Accepted paper:

"The Commercialization of Death": Mozambique's Nationalization of Funeral Services


David Morton (University of British Columbia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper is about Mozambique's appropriation of funeral services in July 1975, one of the more anomalous nationalizations of the period. The episode helps reveal the nature of policymaking during the very earliest days of independence, and the role that the capital city played as context.

Paper long abstract:

In July 1975, shortly after Mozambique's independence, FRELIMO nationalized all health care, schooling, and legal counsel, so that all Mozambicans would have equal access to these key services - at least theoretically. The fourth, seemingly anomalous sector to be nationalized that month: funeral services. The making of coffins and caskets had been a particularly unsavoury business in late-colonial Lourenço Marques. Corpses were graded by class - that is, by the ability of families to pay for more showy burials. During the very first cabinet meetings held in independent Mozambique, the issue came up almost by chance, and was immediately met with disgust. The rumor that doctors were hastening patient deaths to give business to certain funeral operators settled the matter. There would be no "commercialization of death." The state would make the coffins and caskets itself. The funeral businesses had a mostly European clientele, but the policy inadvertently addressed what for many African residents had been one of the great humiliations of urban life: the inability to pay for a dignified burial. This paper is based largely on interviews with the former minister of health and with the Araújo family, who ran the city's first African-owned funeral services business. The episode helps reveal the nature of government decision-making during the very earliest days of independence, and the role that Lourenço Marques played as context: how for neophyte ministers, learning to wield the levers of state was also a process of discovery, and rediscovery, about life in the capital city.

panel His03
Alternative histories of decolonisation in Southern Africa