Zimbabwe worries about RENAMO war threats
Along the Rusitu River, at the end of the picturesque Chimanimani mountain range, Mozambican children carry Zimbabwean identity documents and attended Zimbabwean schools. Sharing the same beliefs, attitudes and behaviour and speaking the same language, all evidence points to a united people divided only by Europe’s apportionment, among itself, of these lands.
Colonial boundaries however failed to divide chiefdoms as they scornfully disregard borders – in Chimanimani and Chipinge. Chiefs Chikukwa and Mapungwana’s jurisdictions cross the border deep into Mozambique. Yet others have bases in Mozambique reaching back into Zimbabwe. These are their lands.
Sharing the same leaders, traditional healers and prophets on either side belong to both communities and side by side, gold panners from either side ravage each other’s lands, albeit peacefully. Police on either side only worry about their bribes and are perceived, at worst, as nuisances.
Since the 1970s these communities have aided and abated wars – against colonial governments and banditry. For twenty years now there has been peace which however has now been replaced with a tense apprehension as Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO), also known as Mozambican National Resistance (MNR), threatens war if its demands are not met.
At the end of October, its rebel Alfonso Dhlakama, along with 800 of his former guerrillas, decamped to his remote former Cassa Banana base near the Gorongossa Game Park between Sofala and Manica provinces.
Zimbabwe has responded by secretly deploying army units along more than 1,000km of the eastern border as a precaution over the threatened military instability, keeping a watchful eye on the political impasse in its strategic neighbour.
Muchadziya villagers, in the Rusitu valley some 200 km south east of the eastern border city of Mutare, have been warned by local traditional leaders against indiscriminate employment of Mozambicans as domestic servants for fear of infiltration by RENAMO bandits.
Their community, says 62-year old Margaret Mukwendengwe, was once a victim of constant raids by RENAMO rebels in search of food and recruits but often times committing pure acts of terror either to settle old grudges especially by former domestic servants who knew the lands well or simply to discourage the Zimbabwean government from supporting its Mozambican counterpart.
At the pick of the civil war in 1987 Dhlakama’s men, in one of their most reprehensible incident, attacked Jersey Tea Estate plantation school near Chipinge on November 19 killing five children, cutting off the ears and noses of nine more and kidnapping them to Mozambique. The mutilated children were released with the warning that more would follow if Zimbabwe continued to intervene in Mozambique’s civil war.
Ken Flower, the former Intelligence Chief in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, wrote in his memoirs, that RENAMO was formed by the Rhodesian Special Branch, working together with General Peter Walls, the Rhodesian army commander.
Renamo was founded in the wake of Mozambique’s independence, in 1975, as an anti-Communist political organization and allegedly to prevent the FRELIMO government from providing a safe haven for Zimbabwe African National Union militants seeking to overthrow the Rhodesian government as well as South African liberation movements operating from there.
Essentially, RENAMO is said to have, in its formation and leadership, also comprised of South Africans and Portuguese settlers in South Africa, Mozambique and Rhodesia. Among its prominent leaders were Orlando Cristiano, Evo Fernandes, and Casimiro Monteiro, a professional assassin.
In earnest, from 1976 RENAMO began crippling Mozambique through various acts of sabotage upgrading its actions to violent opposition of the leadership of the ruling Front for Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) government from 1977 plunging the nation into a bitter civil war that sucked in Zimbabwe for ten years between 1982 and 1992 with the signing of the Rome Peace Accord in 1992.
André Matsangaissa, an ex-FRELIMO army commander, was RENAMO’s first official leader who was killed by government soldiers on 17 October 1979 in the Sofala Province and following a violent succession struggle, Alfonso Dhlakama took over leadership.
Between 1977 and the Rome Peace Accord about one million people died in fighting and from starvation, five million civilians were displaced, many were made amputees by landmines, a legacy from the war that continues to plague Mozambique.
To sustain their troops, the rebels also ran an infamous system of ‘Gandira’, which saw civilians in RENAMO-controlled zones forced to produce food and courier goods and ammunition with women press-ganged to become sex-slaves.
To spruce up its image in the devastating war RENAMO operated an anti-FRELIMO radio station, Voz da Africa Livre, which broadcasted from Transvaal in South Africa. It is thus no wonder the same people it was terrorising ended up supporting it in an electoral contest.
The 1992 peace deal brought in a unity government in which political leaders were to share government posts equitably, while all former combatants who were not demobilised were to be integrated into the police and the armed forces, with the country’s first multi-party elections being held two years later in October 1994.
In these first ever multiparty elections FRELIMO, led by Joachim Chissano, won 53 per cent and RENAMO won 33 per cent of the votes. In parliamentary elections, FRELIMO got 44 per cent and RENAMO won 38 per cent.
Today, Dhlakama and his RENAMO insist that the FRELIMO government has not ever tried to honour this agreement and its members say they have lost out on the peace dividend and now also want a bigger share of Mozambique’s expected coal, diamond, gold and gas profits, in addition to an overhaul of the electoral system to prevent alleged fraud.
But not so long ago, one of its senior officials, Davis Simango, who participated in the negotiations leading to the Rome Peace Accord broke away and formed his own party, the Democratic Movement of Mozambique which now has 8 seats in the 250-seat house of parliament. This left Dhlakama with only 29 seats.
