Mozambique's ex-guerrillas regather arms

2012-11-13 12:57

Gorongosa - The marching begins before dawn at a revived Cold War-era guerrilla base nestled at the foot of Mozambique's remote Gorongosa mountain range.

Former anti-communist fighters who laid down arms 20 years ago at the end of a devastating civil war are again preparing to fight.

They are angry, believing the peace dividend that has swept Mozambique has passed them by.

Straining, they kick up the dust as their former commanders bark orders to run faster.

In the years since the war, both Mozambique and the fighters have changed markedly.

The average age in the camp is around 40, but many are considerably older.


"A soldier cannot go three days without running or we would get fat and lazy," explains sweating ex-fighter Armindo Milaco.

When the war began in 1977 Milaco was barely 17 years old when Renamo came to his village and forcibly conscripted him.

He was a victim of the rebels' infamous system of "Gandira", which saw civilians in Renamo-controlled zones forced to produce food and courier goods and ammunition.

Women were press-ganged to become sex-slaves. An estimated one-third of Renamo forces were child soldiers.

"Some didn't understand the objectives at first but, after receiving lessons the person ends up understanding there was a reason for this war," said the 44-year-old, who is now Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama's right-hand man, and in charge of recruiting new members nationwide.

He is also the only person at the base other than Dhlakama authorised to speak directly to the press.
Given the passage of time it is not surprising the fighters need a refresher on how to assemble a gun.

Itching to rekindle hostilities

"We have had to do a mini-review of everything we used to do during the war," says Milaco. But, he says, "it is easy to remember. It is in the blood".

Several hundred men and women are at the camp, but he says he can easily summon more if needed to force their former enemies, now in government, to cede money and power.

Some appear to be itching to rekindle hostilities - perhaps as much out of nostalgia as political fervour.

"All of us miss it. We have to wait a little but we are waiting for the moment we can finish what we started," Milaco said.

The way the Renamo rebels see it, their 16-year war against the leftists of Frelimo was aimed at installing multi-party democracy, but they never reaped the benefits of that system.

Frelimo agreed to hold multi-party elections in 1994, but Renamo has lost every election since. While still the official opposition party, their support has dwindled.

Eerie sense of expectation

Renamo's frustration at what they see as their exclusion from the country's wealth and discrimination against them on the part of the powerful ruling party is palpable.

"I have had it up to here!" spits senior Renamo member Pedro Chichione, who complains his children have lost out on job opportunities because he is a Renamo lawmaker.

There is an eerie sense of expectation in the camp. Even the chickens perched on makeshift wooden benches appear to be waiting for action.

A few kilometres down the dirt track that leads to the camp, a single vehicle belonging to the government's elite "Rapid Response Force" is parked, evidence that authorities are keeping an eye on Renamo's activities.

The ex-guerrillas said they thought about 60 special police were in the area.

The would-be born-again-fighters see the elite police squad as Frelimo's military wing and their sworn enemies.

Uncomfortable reminder

When they are not doing military drills, the former fighters vanish into the thick bush where they patrol in circles tens of kilometres wide.

At the perimeter there is a constant line of people, waving mobile phones in the air. The majestic Mount Gorongosa looming above them cuts out all but the faintest signal.

The sound of children's laughter rings through the groves of mango trees that overhang the camp. Huts belonging to the local community are barely 300m away.

Renamo claims local people are happy to see them and voluntarily donate food. However, their presence next door is an uncomfortable reminder of the price civilians paid during the civil war.

Although Renamo agreed to enter civilian life 20 years ago, and became the country's official opposition party, the movement is still run in a military-style, top-down manner.

The rebels idolise Dhlakama, and armed guards watch him around the clock, fearing Frelimo is plotting to hire mercenaries to assassinate him.

Not short of arms

As the country celebrated twenty years of peace on 4 October this year, Dhlakama began distributing new uniforms to his former fighters and talking war once again.

Despite agreeing to demobilise and hand in its weapons in 1992, Renamo says it is not short of arms today.

Besides Dhlakama's armed guards, the only weapons brandished at the camp for now are used for training. The rest are hidden away somewhere, the movement says.

Renamo claims it has plenty of bazookas, mortars and even landmines left over from the war.

"As soon as the shooting starts, everyone knows where to grab them," Milaco said.

  • bradley.kecskes - 2012-11-13 13:09

    What is it with fighting in Africa, when will peace be the only thing our children know.

      danie.haasbroek.7 - 2012-11-13 13:38

      I suggest you go live in a few of those countries among the local populace to answer that question for yourself. If I answer it on a public forum I'll be branded as a racist.

      BigChiefPlumbPudding - 2012-11-13 13:38

      That country has never recovered properly from the first war, and now they might be plunged into another. Why did it prosper under Portuguese rule yet fail or at least not make much headway under the current regime? What a shallow and worthless victory that was.

      ruan.smith.14 - 2012-11-13 13:44

      I agree, it seems never to end, and its always someone elses fault!! Violence doesnt solve anything, infact it just detroys and plunders!!

      bennie.kruger.5 - 2012-11-13 13:46

      Africa works in 25year Cycles 25year in a breakdown Cycle and 25years in a buildup Cycle. the Buildup Cycles never get to the point where the Country started during the breakdown cycle, 2 steps forward 3 back !!!

      nicky.saaiman.1 - 2012-11-13 14:05

      In die jaar nul as die hingste vul.

      vambozha.mutemi.9 - 2012-11-13 19:05

      they are even talking as if they are preparing for a when the party starts grab your fav beer! The problem is that when the war ended 20 years ago they never thought of going to school to get an education, these guys where young then, most of them below 20 years! Everything is not for free, get a proper education to improve your livelihoods and if you dont then dont expect any governemnt to pay you every month!

