Mozambique News Agency

No.200, 7th February 2001


Central Mozambique hit by floods

Over 25,000 people have so far been displaced from their homes by heavy rains and flooding in central Mozambique, but the situation will worsen if the rains continue throughout early February, warned the director of the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), Silvano Langa on 2 February.

At the moment the worst hit province is Zambezia, due to the tropical storm of 23-25 January which resulted in 119 millimetres of rain falling on coastal Zambezia in the space of 24 hours. Houses built of flimsy materials had collapsed, many roads were blocked, and small bridges had been washed away. What are usually small rivers - the rivers Namacurra, Milele and Niopede - became raging torrents.

Langa said the known death toll in Zambezia is six. Two more people are almost certainly drowned, swept away by the Niopede river but their bodies have not been found.

Three helicopters (two civilian and one military) are currently involved in relief work in Zambezia, lifting supplies to areas cut off by road. On 1 February four tonnes of food was airlifted to the small town of Nante, in Maganja da Costa district, which had been completely surrounded by water. Four tonnes was flown into the town of Mopeia, on the north bank of the Zambezi: The road between Mopeia and the provincial capital, Quelimane, is one of many that are currently impassable.

Thanks to contingency plans drawn up well in advance, 7,000 tonnes of foodstuffs had been placed in strategic locations before the rains, ready to be used should the need arise. So, according to Langa, the availability of food is not a problem.

Logistics was the main constraint, thanks to the poor condition of the roads. Langa confirmed that the government has asked the South African air force to provide a cargo plane, which will ensure the speedy transport of further relief supplies from Maputo or Beira to Quelimane.

Much of Quelimane itself was flooded, and the authorities fear outbreaks of water-borne diseases. Health Minister Francisco Songane is currently in Quelimane heading a team entrusted with heading off the threat of epidemics.

Langa added that a boat carrying sanitation equipment has left Beira, and is due to dock shortly at Quelimane. He said that there has been no major flooding so far on any of the major rivers, but this situation could easily change, and the levels of the Zambezi, Pungoe and Buzi were being carefully watched.

Along the middle and lower Zambezi, only at Caia, where the ferry service between Zambezia and Sofala provinces operates, has the river exceeded flood alert level. But Langa warned that the Zambezi is almost certain to burst its banks, because the Cahora Bassa dam will shortly increase its discharges.

As for the Pungoe river, this is still rising, as is one of its main tributaries, the Metuchira. A major flood on the Pungoe will certainly halt road traffic along the Beira Corridor to Zimbabwe.

Torrential rains continue in Sofala

Torrential rains in Sofala province have driven at least 600 families from their homes in the locality of Mafambisse, reports "Noticias" on 6 February. The area is completely swamped, with crops under water, including the cane fields that supply the Mafambisse sugar mill.

The Sofala provincial governor, Felicio Zacarias, overflew Mafambisse and other parts of Sofala at risk of flooding on 5 February. He pledged that the government would seek alternative accommodation for those displaced.

The road from Tete city to Mutarara is completely impassable: the rains have opened huge craters in it. The Mutarara district administrator, Manuel Chapamba, said that the only way to make the journey is via Malawi.

The heavy rains are threatening to cut the main road between Beira and Maputo. Since 4 February conditions on the road near the small town of Muxungue, in Machanga district, have become nightmarish for motorists. This stretch of the road can now be negotiated only with great difficulties, and vehicles risk getting stuck in the thick mud.

This is the third year in a row that there have been problems on this stretch of the north-south highway. In both 1999 and 2000 the Mwari and Ripembe II rivers burst their banks and severely damaged the road near Muxungue.

Troops on standby for relief work

Defence Minister Tobias Dai has put a battalion of troops of the Mozambican Defence Force (FADM) at the disposal of the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC) to assist in relief work.

According to "Noticias" on 5 February, the battalion is currently stationed at Guara-Guara in Buzi district, Sofala province. From here the soldiers should be able to operate in all four central provinces (Sofala, Manica, Tete and Zambezia).

The troops stationed at Guara-Guara include, besides infantry, naval and air force personnel, military nurses, and specialists in search and rescue operations.

Carlos Cardoso's widow condemns "non-investigation"

Nina Berg, the widow of murdered journalist Carlos Cardoso, on 2 February condemned the failure of the authorities to launch the speedy and serious investigation into the death of her husband that they had promised.

Cardoso, editor of the independent newsheet "Metical" and a former director of AIM, was gunned down by unknown assailants on the streets of Maputo on 22 November. Since then there has been no sign of any meaningful attempt by the police to hunt down the killers.

Even such elementary steps as interviewing immediately Cardoso's colleagues on "Metical", and the people living and working in the vicinity of the killing, were not taken.

Berg was speaking at the headquarters of the National Journalists Union (SNJ), where she received the prize for "Courage in Journalism" awarded posthumously to her husband by the British freedom of expression organisation "Index on Censorship", in association with the magazine "The Economist".

Berg expressed her gratitude to the Maputo municipal authorities and to the central government for the organisation of Cardoso's funeral. She noted that at that time "Mozambican leaders promised to undertake a speedy and serious investigation to uncover the culprits".

