Travel – Maputo balancing chaos and order

2012-05-25 12:03

Steeped in a curious history of conflict and commerce, the city of Maputo courts its varied travellers like a measured madness of an ocean’s ebb and flow.

The glaring chaos that gives the city its charm is often tempered by a sense of deliberate order.

Each fault in the lived experience is made up for by every pleasure. Nothing is overwhelming and nothing is dull.

Like the policemen’s obsession with AK-47s, which is balanced by their open faces.

Like bad actors struggling unsuccessfully to play threatening characters.

Only these are serious men monitoring a city reputed for its general safety amid chaos.

This metered rhythm is best demonstrated by the ebb and flow of choreographed approaches by the hawkers who stalk patrons at the fish market.

Soon as I and two other travellers get off a tuk-tuk taxi at the market’s entrance, we are accosted by a horde offering to help. We choose our guide.

She’s a full-bodied woman with a weave and a branded red T-shirt.

She’s the prettiest figure balancing the visual barrage of masculine sores that scream all sorts of offers.

She speaks with a heavy accent. At times I’m not sure if she’s speaking Shangaan or Portuguese.

These are the two most spoken languages.

The market is a meandering sprawl of tables and tins, crabs and other ocean harvests.

The assorted shelled catches spew out shorts of water as we walk past.

It’s as if they know us to be here to consume them.

All of this is accompanied by an elaborate and ferocious bargaining process.

Once we manage to extract ourselves from this snare, we join other patrons perched at a community of tables belonging to the many restaurants.

Our lady chaperone with a red T-shirt then disappears to cook our meal.

The window of peace disappears, the bargaining barrage by hawkers peddling curio items returns.

It’s a fierce dance of dealing and beer drinking.

But before you know it, they disappear graciously as soon as our food arrives.

It’s good manners that balances the world of leisure meals and hard-driven deals.

Everything here has its time.

Maputo also has a double life.

Though it enjoys a lavish relationship with leisure travellers, this city is also big on hosting conferences and other business types.

Backpackers are likely to rub shoulders with suits on the streets.

There’s another kind of itinerant arrival though.

Word on the street is that this year alone, Mozambique’s department of home affairs approved about 40 000 visas for people escaping the euro crises ravaging Portugal’s economy.

Educated in Europe, they come carrying a hope that they’ll easily find a job in the former colony.

This old relationship finds other echoes in the post-colony’s architecture.

I took a tour of the city to explore Maputo’s built jewels and other ruins.

Among the most celebrated buildings are the works of Pancho Guedes, the architect, sculptor and painter affectionately dubbed an eclectic modernist creative.

He’s famously quoted saying: “I claim for architects, the rights and liberties that painters and poets have held for so long.”

Guedes was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and moved to the then Portuguese colonial territory when he was seven years old.

Revolutionary events forced his family to leave Mozambique in 1974.

He was already a powerhouse.

This meant he could ride his legendary reputation as an architect to take up an academic chair in the architecture department at Wits University.

Guedes was responsible for about 500 designs of buildings in this country.

Maputo has some of the best. Some of these building are the private homes of the city’s wealthy citizens.

I joined three other design junkies on the citywide hunt for these gems, like the Tonnelli building on Ave Patrice Lumumba.

This tenement block is now unkempt, though it retains most of its brilliance.

Also, the Smiling Lion, a yellow sculptural tenement that used to be his personal home.

It’s located on a street called Rua Kwame Nkrumah.

The central design principles that guided Guedes and his peers, like the expression of construction and the individuality of function, is apparent at first glance.

There’s also what many call a brutal use of materials directly from nature.

There’s also inclusion of the organic material into the decoration, which are at times his mural works.

The walk is not without Maputo’s measured contest of chaos and order.

The walling in of open spaces originally designed to let in air and light are closed for security or emergent needs for living space.

Plus citizens in Maputo must get a clearance from the city council before they can paint their houses.

Some owners do brave the bureaucracy and their houses provide for a visual contrast.

A contract eventuated by stylish hotels like Hotel Cardoso with its luxurious view of the bay and Ketempe on the other side.

So here with local brew in hand, the 2M, we find a sedate retreat to contemplate how renewal and decrepitness find equal reign in this city.

» Mabandu was a guest of Hotel Cardoso (

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