Hacktreks in Maputo
Peter Farrell-Vinay in Mozambique
are named either after dimly-important dates "Aveneida 25 Julho"
or long-disgraced politicians: Avenida Kenneth Kaunda, Avenida Hastings
Banda, Aveneida Kim Il Sung'.
was a young NGO helping administer an aid scheme in Maputo, Mozambique
"Oh we have a lot of them in the office. We call them WhenWees
because theyre always saying "When we were in Rhodesia
She paused, dimly aware that I too had lived there. "When did you
"Oh 67, I saw a war coming and got out: coward. I thought
No. This is a silly war and I want none of it."
"What did you do"?
"I took the train to the Cape and the boat to England. Started
"But you want to go back".
"Of course. Ten years ago we had the money for the trip, we thought,
and looked at the prices. It was ludicrous. Now its impossible"
She returned to the rest of her guests.
It had been on the
way to work in Salisbury. Beyond Meyrick Park, I had seen a hole at
the side of the road in line with two msasa trees. In the hole were
traces of prawn shells. Whoever had dug up whatever had been in the
hole, had come from the sea, several hundred miles away in Mozambique.
I thought: do I say something? No. Its not your war. Its
The Jesuit glanced over his coffee "There was an old man from the
village. Came to the mission and said to the Priest Father there
is a man from the village with a gun. He is not one of us. He is threatening
our people. What should I do? The Priest told him to go to the
Police. He went. When he came back three days later he was bruised from
the beatings the policemen had given him. No-one in the village said
anything more to the police. The man with the gun left but others came".
My call-up papers arrived: 12 months in the Royal Rhodesian Air Force.
"Oh youll get to learn all about computers and radar and
things. Great fun" they said in the Office.
Neville the drunkard said: "Stay, you could be a big fish in a
So I took the train for the Cape, an ancient Union-Castle boat to Southampton
and returned to Art School in Guildford to learn about Film and TV.
Which was another baptism of fire in its way since I arrived in time
for the evenements of May and we sat-in in the College for two months
and were taken to the High Court in the Strand for our pains. We won
a Pyrrhic victory and I never returned. A public enquiry condemned the
Local Authority. The Principal and his cronies were later sacked, so
some justice prevailed.
And so for 26 years
I wondered if Id ever go back. I still havent. Instead of
making films I work in computers. And one day I was offered a part-time
job flying out to Mozambique every so often to do some work for a few
Mozambique went through a civil war fomented by Rhodesia and, when Rhodesia
became Zimbabwe, by South Africa. Mozambique was shredded. The Portuguese
left, partly blocking the harbour with boats and leaving only buildings
behind. The new Government compounded the mess with an attempt at Socialism
which owed everything to dimly-understood political tracts and nothing
to common sense. The country became a shambles. Mines and warfare blighted
the lives and limbs of a generation. No African country had so vicious
a transition from Empire.
But this catharsis had its end. Mozambique learned fast how much tribalism
divides, how easy it is for foreigners to interfere. How fast an economy
can be ruined. How corruption destroys.
It joined the Commonwealth. It drove on the left. It embraced capitalism.
It started to raise revenue by taxes. It went to great lengths to eliminate
tribalism. It kept as many of its social programmes as a blown economy
could afford. Its GNP increase was 8% last year and it hopes to hit
double-digits this year (not difficult when you are starting from so
little). The IMF showered it with advisors and funds. It is being touted
as a model for other African States by bodies which desperately need
the world to believe that Africa isnt a financial black hole.
can see capitalism at work. There is a railway line from Zimbabwe
to Beira in the north. There is another from South Africa to Maputo
in the south. There is no railway between Beira and Maputo and there
never was. The big railway station at Maputo is being redecorated
but few passenger trains run. The roads cough with tiny Japanese
There is a good road to Swaziland. It starts as a European-style
motorway and then becomes a single road complete with cats
eyes all the way to the Swazi border. There is an even better road
to the South African border. There is a big new aluminium smelting
plant in Matola. The roads in the city are pot-holed at the busier
intersections. Nelson Mandela lives here with his new wife Graça
Machel. The road outside their house is well-paved and policed.
roads are named either after dimly-important dates "Aveneida
25 Julho" or long-disgraced politicians: Avenida Kenneth Kaunda,
Avenida Hastings Banda, Aveneida Kim Il Sung. An entire generation
of wars, struggles, bickering and failure is mapped: "theyre
going to change them all to the names of flowers and plants soon"
said Justino "no-one remembers who these people are and no-one
The newspapers are
politicised and witty: referring to visiting dignitaries as "members
of the Gucci tribe", fiercely critical of the United States, but
free to report on a trial involving the Presidents son.Somewhere
over the Tanzanian border in a plane heading for Dubai, a Libyan diplomat.
"I am told that Liberia is a failed state".
"So is most of west Africa".
"What is to be done".
"Recolonise it. Use commercial companies".
dinner, the former US Ambassador to a West African country said
quietly: "The State Department are looking seriously at recolonisation".
In the echoing old railway station sit two steam locomotives, each
on a plinth to show 'How It Was Then'. A pupil of M. Eiffel had
designed the station with delicate ironwork, solid mahogany doors
and windows engraved with the logo of a long-dead colonial railway
company: the Companhia Ferroviaria de Lourenço Marques. Few
passenger trains move there. Half the platforms lack tracks. There
is still a special office for (Portuguese) Immigrants. The waiting
room is still indicated. To wait is also to hope in Portuguese.
© Peter Farrell-Vinay October 2003
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