The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!”
Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
July 2014 issue
Photographs by Vlad Sokhin
Text by Annie Murphy
When it opened its doors in the 1950s, the Grand Hotel was billed as the ‘Pride of Africa’. Set in the lush Mozambican
port of Beira, it was the largest, most modern hotel on the continent, an Art Deco masterpiece filled with parquet,
marble, and glass, surrounded by sweeping views of the Indian Ocean. Yet within a decade, it had shut its doors,
unable to turn a profit. Then, in the late 70s, civil war broke out in Mozambique, and the hotel became a refugee camp
for another decade and a half. But when the war ended, many people stayed on, unable to return home, and thousands
of other landless, unemployed Mozambicans arrived.
The Grand Hotel is now the biggest squat in the world, with about six thousand squatters living inside its crumbling
walls. Makeshift charcoal cook stoves dot the once-elegant lobby, lily pads grow in the stagnant swimming pool, and
lavish gardens have been replaced by thirsty plots of corn and yucca. Even the elevators have been plundered, the
empty shafts now giant trash bins, as well as a serious danger for residents; in recent years, a handful of people,
including several children, have fallen to their death in the shafts.
"Some people think we don't want to leave," says Arlindo Wafero, who has been living in the hotel-turned-squat for
over thirty years. "We want to leave, but where can we go? We want to work, too, but there are no jobs in Mozambique.
We want to go back to where we once lived, but to do that you need transportation, and money. Every day the price of
those things gets higher, and we're more stuck where we are. Here, there's no such thing as free will." In fact, the
Mozambican state owns the Grand Hotel, but has done nothing to aid its residents. Instead, they're are left to scrape
by as they can, often clinging to the rituals of everyday life - from bicycle repair to Muslim religion - to give shape and
order to the chaos of being a squatter.
The story of this hotel is the story of Mozambique, a country with enormous potential but just four decades of
independence, which is struggling to build a nation on an already weak foundation; the legacy of Portuguese
colonialism, civil war, an AIDS epidemic, widespread corruption, broken infrastructure, hunger, and inequality. Focusing
tightly on the hotel and its residents (including the building's current ‘mayor’ and longtime resident Arlindo Wafero), this
photo essay describes how this place went from Africa's grandest hotel to the world's biggest squatter settlement. It
illustrates some of the larger challenges Mozambique faces as it tries construct political and economic stability, and,
the challenges ordinary Mozambicans face in finding a place – anyplace - to call home.
The Grand Hotel on postcards from 60s.
People in front of the Grand Hotel, which was the biggest hotel in Africa in 1960s.
A man lies on the floor in the hall of the Grand Hotel. Most of the squat's inhabitants are unemployed and don't do
anything during the day.
Kids play on the stairs of the squat.
A woman cooks food on a fire inside the Grand Hotel.
A boy in a corridor of the Grand Hotel squat.
A family in a corridor of the building. Many Grand Hotel residents do not have rooms and sleep on the floors of
corridors and in basements.
A hotel resident lifting a bicycle to the upper floor of the squat.
Grand Hotel residents gather in the passage between blocks of the building.
Grand Hotel residents fill buckets with water from the only water pump available for about six thousand squatters.
Squat residents play soccer in the evening in front of the Grand Hotel.
Veronica Shipassiani (38) with her 9 year old son in her bedroom. She is afraid of the night robbers, who can break
into any room and take all the money.
Grand Hotel's children play inside the Squat.
Parents give baths and food to their children in the corridor of the squat.
A girl stands in front of the Grand Hotel.
One of the patios of the building where locals used to throw out garbage was cleaned by an international volunteer
team in 2010. After the volunteers left, the squat residents started to throw in garbage again.
A man brushes his teeth in the morning on the hotel's balcony.
A man sleeps on the floor of a passage in the Grand Hotel.