Leader's death sparks fears of unrest in Mozambique - Daily Nation

Leader's death sparks fears of unrest in Mozambique's former rebel bastion  

Sunday May 13 2018

Afonso Dhlakama

Mozambique's veteran rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama, who mixed guerrilla warfare with opposition politics, died on May 3, 2018. PHOTO | AFP 

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Locals in Vunduzi, a village near the place where Mozambican soldiers and former Renamo rebels fought their last battle, fear that Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama's death this month could spell fresh unrest.

Sitting at the foot of the Gorongosa mountains in central Mozambique, Vunduzi was a ghost village two years ago with a handful of stalls basically serving government troops deployed there.

At the slightest sound of gunshot, villagers would rush into the thick forest to hide.

At night they slept in the forest to avoid government soldiers or spies locally known as the "death squad" who were blamed for kidnapping and murdering supporters of the Mozambique National Resistance or Renamo.

But after Dhlakama unilaterally decreed a truce at the end of 2016, life returned to normal. Military checkpoints disappeared and cars, trucks and motorcycles moved around freely in the village.

The main school, which had been shut in 2015, reopened. Public buildings have been repainted and the village now has electricity.

Dhlakama's sudden death on May 3 in his Gorongosa bush camp has left the small village shaken and worried about the future.

Months earlier, Dhlakama and Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi had opened direct peace negotiations to an end the fighting that had resumed in 2013.

Dhlakama led Renamo, created in 1976, through a brutal civil war against the Marxist-inspired Frelimo government until the conflict ended in 1992.

The 16-year war devastated the economy and left one million people dead.

He later then transformed Renamo into a political party which has participated in elections since the first multi-party democratic vote in October 1994.


For the majority of people here Dhlakama is the father of democracy — the only person to stand up to the brutal regime — and since his death anxiety reigns in the village.

"It is a disaster," said an agriculture ministry official.

"Maybe it will be a return to unrest. We do not know. It will all depends on the behaviour of those who will replace him," he said.

In this Renamo bastion many residents interviewed by AFP chose to remain anonymous.

"To avoid persecution," Dhlakama's loyalists "are discreet," said a school teacher.

In his 30s, the teacher is a Renamo supporter but is registered as a member of the ruling Frelimo and must contribute one percent of his salary to the party, which in his case is 50 meticals ($0.83).

"I do not give willingly," he said. "But I give just to avoid being harassed".

"With Dhlakama gone... we are wondering how the political situation is going to evolve. Will his men take up arms again?" said shop owner Ricardo Armando.

"What we need is for Renamo troops to be demobilised to solve the political situation once and for all," he added.

But a clothing salesman Santo Gerente is unfazed and believes that the normal life he has enjoyed for the past year-and-a-half will not be disrupted.

"We are free, we can have fun, listen to music," said the 30-year-old man.

 When fighting resumed in 2013, Gerente took refuge for two years in the forest with women and children. His grandfather went missing and his seven-year-old nephew was shot dead.

"The problem was our soldiers," said the school teacher. "They vandalised many market stalls, tore down doors, went in and looted."

The authorities "accused the population of passing on information and food to Renamo, so in retaliation they beat them to death."

At a memorial service in honour of Dhlakama on Wednesday, President Nyusi pledged to continue the search for lasting peace.

The country votes in general elections in October 2019.

"Even if nobody will tell you, you will see, everyone here will vote for Renamo," said the teacher.