Things are looking up in Mozambique

Maputo's Botanical Garden
Maputo’s Botanical Garden (© Eric Beauchemin)

Shortly after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, a long and bitter civil war broke out between the ruling FRELIMO government and the RENAMO rebels. Over one million people were killed in the fighting. In 1992, the two sides signed the Rome peace accords, bringing an end to the hostilities. For the first time in nearly two decades, Mozambicans could finally hope for a better future. 

Producer: Eric Beauchemin

Broadcast: September 20, 1992

Bronze medal, New York Radio Festivals, 1993


Radio Netherlands, the Dutch International Service. “Things are looking up – the rebuilding of Mozambique”. Eric Beauchemin reports from Maputo.

We heard last year that we are the poorest country in the world. And Mozambique was the country where you have the more human suffering. We went down so far that it’s difficult to get money and people to put it up.

When the Portuguese left their colony here on the east coast of southern Africa in 1975, they destroyed everything they couldn’t take along with them, even going as far as to drive tractors into the ocean. Independent Mozambique’s Frelimo government quickly opened up schools and health centers, and people began to enjoy a better life. Then, a year later, in 1976, war broke out. The Frelimo government was attacked by the Renamo rebels, a group established by the security forces of white Rhodesia. It was a war many, including Carlos Cardoso, the editor of Mozambique’s only independent newspaper, Media Facts, believe should never have happened.

My opinion is that the war in Mozambique was not created through internal contradictions. It was an investment on the part of the white regimes in southern Africa. They invested in the destruction of Mozambique, and they found enough contradictions internally to keep the war going. Had Mozambicans been left alone to fight out their conflicts, those conflicts would never acquire a military dimension. There was massive support for Frelimo in 1975. I mean, massive. Millions of people were with Frelimo. It was absolutely unthinkable to have any other political party at that point in time. And at that point in time, the war started. It started with the Rhodesian investment in war in Mozambique.

The war also eroded support for the ruling Frelimo party.

The decay in the belief that the previous system could outlast the forces that were opposed to it, that decay began in 1980, 1981. You could see the first signals that things were not working out, particularly after the South Africans took care of Renamo, I mean took care over Renamo and unleashed a massive war in this country, a crazy war. A lot of our intellectuals don’t even call it a war. It is like a caterpillar just coming past because Renamo destroyed everything. Everything. I mean schools, hospitals, villages, communal or non-communal, infrastructure like the Marromeu sugar plantation, the factories, the tea factories – 11 tea factories. The amount of destruction in this country is something like 40-50 times the best year of exports in the colonial era. And that’s what Renamo did.

Bridge destroyed during the war
Bridge destroyed during the war (© Eric Beauchemin)

But the Renamo rebels didn’t only destroy property. They also terrorized the people, particularly the peasants, according to Teresa Sananguer (sp?) of Mozambican television.

When came the dark, they could not sleep in the houses because they are afraid. In the morning, when they go to the mashamba to cultivate again, everything was destroyed. Then they put mines around, in the places that the villagers go to catch the water. They kidnapped, they killed the people, and worst of all, they kidnapped the children they could. With these children – 5 years, 7 years, 10 years – they made them soldiers. Most of the attacks, the big attacks, are employing children. It’s terrible what they did to these children. Now that the war is finished, they don’t know who they are, where are the village, where are the parents. They don’t know how to play. They don’t even know how to talk. They are like machines to destroy. They are like dead inside.

Now relief workers can begin contemplating how to deal with this and other legacies of 16 years of civil war. Last October in Rome, the Frelimo government and the Renamo rebels signed a peace agreement, which calls for the demobilization of troops and the holding of free elections. Peace – however fragile it may be – has completely changed the life of most Mozambicans, as I heard from Jörg Frieden, a Swiss relief worker.

