Obtain the state contract workers DA

Guest workers in the GDRA question of responsibility

"Yes, we were divided into different groups. When we came out of the airport, the companies were already standing with their buses in front of the airport building. We were put in there. Then they took our passport."

Lázaro Magalhães landed on a gray Sunday in October 1985 with an Interflug scheduled flight from Maputo in East Berlin, the capital of the GDR. Without family, without friends. No smile, no flowers on arrival. Instead, the then 19-year-old Mozambican was brought to Chemnitz, which was still called Karl-Marx-Stadt 33 years ago.

Instead of sitting in the classroom to study mechanical engineering - as Magalhães had originally been promised - he had to toil. For the socialist brother state GDR, in a completely alien world, far away from the Southeast African homeland.

Thomas Manhique had a similar experience. The now 60-year-old was brought to Schönebeck near Magdeburg to work in the "people's own operation" - the VEB Heizkesselkombinat.

"That was really tough work. We hadn't had any training beforehand. That's why many of us have health problems today."

Manhique and Magalhães: Two of more than 20,000 Mozambicans who were brought into the walled-in country by the SED regime because of the labor shortage.

Return to German reunification

Most of them, around 18,000, returned after German reunification, around 2,000 stayed in Germany. Those who returned to Mozambique were soon called "Madgermanes", which includes "Made in Germany", but also the English word "mad", "crazy".

But it was probably not crazy that these Madgermanes made a name for themselves at some point: They protested in Mozambique's capital Maputo for the payment of their wages. They had been promised that they would only receive part of their wages in the GDR, but that the rest - first 25 percent, later 60 percent - would wait for them in Mozambique.

Former Mozambican guest workers from the GDR in the capital Maputo: To this day, many see themselves as being booted from Germany. (dpa central image / Britta Pedersen)

The matter has not risen to this day. Both those who remained in Germany and those returning see themselves as booted out of Germany. Because the GDR viewed the money as part of the debt reduction by the socialist brother country, in other words: the contract workers had to work off Mozambique's debts with the GDR.

Hans-Joachim Döring is the development policy and Mozambique expert for the Protestant Church in Central Germany.

"There are contracts between the company directors and individual contract workers about this obligation transfer. The companies have transferred this to an account at the State Bank of the GDR and declared in lists via the Ministry of Labor and Wages. Then the contracts state that these transfer payments, the the workers have to provide are offset. The point "offset" is this lying word. It has never been explained that this offset actually means that the debts that Mozambique owes to the GDR will be paid off. "

The contract workers were not only deprived of a large part of their wages, but also of their pensions. Although in real socialist times they - like everyone else - paid into the state GDR pension fund.

"For the approximately 2,000 Mozambicans living here, the pension share between 1979 and 1989 is not a problem, they are recognized. Only the approximately 18,000 contract workers who have returned, the so-called returnees, have no access."

Friendship treaty between Mozambique and the GDR

The contract between the GDR and Mozambique has just been concluded for the 40th time. At the end of February 1979, SED leader Erich Honecker and Mozambique's ruler Samora Machel signed the so-called friendship treaty. With the withdrawal of the colonial power Portugal from Mozambique, the economy collapsed, which is why the new regime in Maputo was downright dependent on the GDR. This in turn needed workers and was interested in Mozambican mineral resources - such as coal and copper. In order to promote the development of socialism in Africa, the country on the Indian Ocean was also supported with weapons and military experts.

Despite the racism - the then 21-year-old Manhique was repeatedly scolded and insulted - the time in the GDR was wonderful, enthuses Manhique. He still keeps a Magdeburg tram ticket from GDR times in his glasses case. A memento of better times, says the father of four.

"Back then, my life in the GDR was great and I miss the GDR. A: I had my job. B: I was satisfied. C: I had a bank account and always a little plus. Today: I have a minus."

Today Manhique lives in the center of Magdeburg, in one of the Stalin confectioner's buildings that still exist. He is a social worker. And advises and looks after parents with a migration history on behalf of the state of Saxony-Anhalt and helps them with administrative procedures. He should actually be a wealthy person, he says. But instead he had to turn every penny.