Critics argue that Dhlakama’s decision to move out of government could also be linked to his waning electoral appeal. His actions are thus a veiled attempt to subvert the democracy that is increasingly side-lining him.
After the fall of the Smith Regime in Rhodesia in 1980, RENAMO was handed over to the South African Defence Force (SADF) which allegedly recruited as many from the Rhodesian army, including an entire unit of the Selous Scouts escalating the war in both Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Other soldiers were recruited in rural areas tempted by promises of a better life or by force, conscripting children who ended up comprising up to a third of its army. With SADF support, its troop grew to more than 7,000 men which tripled within the decade.
In 1982, Zimbabwe directly intervened in the civil war in order to secure its Mutare – Beira and Nyamapanda – Zobue trade routes through Mozambique which were under RENAMO attack and also to stop cross-border RENAMO raids apart from helping its old ally, FRELIMO.
Its involvement was however only formally invited in 1985 together with that of Malawi and Tanzania through the then Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC).
Being a landlocked country Zimbabwe was being denied access to the sea by the white South African government to the south and by sabotage of its routes in the east by RENAMO bandits taking orders from their South African handlers. Without either South Africa or Mozambique, Zimbabwe’s economy was doomed – even for Rhodesia.
When Ian Smith unilaterally declared Southern Rhodesia’s independence from Britain (UDI), in 1965, the United Nations (UN) responded by slapping his regime with sanctions. Mozambique’s Fascist Portuguese ruler and apartheid South Africa’s white minority leaders refused to enforce them. Smith thus continued to use the shorter and cheaper Mozambican trade routes.
However, as it became obvious that Mozambique was gaining independence, there was a fear that the new Mozambican government would impose the UN sanctions and close the country’s trading routes. This would leave only the South African routes open, triggering concerted efforts to reinforce the South African routes which saw, in 1974, a 93 day construction of a 2,066 kilometre railway line from Harare to Durban via Beit Bridge.
When Mozambique became independent, and as predicted, in 1976 closed its border with Rhodesia, and all Rhodesia’s trade had to go through South Africa.
However when Rhodesia became independent as Zimbabwe in 1980, it was only logical for it to revert to shorter and cheaper Mozambican routes. It was then that RENAMO was also being strengthened to sabotage the two countries which were now under liberation war parties to undermine their ability to support their comrades protesting the colonialists’ remaining outpost.
As punishment for its outspoken position against apartheid, by November 1980, more than 50 000 tonnes of Zimbabwean goods were being deliberately held at South African ports. In 1981 there was a fertiliser shortage in Zimbabwe while 300 000 tonnes of the country’s freight was being held in South Africa, including three shipments of fertiliser.
In April the same year, the South African Railways (SAR) announced the end of its trade agreement with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), and demanded the return of 24 diesel locomotives leased to the NRZ. A transport crisis ensued and by the end of the year, more than Z$100 million worth of exports was being held up inside Zimbabwe for lack of transport to the ports.
A maize consignment later referred to as the ‘Maize train’ was the first major freight to be re-routed via the Beira Corridor, but the line came under immediate attack from RENAMO. On 29 October 1981, the railway and road bridges over the Pungwe River were blown up together with Zimbabwe’s oil pipeline, which runs under the road bridge. Soon thereafter, in December 1982, the oil storage depot at Maforga was also blown up.
With this direct economic assault at one point there was only a day’s supply of petrol and two days’ supply of diesel for the whole country. A national disaster was only averted by a clandestine movement of fuel by rail from Maputo via Komatipoort in South Africa to Beit Bridge.
This line had also been used as a sanctions-busting route for Rhodesia during the UDI era. When apartheid South Africa cut off that connection as well, NRZ also blocked South African cargo to and from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was only then that South Africa released Zimbabwe’s freight.
This gave Zimbabwe the impetus to join on the side of the Mozambican government and ended up involving at least 30 000 troops in military operations against RENAMO throughout the length and breadth of its neighbour in a bid to protect its interests. While some of these operations were conducted jointly with the Mozambican army they were often times done alone.
The operations led to the capture the RENAMO Headquarters at Cassa Banana in 1985 and 1986 but Zimbabwe’s army lost 320 soldiers with 640 being injured. In spite of a heavy military commitment, Zimbabwe’s Defence Forces (ZDF) failed to destroy RENAMO as the Mozambican army failed to hold any of the bases captured by the ZDF for any length of time.
Mozambique’s failures were also because RENAMO had also economically ruined the country. As a result, a reluctant Mozambican President, Samora Machel, signed a non-aggression pact with South Africa, known as the Nkomati Accord.
The treaty was a promise not to support hostile acts against each other’s governments. While Machel kept his promise by closing African National Congress bases, denying it sanctuary in its campaign to overthrow white minority rule in South Africa in return for Pretoria’s promise to sever economic assistance to RENAMO.
But documents discovered during the capture of the RENAMO headquarters in August 1985 revealed continuing South African government communications and military support. The Rome agreement of October 1992 made possible the withdrawal of Zimbabwean forces from Mozambique, which had started in November 1990 and ended on the 14th of April 1993.
But with all these actors in the conflict a huge part of the Mozambican population never found out what the war was really all about, and who was responsible for what!