Lichinga [Vila Cabral]

Lat: -13.299914002716000, Long: 35.245808002517000

Lichinga [Vila Cabral]

Niassa, Mozambique

Historical Background and Urbanism

The settlement of Vila Cabral (present day Lichinga) resulted from the only known original urbanization plan from scratch in Mozambique in the first half of the 20th century. It dates from 1931 and was directly put into practice. The urgency of the colonial government for the creation of a new administrative capital for the province of Niassa, after a long-lasting rule of the monopolist company, must explain the strategy and celerity. It was set in the region of Niassa, in the north of Mozambique on a plateau about 1,400 metres above sea level, and was developed from an idea presented by the governor João B. Casqueiro in a letter dating from 28th September 1931 addressed to the Direcção Distrital dos Serviços de Administração Civil (District Services Department of Civil Administration): “I am sending you the project for the establishment of the Vila that is aimed at serving as the seat of the Niassa District. The land chosen for it is set about 146 km from Mandimba, on the road that leads to Metangula, on the plateau of the Lichinga Mountain Range. The conditions of the land led me to define an octagon inscribed in a circle measuring 440 metres in radius. This land slopes softly down from the west to the east inside the chosen geometric shape [...] [which] enables the best use of the land, as if it obeyed to the instinct of the bee to better use the limited space of its honeycombs to produce more of its delicious nectar. [...] These characteristics must be associated with other circumstances, which I duly certified, in addition to those linked to the colonization of easy agricultural and livestock development, others such as mining and even tourism, and finally public health, the renewing of energies of the employees of the colony debilitated by settlement in exhausting places on the coast. [...] And as Vila Cabral is aimed at being a centre of quick development it was planned with wide avenues of 25 metres, with promenades of 2.5 metres, with other walkways 3 metres wide at the centre, to separate the traffic, with 8.5 metres for each of the streets in the same avenue, which is not unrealistic. There are 152 plots of land set apart for the public and the remaining precincts are aimed at the services of the government as indicated in the above-mentioned project. The exterior border for the suburbs that I propose is the area encompassed by a concentric circle like that of Vila Cabral, at a radius of 3,000 metres, with the circular avenue of Vila Cabral serving as an outer boundary” (Pereira, 1966, p. 81). It is to be noted that this discourse makes formal, organicist and naïf comparison (with bee hives and honeycombs), showing an effort to control occupation through allotment and property, as well as future urban expansion. Sérgio Proença mentions this plan in a study of 2007 on the eastern Provinces: O Plano de Vila Cabral, datado de 1932 e assinado por J. Silva Moura (The Plan of Vila Cabral, dating from 1932, signed by J. Silva Moura). Another study, however, identifies it as having been executed by António Pereira Rêlha, from the Services of Land-Surveying, approved on 17th May 1932. (Mendes, 2008).
Decades later, the local urban evolution experimented with the use of this geometrist, pragmatic and authoritarian idea, perhaps inspired, although in a later period, on the “cellular” models of the early 20th century, based on the concept of Garden City by Ebenezer Howard (1898), who defined an hexagonal modular basis, then used in the plan for New Delhi by Parker and Lutyens. The form of the central area of the city is clearly shown in an aerial view published in a postcard in which the octagon is depicted, although incomplete in the northern section. In recent decades, due to population growth and to no planning effort, the shape of the urban fabric abandoned this model, forming a network of more irregular design. Created in 1931 and with around 28,000 inhabitants by 1950, Vila Cabral was elevated to city status in 1962. The Palácio das Repartições (as it was called at the time, present day Provincial Government of Niassa), a work from the 1960s, was an essential piece from an urbanistic point of view, giving an orientation, scale and architectural body to the octagonal roundabout central to the initial plan, through an intelligent conjunction of two structures, one fronting the central urban round area, and the other facing the avenue that emerges from it. Unfortunately, subsequent architectural work did not manage to maintain this quality. There is a project for the Planalto Cinema, by Sampaio, Ramalhete and Eduardo da Naia Marques.

Equipment and Infrastructures