Mozambique News Agency

No.199, 23rd January 2001


President Chissano meets with Renamo leader

President Joaquim Chissano and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama met in Maputo on for over five hours on 17 January, but could agree on little except to set up five working groups to "continue the dialogue".

Speaking at a joint press conference after the meeting, both men described the talking as "tough".

Renamo had hardened its position since the Chissano/Dhlakama meeting of 20 December, which was the first time they had held face to face talks since the 1999 elections.

In December, President Chissano and Dhlakama had agreed that the president would "consult" Renamo about future local government appointments, including provincial governors. But Renamo has now backtracked and wants the immediate appointment of Renamo governors in the six provinces where it won a majority of votes in 1999. Another demand suddenly revived by Dhlakama was that early general elections should be held.

President Chissano told the reporters that neither of these demands had any legal basis. He warned that automatically appointing governors from the party which win a majority of seats in the provinces concerned in general elections would set "a dangerous precedent" (since Mozambique is a unitary, and not a federal state).

"This would make people think they are holding provincial elections to elect governors", said President Chissano. Under the constitution the appointment and dismissal of governors is in the hands of the President, and they are his representatives at provincial level.

"At the previous meeting we decided on the principle of consultation", said President Chissano, "which could lead to the appointment of one or other governor named by Renamo. But Renamo wants the appointment of governors now in all the provinces where they won".

As for elections "Renamo thinks that because there's a crisis, we should hold early elections. But we think there should be a legal basis. On the basis of what law, what article in the constitution, would we hold early elections? Do early elections solve problems or create new ones?" The Mozambican constitution states that parliamentary elections shall be held every five years. The only exception is if the parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, rejects the government's programme. In that case, the President may dissolve the Assembly and call fresh elections.

As for the President, he too is elected for five years. The only circumstances under which he would not serve a full term are resignation, death or permanent incapacity.

Dhlakama revived the Renamo claim that the victory of President Chissano and the ruling Frelimo Party in 1999 was "fraudulent". Even the 1994 elections were "irregular", he alleged. "Then we did not demand governors, but what happened in 1999 was too much".

In both 1994 and 1999, international observers certified the elections as generally free and fair. The then United Nations Special Representative in Mozambique, Aldo Ajello, described the 1994 poll as "the best elections ever held in Africa".

Dhlakama declared "the country is sick. That's why we're here. We are here to find solutions". He claimed the problem was not one of confidence between the two major parties, but one of "the practice of democracy. Democracy can't be a theory. Democracy must exist".

President Chissano agreed that the country was sick - but this sickness did not date merely from the 1999 elections. "Our country has been sick in many ways since independence", he said, citing in particular the 16 year war of destabilisation waged by Renamo.

Asked by one reporter whether he now recognised President Chissano as head of state, Dhlakama evaded the question. "This meeting is not about discussing the recognition of Chissano or not", he said. "What is important for the Mozambican people is not just issuing a declaration saying Dhlakama recognises Chissano. He is my brother".

The sole specific result of the meeting was the establishment of five working groups, on defence and security matters, on legal, constitutional and parliamentary matters, on the public administration, on the mass media, and on the fate of those arrested following the Renamo demonstrations of 9 November.

The working groups will start operating on 19 February, and should report to the two leaders in mid-March.

"The dialogue will continue", promised Dhlakama, "and as Mozambicans we will find solutions. I believe we will find solutions, because the country cannot continue as it is".

President Chissano said the questions raised "are difficult, and if they weren't difficult, we wouldn't be here". He called for a culture of patience and tolerance "to try and establish conditions that will allow us to create continued collaboration at all levels".

He warned "there are no magic solutions". Governance needed "the collaboration of all", and "we have to look at the country realistically, with our feet on the ground".

Asked when the country would stop depending on meetings between himself and Dhlakama, President Chissano replied "When all Mozambicans have decided to engage in dialogue, and have agreed to recognise their differences".

Agriculture medal for President Chissano

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 12 January honoured President Joaquim Chissano with its "Agriculture Medal", granted for his involvement in the struggle against poverty. Handing Chissano the medal at a ceremony in Maputo, FAO General Director Jacques Diouf said that the gesture represents the organisation's recognition of President Chissano's efforts for the maintenance of "stability, reconstruction and economic progress" of the country.

