Chasing the Mozambique story the hard way

Some have wondered why elections are being organised before resolving problems with Renamo, a former rebel group.

by

    We arrive at the official check point at 7am in the town of Muxungue.

    The line of cars, buses and trucks is long. They are waiting for the soldiers to come so they can escort them to Save, about 100km from here.

    Some people slept in the line. The few hotels in Muxungue were full or too expensive.

    One soldier shouts to everyone waiting in line, "Get in your cars, follow in a single file, stay at the same speed we are going. If we slow down, you slow down. If we go fast, speed up. But don't stop along the road. It's not safe. If your car breaks down be prepared to leave it behind. We are not stopping."

    As television journalists our priority is filming the convoy from start to finish. That means sitting in the back of our four-by-four throughout the journey ... which leaves us more than just a little exposed.

    The soldier in charge said if we could go ahead if we were willing to risk it. But bullet-proof vests are a must and if the convoy runs into trouble, we must get inside the car.

    We agree.

    The convoy heads out slowly, then gathers speed. Some parts of the road are eerily quiet.

    In another area some homesteads look abandoned, some had mainly women and children.

    We pass two burnt-out trucks on the side of the road and a passenger mini bus. Soldiers say they were attacked by armed men and their goods looted.

    Soldiers insist Renamo fighters were responsible. But Renamo leaders deny this.

    Obeying the command

    Suddenly the soldiers radio a command to speed up. Everyone does but no one has any idea why.

    We go past a game park and soldiers emerge from the bush on either side of the road carrying RPGs.

    They signal the convoy to move faster ... and everyone obeys - even the rickety old passenger bus huffing and puffing behind us, desperately trying to keep up.

    While all this is happening Austin, Cyrus and I try to work. The wind nearly knocks Austin off the back of the car, I get dust in my eyes and a few small stones hit me hard on the face. Cyrus keeps an eye out for trouble.

    Two hours later we cross the Save river bridge and the soldiers say their goodbyes and prepare to escort another coonvoy of motorists back to where we came from.

    A Zimbabwean couple comes up to us (our vehicle has Zimbabwean licence plates) and asks us how the road is. He is driving to Manica.

    "It's fine," says Cyrus, "there were no incidences, but lots of soldiers on the road."

    Francisco Lucas gets off one of the buses that had been with us in the convoy.

    He asks to talk on camera about the situation in Mozambique. I expect him to talk about the convoy. Instead he talks about the local elections taking place on November 20th.

    "Why is the president holding elections when things are bad in this country," he asks. "Fix the problems first between the government and the former rebel group Renamo then hold elections. People living in the rural areas are suffering."

    A soldier comes up to us and warns us not to cause trouble.

    We get back into our car and start driving to the tourist town of Vilancoulos. There are no escorts from here on, so we are on our own.

    Officials say it is safe to drive alone.

    Our next stop, see how businesses are affected by the skirmishes in central Mozambique.


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