Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town  

Invites you to Seminar by  

Paolo Israel 

A/Prof. Department of History

University of the Western Cape 


February 26, 1-2 pm

4.51, Leslie Social Science 

[In Person]


Violence and the Voice Note:

The Fall of the Makonde Plateau through Social Media 

(Mozambique, Cabo Delgado, 2020)



In Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, the year of 2020 marked a dramatic escalation of military activities of the Islamist insurgent group locally known as Al-Shabab or mashababe. This intensification was accompanied by a more immaterial phenomenon: the rise in prominence of the social media, both as battleground and as public forum. While the insurgents sacked and occupied major towns and district headquarters, the Web 2.0 networks – Facebook and WhatsApp especially – became the central arena in which the war was apprehended and discussed. This essay is an exploration of the entwining of social media with the ‘new war’ in Cabo Delgado, focussing on the events that surround the conquest of the Makonde plateau, mythical cradle of the Mozambican liberation struggle. Building on a budding literature on digital militarism, the essay dwells especially on orality and the use of the voice note as a medium to convey information deemed to be more trustworthy and stable than images. Tracking these medias and their interrelations, the essay establishes a narrative, however fragmentary, of the downfall of the Makonde plateau; highlights recurring features of violence in the Cabo Delgado conflict; and provides fresh insight into the formation of the Local Force (Força Local), a State-sponsored militia largely constituted by war veterans.

Paolo Israel is Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Department of History. Since 2002 he has carried out research in the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, on a variety of themes related to performance, politics and magic. His monograph In Step with the Times: Mapiko Masquerades of Mozambique (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014) charts the twentieth-century trajectory of a tradition of masquerading with a micro-historical approach, focusing on creativity and political engagements. Paolo is currently busy with two main projects: an experiment in nonfiction storytelling titled The Magical Lions of Muidumbi, and a microhistory titled Mueda Massacre: Myth and Event. He is part of the Editorial Team of Kronos and of the Advisory Board of the Journal of Southern African Studies