The medal bore an engraving of Chissano and the words "Let us join hands in order to defeat hunger, malnutrition and poverty".

"Despite the natural disasters that devastated the country at the beginning of last year, food production in Mozambique registered growth", claimed Diouf. He added that 10 years ago Mozambique was a country heavily dependent on food aid, but "today the rural population no longer needs food aid, but needs assistance to increase its food production".

For his part, President Chissano dedicated the medal to the country's farmers, and to peasant women in particular "who are, after all, the main actors in agricultural production".

The prize meant "added responsibility, in the struggle against food insecurity, in order to eradicate absolute poverty from the country".

FAO's gold Agriculture Medal is the highest distinction attributed by the organisation to personalities or countries that come to the fore in the struggle for the eradication of hunger and poverty.

Diouf, who was ending a two-day visit to Mozambique, also met government officials, and foreign representatives who cooperate with FAO.

He also invited President Chissano to the World Food Summit to be held in November in Rome.

In 2000, FAO disbursed about $10 million for the development of agriculture in Mozambique, and according to its representative in Maputo, Sieglinde Ring, the amount will be matched this year.

Some areas facing food shortages

Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia has admitted that there are some areas in Mozambique that are suffering food shortages, but ruled out the possibility of the country facing a famine. "What we can say about Mozambique is that there are regions with a critical drought situation, and others where the people are easily vulnerable to flooding. People living in these parts of the country face cyclical problems", said Muteia, speaking to journalists at the end of the visit of FAO General Director Jacques Diouf.

Taking stock of the country's overall grain production, Muteia said Mozambique was not at any risk of generalised hunger. Currently, the country produces about 1.6 million tonnes of grain a year which, according to the minister, "could feed everyone and still leave a surplus".

"We hope to produce about 1.7 million tonnes this year", he said, adding that in 2000 "we fell to 1.5 million tonnes because of the floods" that swamped some southern and central regions in February and March 2000.

Muteia said that the major problem was the distribution of food to those sectors of the population who face cyclical problems. "We ensure distribution through support services and natural disaster management", said Muteia, guaranteeing that "the basic nutritional conditions are currently guaranteed".

Muteia added that the government was trying to nurse commercial farming as well as the peasant household sector "in order to establish a capacity to compete in today's globalised world, from the point of view of producing acceptable quantities of a diversity of quality goods".

Inflation within government forecast

The final figure for Mozambique's inflation rate in 2000 is 11.4 per cent, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE). This is within the government's revised plans for the year. The government's projection, announced in September, was for an annual inflation rate "no higher than 12 per cent".

One problem with the INE's figures, however, is that they come only from the Maputo Consumer Price Index. This may give an accurate picture of price evolution in the Maputo-Matola conurbation, but does not reflect price variations across the country. Inflation fell from 5.9 per cent in 1997 to minus one per cent in 1998 (a year of deflation, mainly due to falling food prices), before rising to 6.2 per cent in 1999.

The jump to over ten per cent in 2000 is blamed mainly on the massive floods of February, which destroyed much of the transport infrastructure in southern Mozambique, imposing huge extra costs on companies. Linked to the floods was a sharp devaluation in the Mozambican currency, which lost about 30 per cent of its value against the US dollar over the year. The average price of imported goods did not rise by as much as this, however, largely because the value of the South African rand was also falling.

Other factors linked to the rise in inflation are a faster than expected increase in the money supply as from late 1999, and the rise in international oil prices.

When inflation is examined in detail, particularly sharp increases can be noted in the prices of sugar and charcoal. The rise in the sugar price was caused by the devastation of sugar cane production in Maputo province (at the Maragra and Xinavane plantations), while increased production and distribution costs (also linked to the floods) account for higher charcoal and firewood prices.

The figures show that the feared leap in prices in the festive season did not happen. The December rise in the consumer price index was just 1.4 per cent, not much higher than the monthly average.

Majority of cashew workers unemployed

About 6,000 workers in Mozambique's cashew processing industry lost their jobs in the year 2000, according to the general secretary of the Cashew Workers Union (SINTIC), Boaventura Mondlane, cited in "Noticias" on 20 January.

This brings to 8,500 the number of workers who have definitively lost their jobs since the crisis in the cashew sector began to bite in 1997. In other words, the great majority of workers in this industry are now unemployed.

