The Indian Oceans laps invitingly on the shores of Maputo.
The Indian Oceans laps invitingly on the shores of Maputo.
Stature of the late Mozambican president Samora Machel.
Stature of the late Mozambican president Samora Machel.

As Africans, we sometimes tend to put the US and Europe at the top of our wish list of destinations. However, there are plenty of exciting destinations in SA’s neighbouring countries. Take the bustling city of Maputo in Mozambique, for example.

Cranes tower over the city as if beckoning outsiders to a new dawn. New buildings are springing up and old ones are being refurbished to prepare for the economic boom that’s expected in the next few years. In fact, the economic good times have already started for Mozambique. It seems like every other day there is an announcement of a new natural resource discovery. Brazilian company Vale has just invested $2 billion (R16.2bn) in its mine in the Tete province and plans to bolster its operations in Mozambique by $6.4bn to tap into the country’s vast coal reserves. Also, considerable natural gas deposits have been discovered along the country’s coast.

Sasol and its partners have been producing natural gas from the country for more than five years, spending $1.5bn.

Maputo is a city with Durban-like weather. I was there for the annual Azgo festival, featuring artists such as Cape Verde star Sara Tavares, Brazil’s Ponto Equilibrium and Japanese outfit Sakaki Mango and Limba Train Sound System.

The port city of Maputo is usually 10°C higher than Joburg, so there’s no need to worry about the cold. On Wednesday this week it was above 30°C. And the reception given by the people in the former Portuguese colony is equally warm.

Tavares gave an energetic performance for more than two hours on the festival’s first day at the Edward Mondlane University. Mango and his band won new fans the next day at Big Brother (a venue that reminded me of the Bassline in Joburg) as they belted out songs in Swahili and Japanese.

I bumped into Sakaki Mango at my hotel in Maputo, The Cardoso. “What we are trying to do is create a new sound, a sound that has a new melody,” said the mbira player who received most of his musical training in Tanzania.

The four-star Cardoso is the oldest hotel in Maputo and is a favourite of South African tourists. Other popular hotels in the city are the Southern Sun and the Polana, another well-known landmark. The Radisson Blu is due to open soon.

A 15-minute ferry ride away is the Catembe Hotel, which you have to visit for its excellent sea food, even if you don’t spend a night.

Speaking of food, Maputo is a haven for culinary adventurers. A new visitor to this city would enjoy experiencing Mozambique’s indigenous dishes at the Costa do Sol on Avenida Marginale (Marginal Avenue). Marginal runs parallel to the Indian Ocean and is lined with top nightclubs (you may have already heard of Coconuts), a casino, and a number of fabulous eateries.

It’s also the street to see and be seen on Sundays as the city’s in-crowd comes out, with cars thumping out marabenta beats and cooler boxes packed with the popular 2M beer (pronounced Dosh-M).

A few minutes from Marginal are two of the city’s major tourist attractions: The train station and the fort. The station is a beautifully built building that also serves as the venue for the annual Maputo Fashion Week. Parts of the Blood Diamond film were shot at this venue.

Across the road there’s the “Fortaleza”, the oldest historical site in the city, built in 1871. Inside the fort, old cannons, statues and anti-colonial warrrior King Ngungunyane’s coffin tell the stories of the time of the scramble for Africa.

Although it’s unlikely, if you ever feel homesick while in Maputo, you can walk into the Woolworths at the new shopping centre in Maputo and buy a few SA goodies.

Another place not to miss is the fish market on the edge of the city. Here, you can pick your seafood from the women who sell it raw, pick a table and wait for your meal to be cooked. The only drawback are the persistent hawkers who almost push their wares into your face, selling T-shirts, jewellery, crafts and anything else you might request. But as soon as the food arrives at your table, they leave you alone and return like a swarm of bees as soon as you are done eating. Despite this, the fish market is a not-to-miss venue for outsiders.

However, my concern with the contradictory Mozambique is about the children who beg in the Maputo city centre and the poverty that is evident as soon as you leave Maputo. The mud houses and the shacks; the flood-hit farms; the hawker who hopes and prays daily to sell just one piece of traditional cloth to a tourist to feed her large family.

One wonders if Mozambique’s expected economic boom will trickle down to the people currently on the periphery of the economy, or whether the rich will continue to pop champagne in luxurious restaurants while children beg for food on their doorstep. - SAturday Star