the place some character and serve as a kind of focal point. But when Mozambican officials saw that the statue had “a Chinese face”, they decided it wouldn’t do to have a Chinese angel in front of their national stadium, tore it down, and trucked it into town to join the rest of Maputo’s unwanted colonial trappings in the Garden for Sculptors.

Mozambique’s new national stadium, Estádio Nacional do Zimpeto, is on the outskirts of Maputo, not far from the Chinese-built international airport. The Chinese have also overseen the construction of the new parliament building and a new “Palace of Justice” in the last few years. The main institutions through which a sense of Mozambican national life is constructed—the laws of the nation, international departures and arrivals, and its most spectacular public moments of heroism—now take place in Chinese-built structures.

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