Even greater than the disappointment of those who stayed here is the frustration of the contract workers who returned to Mozambique after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most of them live on the verge of poverty. They say they are better off with the outstanding money. Which is why they have been demonstrating for many years on Wednesdays in the center of Maputo, in the "Jardim Vinte e Oito de Maio" park.

At the height of their protests in 2004 they penetrated parliament and even occupied the German embassy for three days. One of the protesters is Lázaro Magalhães.

"I have also auditioned at various embassies. We want justice to be enforced."

In mid-February Lázaro Magalhães came to Magdeburg as a participant in an international conference on the situation of former GDR contract workers. Organizers are church sponsors, the University of Magdeburg and the representative of the state of Saxony-Anhalt to come to terms with the SED dictatorship.

"With this conference we do not want to put anyone in the dock. Nevertheless, we would like - together with experts - to look for more sustainable answers and solutions to the outstanding questions."

Contract workers feel cheated over wages

It quickly becomes clear that the former contract workers are bitter, even angry, and feel cheated about wages and pension benefits.

Former Mozambican guest workers from the GDR in Maputo: To this day, many are angry with the former SED regime. (dpa / picture alliance / Britta Pedersen)

Lázaro Magalhães even speaks of "modern slavery", a "crime against humanity". He believes the contract, which obliged him to cede part of his wages, is a violation of human dignity, and he says it would not stand up to any legal scrutiny today. The GDR linked racism and solidarity with one another.

Ralf Strasbourg shakes his head vigorously. During the GDR era, Strasbourg was an employee of the Ministry of Labor and Wages and was responsible for deploying Mozambican contract workers. The accusation of the "modern slave trade" is outrageous.

"No, that people were treated shabbily, I have to reject that in principle. The fact that the Mozambican contract workers - especially where they worked - have been partially included in the family, included in social life. Nothing like that that one could say, they were treated like slaves. No, no, no. "

Everything went correctly. The so-called transfer payments to reduce debt - an idea of ​​the most important foreign exchange procurer in the GDR, Alexander Schalck - Golodkowski - are not objectionable, adds ex-GDR functionary Strasbourg.

Even the federal government cannot do anything with the demands of the contract workers for the outstanding wages. Instead, it says that the GDR government has fulfilled all of its commitments. The compensation payments that the first freely elected GDR government granted the Mozambican guest workers in 1990 - financial compensation payments in the event of dismissal, one-off special payments of DM 3,000 upon departure - were all paid in full. The Federal Ministry of Finance, under the aegis of Theo Waigel, made a total of 75 million D-Mark available between 1990 and 1992 to finance compensation payments for "around 10,000 Mozambican employees." You can read it in an e-mail from the Federal Foreign Office.

"From this it follows for the federal government that the responsibility for the payment of insurance contributions, pension insurance, social security lay and still lies with the Mozambican government. And we do not see any outstanding demands on the federal government."

Explains Nina Lutter, civil servant at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and country representative for Mozambique. Lutter went on to say that the country has been forgiven all debts from the GDR era, 340 million US dollars. The Federal Republic of Germany has transferred a total of 1.4 billion euros in development aid to Mozambique since 1977, she calculates.

"The big, rich uncle from the west"

Christian Democrat Günter Nooke, the Chancellor's Africa Representative, sees the problem solely with the Mozambican authorities. A lot of money has been transferred to Maputo, says Nooke. Now it is the turn of the Southeast African country on the Indian Ocean.

"We can't pretend - if a state doesn't do something - the big, rich uncle from the West always steps in. It doesn't work."

Julião Armando Langa, Counselor from Mozambique, reacted calmly to the accusations of the Federal Government. He too came to Magdeburg - albeit only briefly - for the international conference on the situation of contract workers.

"We are not the only country with problems. But we have to come together and discuss the issues in an open and honest way, based on the need to resolve them and continue to be a country that is proud of itself."

However, the Mozambican government representative has not made any concrete commitments. The German Africa Commissioner Günter Nooke reacts harshly to the cautious approach - things that go wrong have to be corrected together: If the countries of Africa wanted to be taken seriously, they would have to adhere to the basic democratic norms of the rule of law. Otherwise you never get together, says the former civil rights activist.

