"Lied and betrayed": The forgotten East German workers in Africa

              Monday, 04. November 2019

              Every Wednesday they protest in Mozambique's capital because of injustice that was inflicted on them in the GDR 30 years ago: the so-called "Madgermanes" went as contract workers from the Southeast African country to the GDR – and were deceived after the reunification for much money.
              It's been 30 years. At that time, when the wall fell, José Cossa was put on a plane in Berlin-Schönefeld. He had worked in the GDR for several years, now he had to go back to his native Mozambique. There, part of his wages should wait for him. "I thought I would come back and become a private entrepreneur," says the 56-year-old today. With flowing "Ossi-German", elegant clothes and a completed education in his luggage he had imagined a rosy future. In a park that has been called the "Madgermanes Park" for years, banners hang under the flags of Germany and the USA. (Photo: picture alliance / dpa) But the money he was promised was not there: "They lied to us and cheated on us." Thirty years later, the fate of the "Madgermanes" – as Mozambique's former East German contract workers call it – and several other African returnees are almost forgotten. But many still live like Cossa between the chairs – with the GDR life not yet completed, still not quite arrived in the home country again. The GDR had 1979 with the then socialist Mozambique a contract on the "temporary employment of Mozambican laborers in socialist enterprises "closed. The state, which at the time was in a civil war, was able to train citizens in this way, and the GDR got its needed labor in the name of socialist solidarity. Some 21,000 contract workers from Mozambique and 6,000 from Angola came to the GDR. "DDR children" from NamibiaAlthough bombs fell on a refugee camp, children from Mozambique and Namibia were brought to safety in the GDR. In the former German colony of Namibia, the liberation organization Swapo led a guerrilla war against South Africa's apartheid government, which controlled the country. Many young Namibians were sent to the "School of Friendship" in Staßfurt near Magdeburg, where also 900 Mozambicans had received a school and vocational training. Creative protest: The "Madgermanes" stand with drums every Wednesday before the Ministry of Labor. (Photo: picture alliance / dpa) One of them was Naita Hishoono, who came to the GDR as a child. After years of German socialization, the unexpected return to the completely foreign Namibian environment was a "cultural shock," she says in fluent German. Many did not stand it. Hishoono sees himself today in a positive sense as a converter between the worlds, with two home countries. "I have been very lucky," says the director of the Institute for Democracy Promotion in Windhoek. But not all of them had it: some of the "GDR children" ended up on the street or have already died. What remained are formative memories. José Cossa still remembers his arrival in the GDR very well. It was winter, March 1983. After landing, he saw snow from the airplane window for the first time. "We said to each other: 'Ice is coming!'" He lived in a dorm with compatriots and worked after training as a wood technician in Zeulenroda in Thuringia. Up to 60 percent of the wage of the contract workers was withheld. It is transferred to an account in the home, it was said. They wanted to build a new life after their return. DDR work experience was worthless in the home country. The money would have been sorely needed: The civil war in Mozambique ended in 1992, more than a million people were killed, the economy was on the ground. But the returnees had a nasty surprise: "The money was never transferred to a private account," says Cossa. Where was it? Presumably, Mozambican public debt has been paid off, believes historian Hans-Joachim Döring. The Maputo government knew that "part of the wages will not be sent to Mozambique, as promised, but will remain in the GDR." He also sees the GDR in the wrong. From both sides it was "fraud". Günter Nooke, the Africa Commissioner of the Federal Government, said today that it was an "internal Mozambican problem": "The federal government can not step in for what went wrong in Mozambique or was politically deliberately decided otherwise." Anna-Raquel Masoio had to return to Mozambique as a pregnant woman – there she did not find a job for a long time. (Photo: picture alliance / dpa) Also Anna-Raquel Masoio suffered from the alleged fraud. The Mozambican did not really want to leave the GDR back then. "I had to go back because I was pregnant," she says – that was forbidden to a contract worker. Although it was not always easy in the GDR, the petite 51-year-old admitted in broken German. One had to get used to it, some Germans had also expressed racist. But she liked life in the GDR. Making money, going to the disco or going to the cinema with friends: "The music was good, I miss it, I did not like the meat, but the cake was delicious." Upon her return to the civil war-torn country, she found it as a single mother long no job. She worked as a mason, then as a medical assistant. She never fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse. The experience in the GDR was worth nothing, complains Cossa. He goes on drums every Wednesday to demand justice from the Department of Labor in Maputo. That it does not work, he knows well. But ultimately it's also about memories of being together with other "Madgermanes". They can feel his turmoil. Source:, Gioia Forster and Ralf E. Krüger, dpa

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