In Maputo, not so much, just a change around Maputo and between Maputo and the other big cities. There’s a lot of traveling around now, by day and by night, which is completely new. I mean, it has been impossible to travel by night for years. Now people travel between ?? and Beira, which means 400 kilometres from here. EB: And that was unheard of before? Yeah, I think the last time was perhaps ’83, ’84. The message I’m getting from Mozambican friends here in Maputo is that they are really, for the first time in years, planning for the future outside Maputo. It means reestablishing the link with the countryside, with the family. They start planning building or rehabilitating houses. They imagine what they will do with new land that they will open. I mean it’s just for them and all of us an exciting time. It is a time of hope, yes, and people tend to believe that the peace has come to stay.

Yet, Teresa Sanaguer of Mozambican television told me why many people still have trouble believing in peace.

Even now, I was in Lugela. That is in Zambeze. The people cannot go to the village because Renamo troops put trees in the way. They don’t know if it means mines. They don’t know. We did demobilization. There are a lot of men without work, angry and with arms. They are attacking. And, at this moment, in the province, nobody knows who are the people who are attacking. It’s very hard to believe in the peace when we cannot go to a place or when you hear that they are attacking this point or that point. EB: It sounds like a very explosive situation still. Still. We must a couple of years before this will improve really and the peace can happen. It’s a very hard process.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Maputo
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Maputo (© Eric Beauchemin)

Which is why Archbishop Gonçalves of Beira and most other Mozambicans welcome the Security Council’s decision to send 8000 troops and observers to monitor implementation of the peace agreement.

These two parties still have their arms. Also, we know that we need demobilization. That’s why we are happy to know that the United Nations are coming fully to help the country to follow the program of the peace accord. It’s very, very essential. Otherwise, we go back again to the confusion.

Mozambicans now simply want to put the war behind them. And Carlos Cardoso told me they’re willing to go to great lengths to forgive and forget.

A district administrator taking a Renamo man who had given up. He had brought his gun and he goes to see the people from the village, from the town, Langela, which this man had helped to attack in October. Renamo attacked this town, took over and the people ran out and became refugees. This is a couple of months ago. The administrator of this town says to the people: what can we do now? We can only wait. We can only forgive. We can only look to the future, a future without war. But this man here, he came to tell us that he attacked our houses. He probably destroyed my house. He killed my mother. What can I do? Let’s forgive. Let’s forget. This is the message we are seeing as reporters. We come across this day, night. I mean, every day it’s the same message all over the country: forgive and forget. Those who are practicing this would never think five years ago that they would be able to do it. But you can become so exhausted of war, so tired of war, that you are prepared to embrace your enemy.

Camp for displaced persons
Camp for displaced persons (© Eric Beauchemin)

The war left up to a million dead. It displaced 5 to 6 million people and made 1.5 million refugees. And then came the drought, the worst this century. The rains, as you can hear, are now falling, but I asked a farmer in Chimoio in central Mozambique who the drought had affected him.

I really had a big amount that I was going to carry on well, but in these two years I tried it because I never know which year it’s going to rain. I wasted all of the money I had in the bank. This is the third year. It’s now raining. I have no money. EB: And you don’t have any seeds left over. I don’t have any single seed left over.

By March of last year, the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other organizations were warning of a full scale disaster. As they issued appeals for donations, the relief groups had one thought in the back of their minds, as I heard from Daniel Ausburger, the deputy director of the ICRC’s office in the Mozambican capital Maputo.

The work of the international organizations was oriented in order to avoid a kind of Somali situation here in Mozambique. It is difficult to say whether we have been successful because we confirm that many people have already died here in Mozambique, but humanitarian organizations have avoided a tragedy in the same type as Somalia. We have been able to deliver seeds to most areas, up to 300.000 persons. We’ve been able to deliver these seeds on time. The last seeds are delivered right now. So, we believe if the rain prevails, the food situation will improve tremendously next year and that large parts of the population which was affected by the drought will be self-sufficient next year.

Red Cross lorry carrying relief supplies
Red Cross lorry carrying relief supplies (© Eric Beauchemin)

But, for the moment, the International Red Cross is still distributing thousands of tons of food and seeds across the country. Trucks belonging to the ICRC and other relief groups crisscross Mozambique’s roads, full of potholes and often mined.