  • gerrit.vanpletzen - 2012-11-13 13:29

    Poor disenfranchised minority. Sounds familiar?

      napolita.kio - 2012-11-13 13:57

      Hahaaaa....I know where you going with this!!

  • kenpeg.dawson - 2012-11-13 13:37

    Not good news for Southern Africa.

      vambozha.mutemi.9 - 2012-11-13 19:09

      just a bunch of retards who have memories of their so called "good" times when they hacked women and children to death, looting everything that came their way...i think SADC must act before they start skipping their medication!

  • dragonfire47 - 2012-11-13 13:39

    sounds like a well disciplined bunch, they are drilling and running and patroling, something the circus of a sandf know nothing about

      BigChiefPlumbPudding - 2012-11-13 13:42

      I wonder if we could approach them to train our 'army'.

  • suidlander.vanwyk - 2012-11-13 13:41

    these people just love being the basket case heeee, but then again politicians in that country they are so corrupt they make some politicians in RSA look like pastors

  • jacqui.daanevanrensburg - 2012-11-13 13:43

    Peace is not in their blood. More refugees for South Africa?.

      timothy.louwfant - 2012-11-13 14:44

      Come my African brothers it`s your continent you can go wherever you want Africa for Africans

      vambozha.mutemi.9 - 2012-11-13 19:11

      they are peacephobic!

  • flysouth - 2012-11-13 13:45

    No war will ever be 'over' in Africa. As to the availability of guns - FRELIMO handed out around 1.5 MILLION (not a typo!) AKs and other small arms to villagers etc for protection against RENAMO - and the NATS handed over another approx 40 000 small arms to RENAMO - most of those guns were NEVER recovered and today are the major source of illegal guns in SA! Clearly RENAMO will have no problems i.r.o weapons!

      leon.mare.7 - 2012-11-13 13:59

      Maybe thats where most our stolen weapons in South Africa has gone

      vambozha.mutemi.9 - 2012-11-13 19:12

      include the guns the ANC left in Maputo

  • harry.dewet.5 - 2012-11-13 13:49

    There seems to be a lot of similarities in their behaviour and motives when comparing them with recent striking mobs in SA. These guys are just better armed/trained and may cause more harm and devastation by probable "attack and disappear" tactics of small organized groups.

  • frankie.dionisio - 2012-11-13 13:49

    They cannot see peace for so long so they get bored and become killing machines once more,leading others to follow. Africa nowadays

  • susan.wright.92 - 2012-11-13 13:51

    Please tell me who proof reads these articles! He was barely 17 in 1977 and further on in the article he is reprted to be 44. Proof that Maths in this country is an absolute failure.Isn't it funny how most War Veterans are always 45 and under.

      Malose-Nyatlo - 2012-11-13 19:44

      Do you think things written for us here are real Susan? One always has a feeling they are made up to stir controversy and make us bark at the wind!

  • dumi.zulu.31 - 2012-11-13 13:56

    This doesn't look like it's going away any time soon.

  • ricky.anthony.1235 - 2012-11-13 13:57

    This is complete nonsense. I live in Mozambique so I think I can say a thing or two about this: yes, they are holed up in Gorongosa; yes, Dhlakama, Renamo's leader, is making a lot of threats; but are they going to start a war? Hell no! They barely have any food. He's made this type of threat numerous times in the past and has never followed through. He's even made an ultimatum, but again did nothing. He's not going to do anything. If he was, he would've done it already.

  • boeretroos.redakteur - 2012-11-13 14:04

    Alfonse - We are rooting for you - take out the Commies.

  • ognjen.jakov - 2012-11-13 15:25

    I also live in Moza, Beira and i agree with you. There will be nothing of it. Its bunch of old men remenicing about the good 'ld days. Also people will not support them cause nobody wants war.

  • Tawizee - 2012-11-13 15:27

    The elders are too old to fight now. They must sit down

  • jaconiaspedro.massango - 2012-11-13 17:58

    when Africa will be free of those medieval minds and live Democracy! If the ruling part grabs the courts there is no way for democracy to survive.

  • wtaga - 2012-11-13 19:16

    Constant explosure to wrong attitudes

  • Malose-Nyatlo - 2012-11-13 19:30

    Poor Dhlakama, when will he learn that his people need instruction on the power of gigabytes and terrabytes and not on rusty bazookas?

  • jacyjays.letsoalo - 2012-11-14 10:35

    Africa will never be liberated the more we have such leaders! My direct instruction to the Department of International Relations is to Close all borders, I am getting tired of this war monger African leaders! We are unemployed in Mzansi as a result of these wars, local businesses have closed and these people maim and kill for money! There was be a Statuette in SADC that will prevent such rhetoric! It think it must go like this - \ for those who profess for war, they must be executed\. Alfonso, when u say u are prepared for war, with whom are u fighting or u still feel the urge to rape women in ur country cos u know that \rape\ is a weapon for war. Come on man, grow up- Gola man wa tsofala now

  • nathi.m.tshabalala - 2012-11-14 13:31

    Mother Portugal is in recession. It is only logical that they revive their economy through their favourite colony which is abundant in natural resources. I fear that RENAMO is only a conduit to grand Portugal economic revival plan. PS: Wars in Africa are always (generalisation included) manipulated by European governments and corporations. This is nothing new.

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