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The intensity and quality of artistic creation in Maputo underline the dynamism of cultural productions in the city. With a peculiar cultural ecosystem, the Mozambican capital combines foreign funding and support from diplomatic representations with a tradition of associative organization present in the main groups of the different professional artistic categories. The result is a cosmopolitan city that condenses the country’s multiculturalism as well as its contrasts.
From the intersection between international cooperation and the local community dynamics emerges the Movimento Literário Kuphaluxa (Kuphaluxa Literary Movement) in 2009, formed by young people stemming from the activities at Centro Cultural Brasil – Moçambique (CCBM). The association was created from the perception of the importance of the presence of foreign cultural institutions to boost the sector, and also from the need for the consumption of the cultural production in Mozambique to happen outside the cultural centers and close to the community.
As a consequence of this project, LITERATAS – Revista de Artes e Letras de Moçambique arises in 2012, with the challenge of collectively mustering a national audience capable of experiencing artistic activities conceived in Portuguese, whether from Mozambique or from other communities that make up the CPLP. The magazine is made by a team of volunteers, amongst whom are local artists and thinkers to ensure daily content that provide creative expression and intercultural dialogue.
Always in an online format, LITERATAS offers a fertile ground for advancing the plurality of initiatives and the diversity of voices. This gives the Mozambican youth the possibility of a non-hierarchical experience, which expands the cultural repertoire and provides contact with the arts as a vector of human development.
Navigating inside an interactive network matches the impermanent structure of culture in Mozambique. The liquid structure of the online format provides adaptability and responsiveness, enabling LITERATAS, in its eight years of existence, to leave its mark in the Mozambican cultural journalism, becoming a privileged voice in the understanding of local dynamics.
In Mozambique and, more precisely, in the city of Maputo, which is the epicenter of the epidemic in the country, a level 3 state of emergency was decreed, which does not impose confinement on the population, but creates conditions for it to exist. Stay home is the government’s appeal. From preschools to universities were suspended, and remote work was implemented, whenever possible, to prevent having too many workers in the same place. Only indispensable workers are in offices, factories and workplaces. Even parliamentary meetings, involving the government, are working like that.
Then, measures to reduce crowds and the suspension of all recreational events, from cultural to sports activities were implemented. All leisure establishments, including small bars, have been closed and the police are monitoring. The use of mask is mandatory whenever we go out on the street, and there are measures to control speculation with the prices of hygiene and food products, since we are very dependent on South Africa, and whenever there are anomalies people can take advantage of that.
One of the biggest problems in Africa, in general, is public transport. There is a lot of traffic and people on buses. Buses have reduced their capacity by 50% and hand washing at some stops is mandatory—there are even health workers present at some of them. The city has changed. Even those without financial means did everything to stay at home, but it’s become difficult now. The country is not organized to allow us to be confined according to Western standards, where people can really stay at home, simply thinking about their health. This is not at all possible. We were not prepared for this, but everyone is aware and taking preventive measures. Much of the economically active Mozambican population consists of informal workers, which are very fragile because there are no specific policies. People often live on what they do and earn by the day, so it’s very complicated.
The government realized that it can no longer keep everyone at home. Now the criterion is that people only go out if it’s really inevitable, which now includes even those who need to go to the street to attend to their affairs. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is not a normal crisis, it is not just a monetary crisis, but a public health crisis that also greatly affects other sectors. The only image we have is one of great uncertainty.
The Ministry of Culture has only recently conducted a mapping of the country’s artistic and creative sector. It is the first time that they are concerned with mapping who are the artists and what are the companies in the cultural field. This was released a month after the first state of emergency was declared. Only now the State is realizing that there will be impacts on this sector, which, however, it is unaware of. We have never been prepared even to respond to regular day-to-day situations, such as artists who want to hold a festival, for example. However, there is, as always happens in those moments, the call for artists to carry out prevention campaigns etc. There is nothing else. The State doesn’t have the answer, there is no national fund. We have support from the European Union and its countries, and from some regional organizations. Instituto Camões together with the European Union had already launched a program called ProCultura PALOP-Timor Leste, which tried to adapt to this new reality, extending the deadline for submitting applications, and accepting projects created due to the pressure of the pandemic.