"That is exactly the problem why it is so difficult to find companies that invest in Africa. Because this kind of rule of law, reliability is something that we don't have in Africa. That makes it so difficult."

He could not give hope to the Mozambican contract workers who are waiting for pension payments from the GDR era. Mozambique simply failed to meet its contractual obligations.

With this tone of voice, the Chancellor's Africa Commissioner aroused outrage and rejection at the Magdeburg conference. The church Mozambique expert Hans-Joachim Döring is also confused:

In the case of the contract workers, there was a post-colonial legacy, caused by the SED regime. You can't just transfer money to Mozambique and say, go ahead and do it. Germany has a responsibility for every single former contract worker, says Döring.

"And it would be a form of respect that is shown to them and that is expressed in material recognition."

Respect and appreciation for the contract workers

Each of the contract workers have the right to an individual calculation of their pension entitlements: regardless of whether they live in Maputo or Magdeburg today.

Almuth Berger was entrusted with the pastoral care of Mozambicans during the GDR era. She calls on the federal government to face up to its responsibilities. (Photo: private)

Almuth Berger calls the statements of the Africa representative "cold and emotionless". She was already entrusted with the pastoral care of Mozambicans during the GDR era. Later she was the first and last commissioner for foreigners at the Council of Ministers of the GDR. In the cabinet of the CDU-led coalition government in 1990 under Lothar de Maizière, she was responsible for contract workers. She is now a co-signer of a memorandum demanding respect and appreciation for the injustice suffered by Mozambican contract workers.

"The demand is that the federal government takes on the responsibility. And first of all is ready to enter into a conversation."

An apology must be formulated, says Berger. Germany not only has a colonial past in terms of the Herero genocide in Namibia or looted art. It is also necessary to deal with the non-transparent events of the so-called "friendship treaty" between the GDR and Mozambique.

"We will certainly not be able to establish that legally, I don't think so. But there is a moral responsibility for what happened during the GDR era."

But this also includes adequate financial compensation, even if that is difficult to enforce, continues Berger. To this end, the signatories of the memorandum want to get the federal foundation to come to terms with the SED dictatorship on board.

"Because it became pretty clear that the contract workers are a group of victims of the injustice that happened during the GDR era. This injustice can not only be blamed on the GDR, the Mozambican state also signed the contracts. But they want through the Federal Foundation we are trying to get support for the workers at home. "

According to various estimates, there are currently around 1,500 to 2,000 former contract workers in Germany and between 9,000 and 13,000 in Mozambique.

"Deficits in international law and human rights in the unification process"

2019 - the year 30 of the Peaceful Revolution - is a good occasion to give contract workers their rights, say many who stand up for the Mozambicans. The German-German unification treaty of 1990 was very comprehensive, but it had gaps. For example, it was neglected to take care of an individual payment of wages and pensions, says theologian Almut Berger. She also knows that one shouldn't make empty promises today. There are, however, deficits in the unification process in terms of international law and human rights, which should be remedied quickly.

"Many of the workers are around 50, many are older. For most of them, the work process is over. You can only try to achieve something with pension payments."

The idea of ​​reconciliation is now in the room: not in the form of a "round table", but as a trialogue between the federal government, government representatives from Maputo and the contract workers. Representatives of the Catholic Community of Sant Egidio from Rome started the discussion as mediators. You were instrumental in the peace negotiations and the peace agreement in Mozambique, which ended a decade-long civil war there in 1992. Almut Berger says:

"I think external moderation is important so that none of the participants moderates it. Instead, someone from the outside who lets everyone have their say."

But whether you can get representatives from the federal government and from Mozambique at one table? None of those involved or affected seem to be really confident.

"You worked, you had hope, you counted on this money. And today: You don't get anything."

Says Thomas Manhique from Magdeburg. Former contract worker Lázaro Magalhães from Maputo nods. And repeats: That the Federal Republic of Germany, as the legal successor of the GDR, has the duty to pay the former contract workers the outstanding monies. If that does not happen, it is a violation of human rights. And he will fight for so long, says Lázaro Magalhães quickly afterwards - when the reporter's microphone is already off - until the former contract workers have received their rights and their money.