The barrier islands of Inhaca and Bazaruto are related to the extensive coastal dune system of the Mozambican coastal plain, south-east Africa. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of key stratigraphic units indicates that accretion of sediment within these systems is episodic. Both islands appear to have been initiated as spits extending from structural offsets in the coastline. Superposition of significant quantities of sediment upon these spits during subsequent sea-level highstands formed the core of the islands, which were anchored and protected by beachrock and aeolianite formation. At least two distinct dune-building phases occurred during Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5, tentatively attributed to marine transgressions during sub-stages 5e and 5c. Although some localized reactivation of dune surfaces occurred prior to the Holocene, large quantities of sediment were not deposited on either island during the low sea-levels associated with MIS 2. Significant dune-building and sediment reworking occurred immediately prior to and during the Holocene, though it is not clear whether these processes were continuous or episodic. Significant erosion of the eastern shoreline of Bazaruto suggests that it is far less stable than Inhaca and may suffer further large-scale erosion. A model is presented for the formation of barrier islands along the Mozambican coastal plain.