"We have just ended a dark year for the cashew sector", said Mondlane. Prospects for the future looked no better - he said there was no money available to reopen factories that have closed because of the liberalisation of the trade in cashews imposed on Mozambique by the World Bank.

"The result of liberalisation, which we are now witnessing, is a fall in the marketing price", said Mondlane. "The producers are earning less and less, contrary to the arguments of the World Bank and the government. Now that the industry has been put out of action, prices are tumbling".

This year's cashew marketing campaign in northern Mozambique looks good, but the bankrupt industries are unable to purchase nuts and reopen their plants.

Maputo tollgate opens

The Maputo tollgate on the new motorway between the Mozambican capital and the South African town of Witbank opened on 17 January , without any of the disruption threatened by transport operators and local residents.

Residents of the Matola-B neighbourhood who live alongside the motorway say the road and tollgate should not have been declared open until damage done during construction was repaired.

They complain that the stormwater drainage system installed by the contractor that built the road, SBB, simply diverts the water into their homes. The dispute over the drainage system has dragged on for about ten months.

The Trans-African Concessions (TRAC) consortium that operates the road has denied any responsibility for this problem. However, the TRAC director for human resources and environmental matters, Hannes van Wyk, told reporters shortly after the opening "we want to help find a solution even though it isn't our responsibility".

As for transport operators who run the mini-bus taxis known as "chapas", which provide much of the passenger transport in the Maputo-Matola conurbation, some of them had threatened to disrupt the inauguration of the toll-gate unless TRAC offered them a 50 per cent discount.

The tollgate is between Maputo and Matola, and so catches not only traffic intending to use the road all the way to South Africa, but also the commuter traffic between the two cities.

There is a discount scheme for Maputo and Matola residents who use the tollgate frequently: they can use cards to pay the toll, and the amount they pay will depend on how often the cross the tollgate. The discount announced by TRAC is only for light vehicles.

Tuberculosis deaths increase

Out of a total of 2,312 cases of tuberculosis registered last year in the Machava General Hospital, one of the major health units in Maputo, 482 patients died.

The hospital's director, Ivete Dimande, told AIM this was a significant increase on 1999, when 389 of the hospital's patients died of tuberculosis.

The rise in the tuberculosis death rate seems linked to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome): TB is one of the main infections that attacks people whose immune system has been ravaged by AIDS.

Dimande said that in 1999 24 per cent of the tuberculosis deaths were related to AIDS, a figure which rose to 32 per cent in 2000. But she added that many of the tuberculosis deaths could have been avoided if the patients had come to the hospital earlier.

Commission of inquiry starts work

The parliamentary commission of inquiry, set up to investigate the clashes of 9 November between the police and demonstrators organised by the Renamo, left Maputo for the northern province of Cabo Delgado on 12 January.

The 9 December riots caused the deaths of at least 42 people. Over 100 others were injured, and the police made hundreds of arrests. The commission is to attempt to ascertain the truth of these events, and will also investigate the subsequent death by asphyxiation of at least 83 detainees in a police cell in the Cabo Delgado town of Montepuez.

The commission consists of seven deputies, four from the majority Frelimo Party, and three from the opposition Renamo- Electoral Union. It is chaired by Renamo deputy Vicente Ululu, and its rapporteur is Frelimo deputy and former Social Welfare minister, Acucena Duarte.

The commission is to report back to the next plenary sitting of the Assembly, which is due to begin on 28 February. Thus it has about six weeks to visit all the areas where disturbances took place, interview eye-witnesses, consult relevant documents, and draw up its report.

Gurue to produce 1,200 tonnes of tea

The private tea giant, "Chazeira de Mocambique", formerly known as Gurue, in the central Zambezia province, has forecasted to produce some 1,200 tonnes of tea in 2001. This represents a 50 per cent increase compared to 2000 when it produced 585 tonnes of tea.

The company's owners claim that since its privatisation in 1998 tea production has been climbing steadily. In the first year post-privatisation (1998/99) the company harvested 1,230 hectares of tea out of an area of 2,380 hectares. This yielded 285 tonnes of processed tea, Momade Akil told AIM.

The tea had low quality, he admitted, adding that the product had to be recycled to improve its quality. This forced the owners to improve the treatment of the tea plantations. Consequently, in 1999/2000 they harvested 1,540 hectares.