I’ve come along here with an ICRC convoy which is taking 25 tons of food to a town near the village of Gorongosa, 250 kilometres north of the port of Beira. Gorongosa is located in government-held territory, but the people receiving the food today come from Renamo-held territory about 40 kilometres away. Bernard Guédel of the ICRC, who’s the only expatriate involved in this operation, explains why the two trucks haven’t gotten closer to the village where the people come from.

The people have to move down here because of security reasons, because of mines of the roads. We don’t have enough security to move with our trucks on this road.

EB: How many people are going to be receiving food and seeds today? 6000 people. 6000 is quite important because they receive a lot of food and we have to organise very precisely to try and reduce all these problems of confusion. EB: OK, we have 6000 people here. They’re lined up more or less along the road. And on the other side of the valley, there are the trucks. How is the distribution actually going to take place? Before talking about the distribution, we have to talk about the organization because the preparations take much more time than the distribution itself. So, first the ICRC is doing an evaluation. That’s the first important point. And the nutritionist and the agronomist are coming in the zone, evaluating the conditions of the people, the state of the fields, if they do have seeds. Then, according to the results of this evaluation, we decide to distribute in one zone more than in another one. EB: The look quite well here. Do these people really need food? Yes, they do. You don’t see the most needy because the people who moved down here to receive the food are the people who are able to carry this food. They have to carry 50 kilos of food on their heads. So they are the strongest people who are coming here. This zone is one of the most needed. After this evaluation, we asked the local authorities to make a list of the people. We try to work as much as possible with the local authorities and the traditional structures. These people need for instance a full ration of food, which means 18 kilos per person. Even a baby receives 18 kilos. EB: 18? 18, yes. So in this ration, they have maize, beans, oil and soap. They will come back in two weeks time for a second distribution. They also receive seeds. We start giving seeds to the people in ’84 in Ethiopia because we have seen that giving food is not enough. We have to also prepare the peace. We have to prepare the next season. And like this we will be able to stop giving food. So, in March, they will be able to cultivate what they plant now. We might and we hope to stop this food program. We intend to come here since July. But unfortunately we start coming here only since September, October. EB: Why couldn’t you come earlier? Because of the war and because the peace treaty was not signed, and we had not the authorization to come here.

It’s extremely hot here, about 35 degrees Celsius. There’s no shade, and the 6000 people here are just milling about or sitting, waiting to receive their food and seeds. I’ve been taken to see one of the only people here who speaks English, Benson Momadi, who has experienced the famine first hand.

Too much hungry. The people look like…all are thin because no food. Many population are dead by the hunger. Nobody like war in the country because war has destroyed many things here. Of course, the war was finished. Population were happy, but the problem was for hungry.

Maria is also waiting for the distribution. She’s in her late 20s and has three kids, including a baby on her back.

When are we going to receive the food? I’m tired. It took me 3 hours to walk here. I arrived yesterday at 5 p.m., and I spent the night here with my 3 kids and my husband. I’m tired but I want to eat.

EB: The distribution seems to be going quite calmly in general. That’s right. I’m very glad about what’s happening until now, comparing to some of the times because there is always some confusion. We have asked the government to help us and some people from the other side, from Renamo, to help us also to keep quiet their own population. EB: So, now they are going to start loading again and these are… Beans because they have received maize until now, but now they are receiving beans. Later on they will receive oil and then soap. EB: So they have to come here 4 times then to pick up things. I hope they will come less than twice. To give an idea, we have 100 people. They might carry 150 bags. EB: What’s this click that we’re hearing here? That’s very new. EB: It’s modern technology. Exactly. It just arrived a week ago because before we were counting the bags and we were mixing 153, 135. Now is coming the next zone to receive the food. We are explaining to the head of the village and the population what they will receive. We explain exactly to the fumo… EB: Who is the head of the village. That’s right. And then we ask our friend Lucas to translate in Sena, the local dialect because most of them don’t speak Portuguese. It’s important that everyone be informed of what they will receive because, of course, the head of the village has to do it properly. When the population will be informed about it, he will receive the pressure to receive what they have to receive.

