Machel’s Death Casts Pall on Mozambique’s Shaky Future

Times Staff Writer

When the black nationalist guerrillas of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique came to power here a decade ago, after a 10-year colonial war against the Portuguese, they thought that everything would at last be all right in their country.

They were now its masters, they believed, and with political power would come economic prosperity: All the profits would remain here to develop the nation’s rich resources and would not be siphoned off to Portugal.

None of this has happened. Today, the old revolutionary slogan, “The struggle continues!” has taken on a new and ironic meaning.

The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique--or Frelimo, as the ruling party is still known after 11 years in power--is faced with a rightist insurgency that it has been unable to crush; with the increasing hostility of the country’s powerful neighbor, South Africa; with an economy that has shrunk by half in the last five years and cannot feed or clothe Mozambique’s 14 million people, and with the realization that Marxism alone is an insufficient blueprint for Third World development.


On top of those difficulties, Samora Moises Machel, the charismatic guerrilla leader who brought the country to independence and became its first president, is dead, killed in an air crash Oct. 19 on Mozambique’s border with South Africa.

“You fell at a crucial, difficult moment in our history,” Marcelino dos Santos, the second-ranking official in the Frelimo hierarchy, said at Machel’s funeral here Oct. 27, addressing the dead president in an emotional eulogy that summed up the nation’s predicament.

‘Must Learn to Continue’

“With you, we had the certainty of removing the obstacles. . . . Now, we must learn to continue.”

Frelimo’s choice Nov. 3 for Machel’s successor as the party leader, president and commander of the armed forces was Joaquim Alberto Chissano, 47, the urbane and moderate foreign minister.

Chissano immediately pledged to continue Machel’s policies, making the war with the rightists and reconstruction of the economy his two priorities. He affirmed Frelimo’s commitment to Marxism as “the guarantee of justice and equality” but stressed the party’s determination to continue with recent economic reforms that give private entrepreneurs and foreign investors larger roles.

“One individual is not going to change our policies, for those are collective decisions of the party,” Carlos Cardoso, editor of Mozambique’s official news agency AIM, commented a few days before Chissano’s election. “But, quite clearly, the person who is the leader of the party and of the government plays a key role in carrying out those decisions. These are very difficult times, and the choice has to be right.”

A former student leader and guerrilla commander and a founding member of Frelimo, Chissano was Machel’s natural successor, most political observers here believed. He not only worked closely with Machel for more than 20 years, but he had also argued strongly for the more pragmatic socialism that Mozambique has pursued for the past three years.


While he is not the heroic figure that Machel was as the father of independent Mozambique, Chissano is regarded by both Mozambicans and diplomats who know him as a strong and pragmatic leader. Although he lacks Machel’s ebullience, he has great popularity at the grass-roots level, where he is known for his frequent visits around the country and still remembered as a man who delivers what he promises from his brief tenure as premier of a transitional government before independence.

Chissano’s first speech, stressing continuity, sought to reassure a people not only grieving deeply over Machel’s death but facing multiple challenges to their very existence as a nation.

Maputo’s accelerating decay, evident in the long lines for rations, the empty and often shuttered shops, dormant factories and the peeling facades of what once was one of Africa’s loveliest cities, makes the average Mozambican ask himself, “What went wrong?”

“There are many reasons, I suppose, but what we really want to know is how we will get out of all this, how we will get on the right road, how much longer will it take,” Jose Lobo, a bank clerk, said as he stood in the long line of mourners to pay his final respects to Machel. “Where to begin? Sometimes it seems that nobody knows; there are so many problems.”


Challenged by Rebels

Frelimo’s rule is being challenged in most of Mozambique’s 10 provinces by its right-wing political rivals, the Mozambique National Resistance, a movement known after its name in Portuguese as Renamo. Organized by the former white government of neighboring Rhodesia, Renamo was later supported by South Africa but now appears to have developed considerable strength of its own among disaffected and starving peasants.

“It’s a murderous stalemate,” an experienced Western ambassador here said. “Frelimo has not shown the power to crush Renamo, even with the help it has received from neighboring countries and Europe. But Renamo has no hope of seizing power from Frelimo, even with all the backing it presumably gets from South Africa.”

The rightist guerrillas, whom the government dismisses as “armed bandits” and “South African mercenaries,” say they are fighting communism, but their principal ideology seems to be simple opposition to Frelimo. Their tactics are often based on terrorism.


