A Socialist Mythology? The Modern-Day Labors of the Madgermanes of Mozambique  

Where West Germany is known for its Gastarbeiter (guest worker) policy, The German Democratic Republic, or the GDR, had its Vertragsarbeiter. From 1979-1989, thousands of these workers came to Germany from newly emancipated Mozambique to be a part of what they thought would be a new socialist worker elite. Through worker program, these mostly teenage workers created an East German identity and a belief in their rightful place in GDR society. The GDR’s campaign to create socialist partnerships in third world countries was a part of a wider program of mythbuilding by which young people were instilled with a cultural mythology that made East Germany and its government appear to be invincible. However, once the wall fell in 1989, most of the Vertragsarbeiter were sent back to Mozambique without their full pay or any rights under their new life circumstances.

This presentation will show that the Mozambican Vertragsarbeiter’s experiences can be viewed as a collective heroes’ journey framed within this East German mythology. I argue that the Mozambican Vertragsarbeiter have reinvented themselves in much of the same way other heroes in mythology do, to become the “mad Germans”, a people that fight their oppression and the tyranny of authoritarianism. Through their labors, both real and immeasurable, and using the German flag as their cloak and their East German identity as their shield, they have meta-morphed into their own superheroes. Through a visual representation of this journey (comprised of photographs from that era and juxtaposing this with current news stories, photographs, and illustrations), we can discover, however, that the Madgermanes remain suspended on their path to self-realization because neither German nor Mozambican society have accepted their legitimacy.



Sharlene Cleveland is a first year Masters student pursuing her degree in German studies. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Ohio University. As an undergraduate, Sharlene was a DAAD recipient and conducted research on coalition building among minorities in Germany while she was in Leipzig. She currently teaches German 1001 and her research interests now include post-colonialism and afro-German experiences.