"Unfortunately, neither the Cardoso family nor civil society has so far received any sign that this deep and committed investigation has been carried out", she said. "On the contrary, the signs that reach us lead to the conclusion that what is going on is a non-investigation".

Berg warned that the failure to investigate Cardoso's murder "is a threat to freedom of the press and freedom of thought. It could definitively compromise values of decency and justice".

"What the family and society needs to believe is that there is the will and the commitment to seek out the truth", she added. "Because to leave these crimes unsolved compromises the prestige of the authorities themselves. To allow impunity opens the gates to speculation, and this speculation could seriously affect the credibility of the Mozambican government".

Berg recalled that she had been moved by the words of Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi immediately after the crime, when he declared "the murder of Carlos Cardoso serves the interests of the enemies of Mozambique".

Prime Minister warns of threat of AIDS

Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi on 2 February urged schoolchildren to understand that AIDS is a lethal disease, but one which can be prevented. He was speaking before about 600 primary school children, their parents and teachers, in Maputo, at a ceremony marking the start of the 2001 school year.

This year the inauguration of the school year is taking place throughout the country under the slogan "For schools free of AIDS".

"How many children will be without teachers this year because of AIDS ?", asked Prime Minister Mocumbi. He cited a study quoted in the daily paper "Noticias", according to which AIDS killed 540 Mozambican teachers between January and May 2000.

Sebastiao Mabote given state funeral

Col-Gen Sebastiao Mabote, one of the major military strategists of Mozambique's independence war, was buried on 1 February at Maputo's Monument to the Mozambican Heroes. Mabote, who drowned in an accident on 27 January, was given a solemn state funeral, with full military honours.

His body now lies beside those of the founder of Frelimo, Eduardo Mondlane, the country's first president, Samora Machel, and several others who gave their lives for the freedom and independence of Mozambique.

President Joaquim Chissano could not attend the funeral as he was in Brazil, where his wife, Marcelina, is recovering from an operation. But in a message read out by Eduardo Mulembue, the chairman of the Assembly, President Chissano said that Mabote had always revealed "high qualities as a mobiliser, a commander, a fearless fighter, and an uncompromising defender of the unity of the Mozambican people".

As a military commander he "supported the humanism that the Frelimo of Mondlane and Samora promoted among us", continued President Chissano. "He protected captured enemy soldiers, and always respected civilians".

President Chissano attributed to Mabote some of the greatest victories achieved by Frelimo during the liberation war - notably the defeat of the colonial army's greatest offensive, "Operation Gordian Knot" of 1969/70, and the thrust across the Zambezi which took Frelimo guerrillas into the heart of central Mozambique.

After independence in 1975, Mabote was appointed deputy defence minister and chief of staff of the armed forces. In the ensuing years "the defence of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the survival of the Mozambican state faced with the aggression of the Rhodesian and apartheid regimes, are indelibly linked to the figure of General Sebastiao Mabote", declared President Chissano.

The "sacrifice, commitment and heroism" shown by Mabote during and after the liberation struggle "are a reference point for all of us and for future generations", added the President.

FAP leadership re-elected

The first congress of the Patriotic Action Front (FAP), one of the small parties allied to Renamo in the "Electoral Union" coalition, ended in Beira on 4 February, with the re-election of the party's two top officials.

Jose Palaco remains the president of FAP, and Raul da Conceicao remains its general secretary. The two men are also FAP's only members of parliament, elected on the Renamo-Electoral Union slate in December 1999.

The congress, attended by about 70 people (including invited guests from other parties), decided to create a youth organisation, called "Patriotic Youth", headed by Celcia Lumbela.

Interviewed by AIM shortly after his re-election, Palaco said the major challenge facing FAP in the immediate future was "to revitalise the party" so that it would be in a fit state to compete in the 2003 municipal elections, and the 2004 general elections.

Other priorities were "cadre training", and the computerisation of the FAP offices.

Traffic accident threatens ad-hoc commission's work

An ad-hoc commission set up by the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, to investigate the violent clashes between the police and demonstrators organised by Renamo on 9 November, is unable to complete its work because of a traffic accident in which three of its members were injured.

According to a report in "Noticias" the accident occurred on 27 January, in the coastal district of Angoche, in the northern province of Nampula. Three parliamentarians - Tertuliano Juma and Jeronimo Malagueta of Renamo, and Hilario Beja of Frelimo - were injured, as were the driver, and two other people travelling in the vehicles.

All underwent medical treatment in Nampula central hospital, after attempts to evacuate them to Beira failed because of heavy rains.

The ad-hoc commission consists of just seven deputies, and its chairman, Vicente Ululu of Renamo, decided it could not continue to function with only four.

The commission was also charged with investigating the nightmarish aftermath, in which 83 people detained in connection with the riots died of asphyxiation in a grossly overcrowded police cell in the town of Montepuez, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.

The commission worked for ten days in Cabo Delgado, seeking out eye-witnesses to the clashes in the provincial capital, Pemba, and in Montepuez, Balama and Quissanga.

The deputies had also planned to work for ten days in Nampula (where violence occurred in Nampula city, Nacala, Nacala-a-Velha, Angoche, Moma, Nametil and Ilha de Mocambique).

