Last year, a two-page circular letter from an address in Central London arrived in dozens of offices and homes throughout Britain. It was a handsome campaign document, announcing the appearance of eight ‘easy-to-read briefings’ and the existence of ‘five local support groups in Glasgow, Birmingham, Berkshire, Leicester and Greater London’. The Mozambique National Resistance – Renamo, in Portuguese – has created havoc in Mozambique for a decade. United States sources hold the ‘anti-Communist’ insurgency responsible for tens of thousands of civilian killings. Renamo’s atrocities are too outlandish to warrant description in anything other than a pathology report. In its breezy national mailing, however, the ‘Mozambique Solidarity Campaign’ describes Renamo as a ‘progressive force’ representing ‘the argument for peace and national reconciliation’ in Mozambique. The campaign is patronised by many young right-wingers, including Marc Gordon of the International Freedom Foundation, an anti-communist organisation which enjoys extremist American funding. Like many Western ideologues who sup with the devil, Gordon has the long spoon of ignorance to hand: he has never set foot in Mozambique. In October, however, he got as far south as Brighton, to advertise Renamo’s case in fringe meetings at the Tory Party Conference. Gordon is touting the insurgency as a political alternative to Frelimo, the Marxist Government which took over from the Portuguese in Mozambique 13 years ago.
Throughout the Eighties, Mozambique has been ravaged by drought and conflict. By the middle of the decade the fields were yielding little more than a faintly discernible hiss – the thin voice of reproach which rises from all parched African countryside. As one crop after another failed, vast numbers of Mozambique’s 14 million inhabitants, already hit by Frelimo’s wayward agrarian experiments and South African destabilisation, began moving in search of food and water. Frelimo has since overhauled its agricultural policy, and its relief capacity has grown steadily over the last three years. Even so, there are now an estimated 1.5 million Mozambicans inside the country without adequate food and shelter; nearly a million are refugees in neighbouring states.
More terrible still is the destruction wrought by Renamo, which has targeted power lines, buildings, farms, development projects and, above all, civilian communities. A report on Mozambican refugees commissioned by the US State Department and released last year points to an ‘extraordinarily high’ level of violence by the rebels against civilians; on the basis of 196 interviews with refugees – the majority conducted outside Mozambique and thus beyond earshot of Frelimo supervisors – it concludes that Renamo has run its insurgency on a systematic combination of ‘forced portering, beatings, rape, looting, burning of villages, abductions and mutilations’ with the resulting civilian death toll ‘conservatively estimated’ at 100,000.
These figures may have come as an embarrassment to the editors of the Salisbury Review, who in 1987 published an inexcusable defence of Renamo by Jillian Becker. They may even have made the State Department sit up. While it has shrewdly counselled against US support for the insurgency and almost certainly commissioned the report as a gambit to discredit Renamo’s patrons in Washington, the State Department could be forgiven for shuddering at its findings.
Its author Robert Gersony spent three months talking to Mozambican refugees in five Southern African countries. He collected eye-witness accounts of full-scale attacks, murders, beatings and mutilations inflicted by Renamo. His detailed findings challenge the view that large tracts of Mozambique are zones of open banditry where no distinction exists between Renamo proper and armed groups of freelance foragers. On the contrary, Gersony reports, most refugees ‘rejected the assertion that much of the violence in Mozambique is attributable ... to armed bandits affiliated with neither side.’ The testimonies of the refugees suggest that the killing fields in rural Mozambique are being tended with far more efficiency than anyone has dared to imagine until now.
The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.