No Payday for Madgermanes

East and West Germany reunited only three months before I was born. That makes my generation the first generation that is still alive that never knew Germany as being separated. As a member of that generation, I’m always surprised when I realise once again how little I know about that “other” Germany, the German Democratic Republic, although it existed for almost half a century. The story of the so-called “Madgermanes”, too, took me by surprise.  

While Germany celebrated the 50th anniversary of the recruitment agreement with Turkey in 2011, another group of people in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, had nothing to celebrate.  What people tend to forget is that not only the West German “Wirtschaftswunder” was built with the help of foreign workers. The GDR, too, had contracts with foreign countries, which allowed foreign workers to come and work in East Germany for a limited period of time.

No more than a few hundred dollars for 10 years of work did the Mozambican government pay the workers.

The contract between the GDR and Mozambique was made in 1979. Although the official reason for those contracts was “international friendship between the peoples of the world”, integration of the foreign workers in the GDR was not desired by the socialist regime. In 1989 there were approximately 15.000 Mozambicans as contract labourers in the GDR. After the reunification of Germany, the Mozambicans were sent home immediately, regardless of how many years they had helped to keep the East German economy running and whether they wanted to stay or not.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world today. Many of the “Madgermanes” still identify with the life they know from their experience in East Germany in the 1980s.  When they think about the injustice they have had to endure though, the memory becomes bitter. The contract between the GDR and Mozambique stated that a part of the workers’ salary, about 40%, would be paid to them directly. Their home government would pay the other part after their return to Mozambique.

Unfortunately, the “Madgermanes” never received that part of their well-deserved salary. No more than a few hundred dollars for 10 years of work did the Mozambican government pay the workers. In total, a sum of round 100 million dollars should have been paid. The “Madgermanes” assume that their government misused their money for repaying the debt to the GDR, which accumulated in their struggle for independence from Portugal in the 1970s. The former guest workers will continue to demand the money they earned with their own hands: in factories and on construction sites in former East Germany – but with little chance of success.

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