At the southern tip of Beira’s Ponta Gêa neighbourhood, within football-punting distance of the Indian Ocean, sits one of Mozambique’s biggest anachronisms: the Grande Hotel. Once a veritable palace of opulence and luxury nicknamed the ‘Pride of Africa’, the building is today a concrete shell that's home to over 2000 squatters.
Opened during the Portuguese administration in 1955, the Grande seemed to be cursed from the start. Building costs overran threefold, as no expense was spared on the curvaceous art deco design and the fancy fittings, which included Mozambique’s only Olympic-sized pool. The problems continued when a proposed casino never got off the ground and it quickly became apparent that the industrial port of Beira wasn’t the budding beach resort that the colonial administrators thought it was. Eight unfruitful years later the hotel closed due to lack of guests.
For a while the Grande continued to host weddings and the Mozambican swimming team, who made use of the 50m pool for training. After independence, Frelimo used it briefly as an HQ and later a prison, but as the civil war worsened the hotel became an abode for hundreds of refugees. The temporary arrangement quickly became permanent. Plush tiles and shiny wood were ripped out and salvaged, and furniture disappeared – not even the windows were spared.
By the 2010s, a third generation of squatters was living in the hotel in increasingly unsafe conditions. They’re still there. Today, trees grow out of unglazed windows, goats roam the lobby and the stagnant swimming pool is used as an unhygienic source of water. The squatters have banded together to form a loose community group, and in the evenings you’ll see boisterous games of football taking place outside. Meanwhile, the Grande’s fate remains in limbo.