Mozambique’s peace pact unravels

People on edge and extremely nervous after former rebel group launches attacks across southern African nation.

I would be lying if I said I know for sure which direction Mozambique is heading.

All I can do is describe to you the sequence of events I went through while reporting there recently, and you can make up your own mind.

We cross the border from Zimbabwe into Mozambique.

It’s going to be another four hours or so to Gorongosa, where most of the unrest is happening.

It’s a good road, a few checkpoints along the way, but we have our media accreditation from Maputo, the capital, and legitimately allowed to be in the country.

When we get to Gorongosa, we quickly learn the “action” is happening away from the highway, in the bush where the villages and homesteads are.

We need to get to Sudjunjira, a base of the former rebel group Renamo taken over by Mozambican soldiers earlier in the week.

But that’s easier said than done.

101 questions

We turn into an untarred bumpy dirt road and some not-so-friendly soldiers are manning a checkpoint.

There is a lot of shouting, we are ordered out of the car, our bags are searched, we are asked 101 questions and threatened that if we are caught helping the Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, we will be “dealt with”.

You would think we would turn back but we carry on – going through a few more checkpoints and having soldiers point guns at us.

We get to the final checkpoint before we reach the base. I have been in a few volatile situations but for the first time in a long time, I was shaken.

Some of the soldiers were drunk and some were just itching for a fight. As the only woman in the team of journalists many took a particular interest in me, suggesting I stay behind while the rest of the team proceed.

I look around for an escape route if need be. Do I run into the bush and hide? Do I try to fight back? How will people know if we get into trouble because there is no mobile phone reception out here?

They accuse us of hiding the Renamo leader of wanting to spy on the government and of lying that we are journalists.

I have been in tricky situations in Somalia, Ivory Coast, Chad and the DRC but this feels different.

People nervous

Nobody knows what’s going to happen next in Mozambique people are on edge and extremely nervous.

After going through our personal bags, camera equipment and grilling us with all sorts of questions, we were told to first see the chief of the village.

The chief then convinces soldiers we are harmless and we should be allowed to go to the base.

Once inside, we are instructed not to interview any of the soldiers, just do our filming and leave.

While we are filming we hear gunfire. It’s getting dark and we are advised by the commander to head back into town where it’s safer.

But in town, at around 1am, we are woken up by sporadic gunfire right outside our hotel. We hardly slept that night.

The next day we hear Renamo fighters are trying to make their way to the Gorongosa mountains, possibly to regroup. Along the way they clash with soldiers.

Along the road to Muxungue on the way to Save, police block the road. A long line of lorries is parked and we aren’t allowed to go further because armed men [believed to be Renamo] are attacking vehicles along the road.

Then soldiers capture another Renamo base in Maringue.

Local government elections will be held on November 20.

Renamo’s threat

Renamo is threatening to disrupt and boycott them as well as retaliate for being attacked by the Frelimo-led government.

The civil war ended in 1992. More than 20 years later, Renamo says the peace deal signed in Rome is over. Mozambicans are worried the violence could spread to other parts of the country.

I meet some Renamo officials in Beira, Mozambique’s second-largest city. They are angry. Their bases are being captured by soldiers.

They seem convinced Zimbabwe is sending soldiers to help Frelimo fight them.

The Zimbabwe government hasn’t really responded to this allegation.  

The Renamo official in Beira, Horacio Pedro Calavete, looks at me suspiciously and asks me: “You are from Zimbabwe. What do you think about what’s going on?”

I tell him I don’t know. I just hope there is peace instead of war.

He smiles, shakes my hand, tells me “to be careful out there” and leaves.

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