Mozambique’s terror

BOB LEVIN January 11 1988

Mozambique’s terror

BOB LEVIN January 11 1988

Mozambique’s terror


For Alfredo Mbulo, the nightmare began last September in a tiny village in eastern Mozambique. In the early-morning darkness, guerrillas of the right-wing Mozambique National Resistance, or Renamo in its Portuguese acronym, broke into his house, herded his family into one room—and hacked his parents and two brothers to death with machetes. Then they kidnapped 11-yearold Alfredo and forced him to fight in their brutal civil war against Mozambique’s leftist government. They taught him how to use an automatic rifle and how to steal food from sleeping farm families. But while on one such thieving mission last month, young Mbulo managed to escape and turn himself in to the army. Later, at a makeshift government shelter in the port town of Inhambane, Mbulo looked thin, hollow-eyed— and stunned. “I didn’t like the training,” he told Maclean's. “I was afraid of the guns. But those who wouldn’t train were beaten.”

The recruitment of children is the

latest trend in the grisly 12-year-old war for Mozambique, an impoverished nation on Africa’s southeast coast. Since last spring the Renamo guerrillas—a 10,000-man force known to locals simply as “the bandits”—have intensified their fight, roaming the countryside to burn crops, attack trucks and murder and mutilate civilians. In the process, they have shattered an economy already weakened by bureaucratic inefficiency and drought, and thoroughly terrorized the nation’s 14 million people. They have also inadvertently left behind convincing evidence, including captured documents and weapons, that their campaign is backed by South Africa’s apartheid regime—despite Pretoria’s denials. South Africa’s critics contend that its support for Renamo is part of a policy of destabilizing its black-ruled neighbors, including open backing of antigovernment guerrillas in Angola. Robert Davis of the Centre for African Studies in the Mozambique capital of Maputo says the success of any of

those black-ruled countries “would make a mockery of the concept of white supremacy.”

Destabilization was Renamo’s goal from the start. The rebel force was created by Rhodesia’s white-ruled government after Mozambique won its independence from Portugal in 1975 after a 10-year war. Five years later, when Rhodesia became black-governed Zimbabwe, South Africa began aiding Mozambique’s guerrillas. In 1984, however, Mozambique’s Marxist President Samora Machel signed a nonaggression pact with South African President Pieter Botha. In it, Machel agreed to stop backing African National Congress guerrillas in South Africa and Botha pledged to stop supporting Renamo. But after a brief respite, Renamo rebel activity began anew, and one captured guerrilla, Carlos Masie, told Maclean's that he witnessed two South African airlifts to the Mozambique guerrillas in 1986.

Relations between Pretoria and Maputo were further strained when, on a

rainy October night in 1986, a plane carrying Machel home from a summit meeting in Zambia crashed into a hill inside South Africa. A total of 34 people were killed, including Machel. A South African inquiry absolved Pretoria of any involvement—but many Mozambicans still openly accuse the South African government of responsibility for the mysterious crash.

There is no doubting the impact of Renamo’s Pretoria-backed reign of terror. Mozambique’s 28,000-man armyaided by some 10,000 troops from Zimbabwe—has resisted the rebel offensive, and authorities claim to have captured, on Christmas Eve, a major Renamo base 225 km north of Maputo. But on

New Year’s Eve, according to the government, the rebels struck back, attacking a train about 35 km northwest of Maputo, killing 22 people and injuring more than 70 others. The guerrillas have also destroyed or forced the closing of numerous medical clinics, cutting off some two million Mozambicans from health care. As a result, such preventable diseases as measles and neonatal tetanus, which had been nearly wiped out by 1980, are on the rise again; according to UN statistics, currently onethird of all rural children die before their fifth birthday. And if disease is not the killer, the guerrillas themselves often are: last July rebels massacred 424 people in the village of Homoine, including pregnant women and newborn babies in the provincial hospital.

The war’s effects on the economy have been no less devastating. Rebels have driven so many farmers from their homes that only a quarter of the

country’s abundant arable land is being cultivated. Even when farmers can produce a crop of maize or cashews, bringing it to market is virtually impossible. Trucks are in short supply, and the roads to major cities are so thoroughly infested with guerrillas that only an armed convoy can get through. And even that is not guaranteed: last November rebels attacked a military-escorted convoy 30 km north of Maputo, killing 72 people. “I saw children—they looked like 12-yearolds—shooting people,” recalled José Chaque, 36, who was hit in the hand while riding in a bus in the convoy.

The guerrilla attacks have compounded an already severe food short-

age. During the 1983 drought, more than 100,000 Mozambicans died of hunger. International aid began pouring in; by 1987 aid comprised 63 per cent of the nation’s budget and fed one-third of its people. But while the drought has ended in most areas, malnutrition remains endemic. In the Homoine district, where July’s massacre occurred, farming administrator Eduardo Gumo stared at a map of a nearby irrigation project and said, “We could really take off here in three or four years if it weren’t for the bandits.”

Mozambique’s Marxist government bears its share of blame as well. Officials admit that they made serious mistakes in the early years of independence, trying to force a stringent centralized economic policy on a country whose Portuguese colonizers left behind a 93-per-cent illiteracy rate and only 13 native college graduates. In recent months the Maputo government

has made several free-market reforms, including the lifting of draconian price controls on produce. But despite $900 million in international aid in 1987, the country is still $4 billion in debt.

Renamo’s offensive has also affected neighboring states, particularly Zimbabwe to the west. The Harare government’s 10,000 troops in Mozambique help to guard against guerrilla sabotage of the 250-km road, rail and pipeline corridor to the Mozambique port of Beira, which is landlocked Zimbabwe’s closest access to the Indian Ocean. In recent months the rebels have also been launching daily raids inside Zimbabwe. In November guerrillas attacked a school in the Zimbabwe town of Chipinga, killing five children, slicing the right ears off another seven—a typical Renamo signature— and abducting 20 more.

Beyond their military efforts, however, both Mozambique and Zimbabwe have been hard pressed to strike back at Renamo’s South African sponsors. The reason is simple: more than twothirds of imports and exports of four landlocked frontline states are shipped through South African ports or along its railway system. That has turned Pretoria’s most vociferous critics into virtual economic hostages. In 1986 a Zimbabwean plan to impose sanctions on South Africa evaporated when Pretoria threatened to close its own border. And Mozambique officials are actively seeking closer commercial ties with their apartheid enemy. “My orders are to find business wherever I can,” said Jeanne Stephens, 28, an Ottawa native who travelled to Maputo three years ago to research her doctoral thesis in transportation economics and is now in charge of marketing for the nation’s railways and ports. Added Stephens: “Politics is kept separate.”

On the political front, the Mozambique government last month announced an amnesty for any Renamo rebel who turns himself in. But President Joaquim Chissano, who took office after Machel’s death, insisted that there would be no ceasefire or discussions of power-sharing with the guerrillas. In short, the Mozambique bloodbath can only continue, further destabilizing the region and inflicting tragedy on people such as public servant Francisco Raphael. In the massacre at Homoine, rebels murdered Raphael’s brother and kidnapped his 12year-old son, Usen. “I imagine they put him in training,” Raphael said of Usen. But asked whether he expected to see his son again, Raphael just shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said sadly. “No, I don’t have much faith.”