José Soares Martins, better known by his literary pseudonym José Capela, was the author and editor of scores of works on Mozambican history, and a generous and kind mentor to generations of scholars. In 1956, Soares Martins, then a newspaper editor in Beira, Mozambique, partnered with the Centro Africana de Manica e Sofala to found a newspaper called Voz Africana (1962). He accorded the group full authority regarding content and editing. Nothing was more contested in colonial Mozambique than the authority of the majority.
In 1971, he edited and published a selection of letters to the editor of Voz Africana under the title, Moçambique: Pelo Seu Povo. It is a classic of 20th century Mozambican history. His interest in Mozambicans and their history fueled his prolific production.
After Mozambique’s independence, Soares Martins served as cultural attaché at the Portuguese Embassy in Maputo from 1977 to 1996, and forged partnerships and fertile engagements with Mozambican individuals and institutions. When he returned to Portugal in 1996 he continued his academic collaboration with the Centro de Estudos Africano at Universidade de Porto.
He was a meticulous historian and quintessential scholar and editor. He published key documents and statistics with measured analysis and commentary – made primary source material available and wrote exhaustive original analyses. His work spanned the 18th to the 20th centuries, with particular depth regarding slavery and the slave trades in Portuguese Africa and the Indian Ocean. His O Tráfico de Escravos nos Portos de Moçambique, 1733-1904 is essential reading with exhaustive coverage of ships manifests over hundreds of years. His many publications on the history of Zambezia and Central Mozambique, on the alcohol trade with Portugal, and colonial labor control and taxation remain important.
Jeanne Marie Penvenne
23 October 2014