About 100 kilometres south of the distribution site in the Beira corridor, which was the scene of major fighting during the war because it links Mozambique’s land-locked neighbors to the Indian Ocean, there’s a huge refugee camp, which is home to about 23.000 people. Pierre De Copé (sp?), who is an ICRC delegate, has been distributing a few messages to people who have lost touch with relatives for years.

We can go to some places, which are normally of very difficult access, and we can provide this link to give family news to the people, to for example a family who lives here, to relatives who are in another zone, for example a Renamo zone. EB: You said that when food is distributed, for example, then you tell people that there’s this possibility to contact lost family members. What happens then? We have one person there, an interlocuteur, which is responsible for this service. We are explaining all how it works to this person, and this person is in charge to receive all inquiries from people who lost their families. EB: And then, how do you actually find the people who are the lost family members? When we are looking for people, also we need some kind of information. It’s not possible to work on if they are only saying it’s more or less in this area. It’s too difficult. If we have this information, then the responsible can go to his volunteer and to ask him: please, try to find this person.

EB: ?? is giving this message to a shy, skinny teenager, José Fred Delfas (sp?) who is 18 years old. He made this message to his father. EB: How long had he not seen his father? About 5 years. EB: And what was the message he received from his father? His father is well, but he’s suffering from not having food. EB: Is the rest of his family with his father? Where is the rest of his family? The rest of his family is here with him. His mother is dead. EB: Why was his father separated from the rest of the family? It is because of the situation which occurred in Maringue. He says Maringue was attacked by the Renamo soldiers. The village was separated, and some people went to Malawi. From Malawi, they came to here. EB: Is his father going to join him now this village? What’s going to happen? He was told in the message that his father is going to come here. EB: So he must be very happy about that. Yes, he’s very happy about it.

Danias Melo Kaxix (sp?), who is in the charge of this camp, has also received a message.

He wrote a message to his brother. He says that his brother has told in the letter that everyone is well. His brother is together with four of his brothers. Some of the families have gone to Malawi, his mother-in-law and his father-in-law. EB: Why were the relatives separated? When Kaxix (sp?) was attacked by Renamo, some people got controlled by Renamo. And some families, they fled together with the Frelimo soldiers. And those who managed to flee with the Frelimo soldiers are here today in this camp. He says that he has been away from his family during 9 years. And then, they have been moving on to different places, also to Malawi. Now they’re here.

He says there are about 24.000 people living in this camp and that 6.000 of them have been living here four years. The 6.000 people, who have been coming recently, have been coming since October. EB: But the peace accord was signed on October the 4th. Why are people still coming into the camp? They’ve been asking people why do you be coming from so far when we already have the peace agreement. The people tell that they are coming because of the hunger. EB: So he says that more people are coming now because of the famine. But the rains have started. Food is also being distributed to needy regions. Will these people stay here or do they plan to go back their homes soon? Most families are planning to go back. He himself he also prefers to go back to his own region.

Street in downtown Maputo
Street in downtown Maputo (© Eric Beauchemin)

Many cities, district capitals or provincial capitals, had a tremendous increase of population in these last years. Now because of the peace but also in part because the rains have arrived, the population are leaving the cities, the centers, to go back to their fields.

Daniel Ausberger of the ICRC. But many of the approximately 4 million displaced people in Mozambique are staying put until they are sure the peace will hold and the drought is over. There are still also 1.5 million Mozambicans and refugees in neighboring countries, over a million in Malawi alone. The rest in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa. Most live in camps and they are hesitant about going home. So, I asked Catherine Hugue, who is in charge of the Maputo office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, why the UNHCR isn’t actively encouraging them to return.

I think it’s better like that. The influx come slowly but surely. I mean, for the moment we have around 50.000 returnees, plus we are also preparing the organized repatriation which will take place in 1993. But 1.5 million people, it’s quite big program, so we have to be really prepared to receive all these people.

When the refugees and displaced people do return home, they usually find that everything in their village has been destroyed. And the land is sometimes sown with mines. For people who’ve lost limbs because of mines, the International Red Cross has established an orthopedic center in Maputo and other cities, as I heard from Edward van Almand (sp?) from the ICRC.