O programa União Europeia PROCULTURA PALOP-TL disponibiliza bolsas de estudos internacionais para licenciatura e mestrado nas áreas de Música e Artes Cênicas com o objetivo de criar empregos na economia cultural e criativa dos países africanos de língua portuguesa (PALOP) e do Timor Leste. A iniciativa é gerida pelo Instituto Camões, com cofinanciamento da União Europeia e da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
The Mozambican cultural sector is sort of bipolar. On the one hand, it is strong from the point of view of the artists. It’s deeply creative and inventive. Maputo, especially, is a city that doesn’t sleep, that doesn’t surrender, it is in fact a very strong city. Even the organization of the city’s neighborhoods says a lot about our multiculturalism. More than 20 languages are spoken, one can imagine how different we are, but we make it a great way of being and living. The other side is the institutional side, the most chaotic part of things, which is not at all structured or thought out. Institutions seem to appear on top of events, as things unfold. In this perspective, we don’t have public policies for the sector. It is a kind of no-man’s-land, where things are quite new and raw. The international sectors are the ones responsible for the cultural economy here in the city, and the artists in Mozambique actually live on external financing. Experiences from other crises, such as 2008, showed us that there were no major reductions in terms of contributions and international cultural activities here, although there is a degree of paternalism in how relations are maintained, especially in relation to Portugal.
After independence, the socialist regime was quite strong from the cultural point of view. The State took responsibility over culture and initiated the main artistic associations in the country, such as the Mozambican Writers Association (AEMO), the Mozambican Photography Association and the Mozambican Musicians Association (AMMO), but that was it. When we entered this new capitalist reality, everything became blurred, and we just lost track of the role of the State, which eventually withdrew from regulating and legislating in favor of culture—that is our current situation.
Since 2016, I am an entrepreneur in the field of communication, and that’s where I get my livelihood. The cultural sector was the most affected by the crisis of this pandemic, because it lives off clusters. Everything just stopped. The artists inevitably had to stop too. Cultural producers, programmers, service providers, etc., those are confined to their homes, and things are not looking good, unless they migrate to the internet, as is happening now.
Internet access in the city of Maputo, however, is poor. Maputo is the capital city and all decisions take place here, so it is still a bit better than in the rest of the country. I can say that I am part of a minority group with some privilege of having a stable fiber-optic network. Everything that depends on mobile telephony is of poor quality, especially businesses that involve video. Our internet here, practically, only serves to access Facebook and WhatsApp. Now, to consider events that use streaming, then difficulties arise.
The LITERATAS magazine emerged in 2012 as a space devoted to promote the Mozambican literature, a space that didn’t yet exist in the country. It has always been online and was devised to exist in that space for several reasons. The printing market in Mozambique, although considerably large, is very expensive. The internet was what we already had access to, so we created the magazine on a blog first, and from there we started publishing editions in PDF.
The magazine is an information, discussion and dissemination agency. Before, it was only literary, but since 2015 it encompassed, in addition to the letters, arts and contemporary thinking. It is a space for interconnected, democratic dialogue, as seen from the perspective of other Portuguese-speaking peoples, cultures and communities. In this sense, it is historically close to Portugal, but involving other countries as well, mainly Brazil, because of the telenovelas, for instance. However, there is a large gap in terms of exchange of artistic production. In Mozambique, we talk about Jorge Amado as if he still walked the streets of Bahia, because that’s where we actually stopped. From the outset, we wanted to be a magazine to bridges these gaps in dialogue, and to understand the new ways of thinking and doing art in our countries.
This process matured and I think the magazine eventually found its footing. In 2018, we finally created the website, which is updated every day, and which we are constantly improving. At the moment the magazine is made by friends. We are four journalists and we are responsible for the editorial part. We also have a number of writers, theater actors and other journalists who contribute articles. All collaborators are volunteers. In a system in which, from childhood, we are educated to go out and look for a job, young people often find themselves overlooked and unemployed.
We are fortunate to have started out in this digital space and to be able to experience big changes. In Mozambique, things that are done on the internet are disregarded, there is no credibility. Today we are a growing reference, as many now have realized they need the internet to keep working. In January, no one imagined this chaos. None of the sectors. I would risk saying that until March we didn’t imagine we’d plunge into this scenario. There was no plan B, there was only plan A.
We would keep living as we always have, putting into practice our cultural information action, our articles and interviews. This year, especially, was the year we’d make a big bet on audiovisual. On our website we have a space for video that we didn’t before. Our plan was to establish ourselves as content producers, not only focused on text and photography, but also on audio and moving image, in an increasingly digital process, in true multimedia journalism.
The Festival LITERATAS is one of the greatest literary initiatives in Mozambique, and features book fairs, debates, creative workshops and concerts. Its first edition took place in 2015, and it is held in Matola, in Maputo’s metropolitan region, and its main goal is the expression of Mozambican literature, forming a new readership and facilitate access to books. The festival is organized by Associação Movimento Literário Kuphaluxa in partnership with the Municipal Council of Matola.