Capital Environs Unsafe

Nevertheless, they have been able to make the province of Maputo unsafe less than 20 miles outside the capital. Even army-escorted convoys cannot travel many of the country’s main roads, and key railway lines can be kept open only by deploying large numbers of government troops to guard them against attacks.

In the past month, a three-pronged conventional attack by a Renamo force of about 12,000 men from southern Malawi, which juts into central Mozambique, has put the government more than ever on the defensive and forced it to pull its troops back to protect towns in the four affected provinces.

Earlier in the year, Frelimo forces seemed to be getting the upper hand, particularly in the southern provinces and, with the help of up to 12,000 Zimbabwean troops, along the Beira Corridor, a railway and pipeline linking landlocked Zimbabwe with the Mozambique port of Beira.


“The military situation is not at all hopeless,” a West European ambassador said, “but any setback on the battlefield seems to be amplified tenfold on the political scene, in the economy and in terms of the people’s morale.”

Exodus of Peasants

Tens of thousands of peasants have fled to neighboring countries, including an estimated quarter of a million to South Africa. Many more have poured into Mozambique’s towns and cities to escape the fighting, increasing the burden on a government that allocates 42% of its budget to the war.

The rightist insurgency has destroyed much of the economy; what little is grown or manufactured, often under Renamo attacks, cannot be marketed because of the virtual collapse of the country’s transport system.


The colonial war had already damaged the economy badly, and the Portuguese exodus that followed independence stripped the country not just of managers and entrepreneurs but also of skilled workers and farmers, who departed en masse and left only a few hundred black high school graduates behind.

A headlong plunge into Marxism immediately after independence made the situation even worse, officials here now acknowledge.

“Our workers and peasants were not ready for socialism. We did not have the ability to produce a central plan--we were not sure, in fact, how Mozambique’s economy worked,” Cardoso commented.

Barter Economy


Without raw materials and foreign exchange for spare parts and new machinery, production has all but stopped in many factories; with no consumer goods on sale, farmers have grown less food, and with the Mozambique currency almost worthless, much of the country has reverted to barter.

The economy, as measured by the government’s figures for agricultural and industrial production, has shrunk about 50% since 1981, the last year of real growth. Per capita income is now put at less than $250 a year.

The spread of the insurgency has made it almost impossible for Mozambique to embark on a planned program of economic development, which would include the exploitation of large deposits of strategic minerals as well as a variety of joint industrial and agricultural ventures with foreign investors.

“When Henry Kissinger described Bangladesh as an international basket case, he could not have envisioned what would happen in Mozambique,” an international aid official said, referring to the former U.S. secretary of state.


Long-Time Project

“Whatever could have gone wrong here has,” said the official, who asked not to be identified by name. “They are slowly fixing things, but it could take a generation--or two.”

Efforts to bring the economy back to life by reducing state controls, returning some businesses to private enterprise and breaking up some state farms are starting to have an effect, and the once-bare markets of Maputo now boast vegetables, fruit and meat produced by peasants no longer subject to state price controls.

“There is no question that we made many serious mistakes in our economic policies and applied what we thought were principles of Marxist development rather blindly,” said Mota Lopes, deputy director of the Center for African Studies at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University. “Frelimo has acknowledged those mistakes, and we are trying to correct them . . . .


“But the main obstacle to our economic development is the apartheid system in South Africa. Whites there are so intent on clinging to power and continuing their oppression of the country’s black majority that they will do anything and everything they think necessary to maintain that system, including the destabilization of the whole region.”

No. 1 Target

Mozambican officials feel that their country has become Pretoria’s No. 1 target among South Africa’s black neighbors. They accuse South Africa of supporting the current Renamo offensive, of supplying the rightists with weapons and providing them with South African officers, all in violation of the Nkomati Accord, a nonaggression pact that the two countries signed in March, 1984.

South Africa denies the charge and says it was Maputo, not Pretoria, that broke the accord. South Africa alleges that guerrillas of the African National Congress have re-established their bases here and are using them to plant bombs and land mines across the border.


Top South African officials have warned Mozambique of possible reprisal raids for the ANC attacks.

Following Mozambique’s support of international sanctions against South Africa, Pretoria last month announced its intention to send home an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Mozambicans working in mines and on farms there, depriving Mozambique of at least $50 million a year in repatriated wages, about a third of Mozambique’s annual foreign exchange earnings.

“We have no ANC bases, no ANC guerrillas,” a senior Frelimo official remarked in reaction, “but we are being made to bear the consequences of South Africa’s inability not only to control its own security but to come to grips with its fundamental problem--ending apartheid.”