We started this center in ’81. We have already quite a lot of patients who are already fitted with artificial limbs. That means since ’81 we have made over 5.500 artificial limbs. EB: Are these limbs made here? Yes, they are all made here from A to Z. They are very simple legs in fact. We use now polypropylene, that’s a chemoplast, very light material. We make artificial for everybody, so we can say 50% it’s war wounded like mines or whatever. We also have quite a lot of civilians, war wounded, like women and children. EB: Is there any problem having civilians and military together in the same hospital? No, not at all. That works perfect. The other 50% are accidents, car accidents or work accidents or whatever. We have a transit center. They stay in this center. It depends on the height of the amputation. Let’s say it’s below knee where the patient has still his knee. It takes much shorter time to learn again. It’s about 2 to 3 weeks. And above knee, it will take about 3 to 4 weeks. It depends also on the age of the patient. EB: What are these people prospects afterwards? Can they find work or are they going to be stuck at home? This is quite difficult.

He lost his leg on a mine blast during his military service. He lost his leg ’86. EB: Is he working? No, he has no job. EB: Is it because he can’t find work because of his leg? What’s the reason? It’s very difficult to find work. He says it’s very important to have work but he cannot find until now. He blames the government not doing enough.

There are over 150 non-governmental organizations operating in Mozambique, probably the highest anywhere. Some say that because of these relief operations, Mozambicans are becoming hooked on international aid. Well, one organization that is trying to get Mozambicans to put the begging bowl away is DAPP, Development Aid from People to People, a group based in Scandinavia. Cristina Utas (sp?) is DAPP’s director in the port city of Beira.

Our friends in Sweden and Denmark, Norway and Finland collect clothes. We sell it here in Mozambique, in Angola, in Zimbabwe, in Namibia and in Guinea Bissau also. EB: Usually non-governmental organisations give things away. Why are you selling the clothes? Because that’s the way of using things two times. First of all, people get clothes and they get them very cheap. But they pay a little and so they also feel that they have the right to have them, and it’s not just like giving. And then, secondly with the money, we do health work. We do schools and we make factories and agriculture. In the Maputo province, we have one school where we educate managers. It’s a 3-year school with 250 pupils. And there we also have 700 pupils in a program with food production and education for the children that are coming in from the provinces. EB: Why do you need to train managers? Because that is one of the biggest problems in Mozambique is managing. So that’s why we started a managers’ school. We produce managers for factories and for big kitchens and for carpentries and for commerce. There are not school for everybody. So many people coming in from the countryside to the cities and there’s not room for all. EB: The project is entirely self-sufficient? All that we do, all the money we have is from selling clothes. With that we do everything. We are right now 900 workers in Mozambique and 2000 pupils. We have right now open 8 shops in Mozambique. We sell a little more than 2 tons a week directly to the Mozambican peasants and town people. And then we sell a lot of clothes in 40 kilo bags and some clothes in 400 kilo bails. Small sellers buy it from us and then they sell it. EB: And how much do the clothes cost? A good pair of trousers is 6000 meticais. EB: About 1.5 dollars. Is that relatively cheap for Mozambicans? It’s cheap yes. It’s cheap. If you’re going into a shop to buy a normal pair of trousers, new, you pay 20.000. Until now, DAPP has put clothes on 4 million people. This year we have distributed 1000 tons in Mozambique. Next year, we hope that we can distribute more than that.

This is a song about our center in Maxava in Maputo province. It is made by the man who made the national hymn. He made it to us because he likes the work of DAPP, and it says “let’s go forward together to create the new man in the production, in the education and in the culture”. We are in an evolution. EB: Evolutionary phase Yeah, and we are fighting for the freedom of the economy, and we are fighting to defend our independence. Viva a força creativa. EB: Long live the creative force. Long live EB: the national reconstruction. We are really on the way to victory, and we are together in creating our future. EB: Does this symbolize a bit the future of Mozambique? Is this what you hope Mozambique will achieve? That’s what we are doing together.

“Things are looking up” was produced and presented by Eric Beauchemin. Technical production: Peter Bos. This has been a Radio Netherlands’ presentation.