In line with its plans to increase productivity, the company has purchased supplementary equipment to the tune of $180,000.

Currently, the company exports tea to Pakistan and Yemen. But Akil said that there are plans to export to more countries. However, the sales are not enough to cover the investments carried out, he said. "The revenues from the export of tea aren't enough to pay for the interest rates to the banks, and cover some maintenance costs".

Preparations underway for possible floods

About 10,000 tonnes of food are being placed at strategic points in Mozambique so that they can be moved rapidly to people in need, in the event of any flooding, reports "Noticias" on 16 January.

The country is now in the second phase of the 2000-2001 rainy season, and the January-March months are generally the period of heaviest rainfall. Contingency plans are in place so that the authorities will not be caught unawares if there is any repetition of the disastrous flooding of February last year.

The government has paid special attention to the Limpopo valley in the south of the country, and the Zambezi valley in the centre. There has been minor flooding at the confluence between the Zambezi and its major tributary, the Chire. 575 people affected by this flooding are being resettled in safer areas.

The food stocks consist mostly of maize, beans and vegetable oil. According to Silvano Langa, director of the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC), the amounts involved should be sufficient to support any flood victims for about three months.

Rescue equipment is also now in place. 60 rubber dinghies are available in central Mozambique, some of which are now being placed at sites along the banks of the Zambezi, following the rise in the level of the river last week.

One of the areas in the Zambezi valley thought to be most at risk is Zumbo, on the border with Zimbabwe, and upstream of the Cahora Bassa lake. Trucks took 80 tonnes of food to Zumbo last week. Should there be serious flooding here, a total of 250-300 tonnes could be needed.

Houses for flood victims

A project to build 120 houses for victims of last February's floods was formally launched on 15 January in the outer Maputo suburb of Magoanine.

The project, budgeted at $3 million, is sponsored by the United Methodist Church of Mozambique.

A Methodist spokesman told AIM "the church has always tried to respond to the needs of the flood victims through concrete actions", and not merely through the spiritual work of spreading the Christian gospel.

In addition to the Magoanine project, the Methodist church also intends to finance the building of 300 houses in two other flood-stricken provinces, Gaza and Sofala.

To witness the ceremony of laying the first stone at Magoanine, Methodist bishops from several African countries attended. The bishops are in Maputo attending a seminar on "mutual consultation on the 21st century".

Arbitration at MOZAL

A labour dispute at the MOZAL aluminium smelter on the outskirts of Maputo is to be solved through compulsory arbitration. The dispute is between MOZAL and a group of workers claiming that the company's employment practice discriminates in favour of foreign workers.

They allege that they are receiving lower wages than foreigners doing the same work, and are calling for equal pay for equal work. This principle is enshrined in Mozambican labour legislation. But it may well be difficult to prove that the Mozambican and foreign workers are indeed doing the same tasks.

The MOZAL foreign workers tend to be concentrated in the upper management and technical echelons, where the management claims there are simply not the skilled Mozambicans available to fill the posts.

When fully operational the smelter will employ 743 people, 88 per cent of them Mozambicans. All 12 MOZAL managers are foreigners, and only a third of the 32 supervisors are Mozambican.

No Mozambican industry pays higher wages than MOZAL. The lowest wage paid to a smelter worker is the equivalent of $4,000 a year - almost ten times the statutory minimum wage.

The arbitration team consists of three people - one chosen by the workers, one by the management and one by the Labour Ministry.

The workers have chosen to be represented by Alice Mabota, a jurist who is also chairperson of the Mozambican Human Rights League. The MOZAL management is represented by lawyer Jose Manuel Caldeira, while the Ministry has chosen a former Labour Minister, Teodato Hunguana, who is currently one of the most prominent parliamentarians for Frelimo. The decision reached by the arbitration panel will be binding.

Zimbabwean farmers to be settled in Manica

Over 150 Zimbabwean farmers are to be settled in the districts of Barue and Macossa, in Manica province, where they are expected to plough back over $100 million in farming.

The money to be invested during the first stage will be used to farm cash crops in an area of about 440,000 hectares.

Manica Agriculture and Rural Development provincial director Jose da Graca allayed fears that the Zimbabwean farmers would expropriate land from the local communities.

Barue and Macossa are districts with the greatest potential for the production of grain and cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, sunflower and others, in Manica. The farmers are also expected to also in set up processing industries.

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