johannesburg: the grande hotel, beira

© mark lewis

in the 1950s the vast african continent was for the bigger part still a playground of european powers, and it wasn't any different for mozambique. a portuguese colony since 1505, the country's fertile grounds eventually turned it into a hugely profitable agricultural hub. with the colonial economy soaring, an infrastructure emerged that would benefit the ruling classes. south african photographer mark lewis shot an interesting photo series of the grande hotel beira that is currently exhibited at gallery momo in johannesburg. opened in 1954 in the mozambicancity of beira, the structure's modernist grandeur was considered as the pinnacle of lavish colonial lifestyle at the time. there were plans to add a casino complex but pressure from the catholic church prevented this. as a result the hotel proved to be unprofitable and after less than a decade, it closed its doors again.

later plans to revive it as a resort were shelved, and only the olympic size pool remained open as mozambique was plunged into a war of independence, and followed by a lengthy civil war. the property was appropriated by the marxist frelimo government after the independence war, which used the basements as a prison. the hotel subsequently sheltered government troops and their families during the civil war. the relative security that troops provided in the city attracted thousands of refugees from further afield. and then finally, once the military had vacated the hotel, refugees began to move in. today, the hotel looks like a battleship that’s been rammed onto the shoreline, a huge concrete shell blackened by charcoal fires, and stripped bare of all of its fittings and fixtures. it shelters however approximately 3,000 people in substandard conditions without sanitation, running water or electricity [on through jul 1]. location: 52 7th avenue [parktown north].

© mark lewis