Since 2015, we have organized one of the main literary festivals in Mozambique, the Festival LITERATAS, which we had to skip last year due to funding issues. We wanted to resume it this year. The question is that this country lacks policies to finance anything. Our plan was to strengthen our partnerships with cultural institutions that have made a lot of difference and that bring some vitality to the sector, such as Instituto Camões and Centro Cultural Brasil – Moçambique (CCBM), with whom we have worked since 2009. The institutional partnership with CCBM is solid. Ambassadors change, but the relationship manages to survive. We contributed a lot to the center’s literary program, which affords us some financial support to produce the magazine. There was a time when we were even headquartered there. We went a lot to the CCBM library, which was where the LITERATAS magazine was virtually born.
I can say that the crisis for the LITERATAS magazine was good. We started to program our content more carefully and think a lot about our intention, with much more defined ideologies, knowing what we want to say and to whom. We also started to have more time for the magazine, because it doesn’t generate profit and many of us have to do other things to back the project. We started to produce more, to better establish ourselves in this online space, and to produce content that increasingly involves other groups of intellectuals and artists.
However, we had to make investments in order to definitely install internet in our homes. Access now has to be 24 hours, and this has changed the way we manage our lives. This is not feasible for some. The internet provider isn’t available in the area of one of our collaborators, for example, and he lives within the city of Maputo.
We still have problems like these. Then, there is the need to invest in website developers, to make things more responsive and accessible, especially considering the low quality of our connection. One of the greatest challenges is to figure out how we can make it so that even those who have unstable and slow internet can access our content. Today we have people and institutions that share, read and search for our magazine as we didn’t have before.
We also started the Pensar África project, in partnership with a young publishing house that translates African classics into Portuguese, called Ethale Publishing, with whom we had already established a relationship. In this project, we are going to publish interviews with noted contemporary African intellectuals practically every day. We’ve never done that. We’ve always wanted to, but never had the time. Today we can. We are functioning better as a magazine, because the work from our volunteers affords us more time.
We have the clear purpose of forming a new readership. We did this project to respond to that. We are also preparing for the second edition of a project called Contos e crónicas para ler em casa (Tales and Chronicles to Read at Home), where we take the opportunity to provide people with content, to give them a reason to open a book, to read and find out what they’re about. Everyone has kind of come to a stop, everyone is more or less still, we can think, observe . . .
The thing that touched me the most about this pandemic is that we saw a huge increase in young readers, especially with the two anthologies that we launched. Our public is formed mostly by young people on their way to adulthood, who are in the universities, who are familiar with cultural management in general, and are used to consuming information. This is not a very large audience in Mozambique and we are aware of that.
We also have many Mozambicans in the diaspora who consume our products, probably homesick, but also, because in fact when you are away, you probably have a better perspective of what we have and what happens here. In addition, the entire artistic community and local cultural institutions know and consume our work.
As of June, we want to sell part of the content from the online magazine. We did some research and saw that we can take this step. We’ve found a partner to take care of the financial part and the platform viable, and we’ll work in the content. There are changes that we have to make and they are not few . . . The technology is very expensive. We did this self-financing, hoping that we wouldn’t fall flat. In Mozambique, there is still a great deal of mistrust in mobile applications for shopping online. It’s yet another mission to attract and educate people. Artists will have to learn to work more and more with communities. What happened was the opposite, we’d rush to the cultural center, because that is where the money is, and we ignored our community. It is common for me to be an artist here and in my street no one knows what I do, how I do it . . .
Cultural centers are concerned with carrying out activities in their spaces, it has its policy and its field of action, but there are also institutions that work within communities and public schools, which face major problems. The Escola Portuguesa de Moçambique (EPM), for example, which is not just any school, for ordinary citizens, is doing a great job in training readers to publish children’s books, and organizing book festivals and reading events.
We ensure relevance to those who reach the vulnerable population, with no access to the city. Everything related to culture, to larger events happens in central Maputo. When I first walked into a library, I think I was 19 or 20 years old. It is the same with most of the Mozambican population. Many kids enter the library for the first time when they come to Maputo to attend university. The Festival LITERATAS is unusual because of its location, as we hold it outside the city of Maputo, in Matola.
We are used to operating these partnerships that don’t involve money, but joining forces to make an action possible. That is probably what will have to happen, and we will have to learn a new form of solidarity from now on. It is an opportunity for us to find in local actions a type of solidarity that still needed to be developed, such as crowdfunding, for example.
I think we finally managed to say what is not generally said in journalism, not even in literature. Our literature for young people is insufficient. We are building this new readership comprised of university students, which has always been our concern, and we want to keep that. We want to produce more content. We’ll have to overcome our prejudice that Mozambicans don’t understand, don’t support and don’t buy culture. It’s not true. It is at a moment of crisis that we realize that Mozambicans consume culture and enjoy consuming it. The books we make available are only a few kilobytes in size so that anyone can download them. This was also one of the keys to the project’s success. The anthologies we made reached more than 20,000 readers. We’ve never had that here. Is this not a sign that people are willing to consume?