Februar 8th, 2007
The Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique, was build during the aera of Portuguese colonisation; at that time it was considered being the biggest hotel in Southern Africa.
During Independence War in the 1970s the place was taken over by Mozambican forces that came from all parts of the country, military and migration. From now on, the Grande Hotel served as the main accomodation for forces against the Portuguese.
It remained in this state until the Independence of Mozambique in 1975, and consequently families of these occuping groups started to join the independence fighters to live in this place. The number of inhabitants even increased with the onset of the Civil War which started shortly after independence. By the year 1992 when the war ended the hotel has turned into a place to accomodate refugees.
After the War people continued staying in the Hotel as going back to their homes in other parts of the country, was not possible due to landmines and with most of the infrastructure and houses destroyed.
Beira, no longer the capital of the country, but Mozambique´s second major city after Maputo, attracted huge groups of traders from the northern part of the country, which sold their goods at informal markets in town. These immigrants used the Grande Hotel as accomodation, as the only place giving shelter from rain without any costs for rent. Rooms could be taken as a private area by a single payment to the military which was still in control of the hotel.
Nowadays, January 2007, about 3000 people call the Grande Hotel their ´home´. The former richness of colonial times has obviously disappeared, all furnitures, wooden, glass and metal parts, even silver and gold cuttleries and sanitary parts where sold in order to feed the bellies of the inhabitants.
All you can see today is a gigantic old grey building of concrete without any electric power or water supply. The beach in front of the hotel is no longer a pleasant five star place with a beautiful view but more a big toilet and bathing area for thousands of people.
A lot of roumors paint a misterious picture of the place, saying it is impossible for foreigners aswell as local people, even for the police to enter the building, because you will only find gangsters, bandits, prostitutes and drug dealers.
On the rainy 26th of January 2007, Helio, Samira and Roland, decided to take a look inside this very debated place to gather some first hand information about this outstanding building.
Every single non-wet corner of this building, like parts of verandas, rooms, lobbies, kitchen, corridors, even the former toilets and the roof terrace have been occupied as private apartments for different families.
Underlying this chaos a structure have evolved, and it seems to control the life of this unique and seperated world in Beira. Compared to the traditional chiefdom system of rural areas, there is a hierarchy with chefs and sub-chefs. Within the hotel they have formed their own laws and rules, created a church, opened several authorized and structurized markets in each floor.
In order to take pictures inside the Grande Hotel there is a need to get a permission of the highest authority, to whom we had to pay a small informal tax. What we found is special.
The hotel itself has a soul which can be spotted in every corner and in every inhabitant, for example in the smile of children, in the way they are taking care by cleaning the place from the water floods and showing that they are proud of the hotel where they were born and are living in. People hope for change of their life conditions. The same way as the trees are growing on the roofs and balconies of the building does not provide apropriate conditions for kids to grow up; however, they do – just naturally – without any education or care. The trees will be removed one day, the inhabitants of Grande Hotel will also have to leave, without knowing where will be their new home.
G R A N D E H O T E L (Lyrics by Hélio D.)
I am just coming from the Grande Hotel
3000 people living in Grande Hotel
One world of lives
Got a lot to tell
They’ve been coming and going
Ho!What a day
Started to rain
It’s morning time
From the front side
Here we’re standing
What a broken view
Of the old building
Ready for films pictures and iterviews
Breaking my mind
Trying to get you learning
Understand how to feel like one of us
They’ve been talkink about
The old building in town
That’s why I am making the sound
Good feelings in Beira but sick people in Grande Hotel
Not living well
How and who
Are we going to blame?
Nothing seems to change
Still in the same
No water, no power
No toilet no control
Almost 22 years a go
I am breeding in this hole
I live here
For many years
My life, my wife, my goods, my fear
We don’t know anything
About what is going on
Most of the people don’t know about our own world
They call us gangsters
That’s too much
They were never here by chance
Somebody being robbed
But so what?
Afraid to die
No one feels save to be going inside
What a hell
Let’s just go there
Says the white guy
With the local guys
Honestly after all that I see
I don’t know how God made the hell
What is there
In the Grande Hotel
Got no way to compare
With a real hotel
But for me it seems like spending days
In a real hell
Honestly I would like that you talk about me
In the better way