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date: 25 June 2024

The Wiriyamu Massacrelocked

The Wiriyamu Massacrelocked

  • Mustafah DhadaMustafah DhadaDepartment of History, California State University, Bakersfield


The Wiriyamu massacre was a case of structurally determined mass violence in Portugal’s colonial wars, not unlike similar massacres during wars of suppression by colonial and White settler powers in Africa. On December 16, 1972, a young captain in the Portuguese colonial army in Mozambique was summoned to the regional headquarters in Tete, then undergoing insurgency. He arrived at the headquarters at 6:30 am and was told to execute Operation Marosca—eradicate insurgents in five villages in Wiriyamu. Wiriyamu’s periphery was then bombed to soften it, after which he and his commando units moved in to demolish the five villages. Three hundred and eighty-five named civilians died in the process. Excluded from this figure are the victims of police torture and the three-day hunt that followed the massacre. There were no insurgent casualties on record.

The massacre would have been lost to recorded history had it not been for the role data-collectors, report-smuggling priests, and fact-checking journalists played in producing a list of the dead, mounting a concerted effort to verify and then publicize the massacre, and engaging in a daring rendition of an eye-witness survivor. On July 10, 1973, 206 days after the event, they succeeded to place their story on the front page of The Times. Five days later, the Sunday Times’ Insight Team followed suit with an extensive background coverage of the affair.

The Caetano-led Portuguese regime denied the carnage with counter-narratives and protestors on hire. Nine months after the revelations, however, the Portuguese military ousted Caetano. The new regime acknowledged the veracity of The Times’ reports on Wiriyamu. By then, the United Nations had documented the event, publishing it in a report seven months after the coup, on November 22, 1974. That is how the Wiriyamu massacre happened, and how Wiriyamu the narrative, was revealed, denied, contested as recently as 2012 and reaffirmed in three scholarly texts.


  • Southern Africa

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