In one of the grandest hotels in the world, born of and to luxury, today you enter ‘at own risk’. More than 2500 people live there without water or electricity. They have taken possession of the building and manipulated not only the stones but also the dreams. A journey through present and past of a city in a city; a story about colonial megalomania, revolutionary vanity and feeling at home.
The Grande Hotel Beira was a luxurious hotel in Beira, Mozambique built by entrepreneur Arthur Brandão. It was open from 1954 to 1964, after which the holiday resort was used as military base and prison in the Mozambican Civil War. It has since fallen into disuse, and is currently home to numerous squatters, who have stripped the building of construction materials to provide a limited source of income.
Its failure wasn’t completely because of the revolution or government rule but the construction and maintenance costs were too high and they didn’t receive enough guests because of more affordable and better located competition.
In 1964, after ten years of operation, the Grande Hotel was closed by the Companhia de Moçambique. The construction costs were three times more than the original budget, and the hotel never made any profit. The anticipated number of wealthy guests never came and the workforce was too large for the amount of guests actually received. Every elevator, for example, had its own operator present. The hotel needed a lot of maintenance to keep it in its luxurious condition.
Listen to Kumbe Siyengetile [Mozambique] – Francis Baloyi, Sangaan Band
See also this Belgian documentary by Lotte Stoops filmed in Beira, Mozambique in 2010. Winner of the Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming 2012
In several documents it was claimed that the reason for closure was the refusal of the regime to grant the hotel a casino permit. Any realistic estimation would have predicted the failure of the hotel. The white residents of Southern Africa couldn’t afford this level of luxury and Beira was not known, internationally, as a prime holiday destination for wealthy people. Destinations like the Bazaruto archipelago at Vilanculos, the Mediterranean city life style of the Mozambican capital Lourenço Marques, the South African Krüger national park and the Victoria Falls in Rhodesia where more famous across the world.
A cheaper alternative to the Grande Hotel was the Ambassador Hotel. This hotel opened just after the inauguration of the Grande Hotel and was preferred by business people because it was situated in the Baixa (downtown) area, where most of the business offices were located. Remarkably, Arthur Brandão was also the owner of this hotel.