The third province to be visited was Sofala, and it is not yet clear whether the commission's investigations here will also have to be cancelled.

The commission is supposed to present a report to the next sitting of the Assembly, due to begin in Maputo on 28 February.

Austral Bank in financial difficulties

It was not only the country's largest bank, the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM), that made serious losses in 1999, and must be saved from bankruptcy by a fresh injection of capital from its shareholders - so did the Austral Bank.

Both are formerly state owned banks: both were privatised (the BCM in 1996, and the Austral Bank - previously known as the People's Development Bank - in 1997), but in both of them the state maintained a large shareholding - 49 per cent of the BCM, and 40 per cent of the Austral Bank.

According to a report in "Metical" on 29 January, the Austral Bank lost 122 billion meticais (over $7 million) in 1999, and a further 54 billion meticais in the first six months of 2000.

These losses, totalling about $10.1 million, may seem to pale into insignificance beside the fiasco of the BCM, which managed to lose the equivalent of $127 million in 1999. But the Austral Bank is much smaller than the BCM, and "Metical"'s banking sources believe the only solution is to carry out a recapitalisation operation, just as is now under way at the BCM.

The dominant shareholder in the BCM is a consortium headed by the BCP, the largest financial institution in Portugal. The BCP has guaranteed 51 per cent of the $107 million that must be injected into the BCM to bring it within the central bank's liquidity requirements.

But fears have been expressed as to whether the private shareholders in the Austral Bank will be as willing to provide further capital. 60 per cent of the bank is owned by a consortium headed by the Southern Bank Berhard (SBB) of Malaysia, and including a Mozambican company, Invester, headed by former industry minister Octavio Muthemba.

The executive director of the Austral Bank, K. Muganthan, brushed aside such fears. He told "Metical" that the shareholders "are currently assessing the financial situation so as to draw up a strategy for the future development of our institution. The shareholders know about the current situation of the bank, and have decided to recapitalise it. They are just waiting for the conclusions of a study to gauge the exact sums to be invested".

Muganthan said the study would only be complete at the end of March. He denied that the state of the Austral Bank could be described as "chaotic".

As for the state, Finance Minister Luisa Diogo has already made clear that it will raise its share of the money the same way it is raising capital for the BCM - by issuing public debt in the shape of treasury bonds.

The Austral Bank's losses derive in part from the costs of modernisation, and in part from non-performing loans. Just as with the BCM, no-one is entirely sure who has failed to repay their loans. In the name of banking secrecy, the list of debtors is not available.

Maputo port traffic to increase

Within five years, the port of Maputo hopes to be handling eight million tonnes of cargo a year, a dramatic increase on the current figure of about three million tonnes a year.

Transport Minister Tomaz Salomao told reporters on 26 January that he expected this would be the result of the new motorway between Maputo and the South African town of Witbank, and of the upgrading of the Maputo-South Africa railway once leased out to new management.

Salomao was speaking shortly after meeting with the South African Minister of Public Companies, Jeff Radebe.

During the meeting the two ministers discussed the bid by the South African rail company Spoornet to take over the management of the Maputo-South Africa line. Salomao said that progress had been made and there was now agreement on how much Spoornet should pay at the start of the lease, and on the variable rent.

A new aspect to the negotiation is that the Mozambican port and rail company, CFM also wants part of the rail business on the continuation of the line to Johannesburg. This is also to be leased out - and CFM wants to be part of the consortium that will hold the lease.

The infrastructure of the Maputo-South Africa line remains state property, and the lease will run for 15 years. The structure of the leaseholding company will be 51 per cent for Spoornet, 33 per cent for CFM, and 16 per cent reserved for Mozambican private capital.

Raw cashew exports banned

The Mozambican authorities have placed an embargo on the export of raw cashew nuts to India, reports "Metical" on 26 January.

For years the local cashew processing industry has been demanding a total ban on raw nut exports, arguing that the exporters compete unfairly with the industry, and deprive it of its raw materials.

Liberalisation of the trade in cashews was one of the conditions imposed by the World Bank in 1995, in exchange for access to soft loans. The government was forced to dismantle protection for the processing industry, much of which had only recently been privatised. When it became evident that liberalisation was killing off the processing industry, the government, with a reluctant World Bank go-ahead, in 1999 raised the surtax on raw nut exports from 14 to 18 per cent. The industry said this was insufficient to save the factories, and demanded the total prohibition of raw nut exports.

The industrialists have been proved right: currently the great majority of cashew processing plants are closed, and over 8,500 workers have lost their jobs.

The sudden embargoing of raw nut exports does not mean that the government is making a last ditch attempt to rescue the industry. Nor is the move likely to arouse the ire of the World Bank and the IMF. For, according to "Metical", the government moved because it suspected massive underinvoicing on the part of the exporters.

The government does not believe that the export prices (on which the companies have to pay 18 per cent surtax) are as low as exporters have claimed. They alleged that this season's export price varied from $355 to $440 a tonne. The government, however, does not want the nuts exported for anything less than an FOB price of $650 a tonne.

The exporters claim that the price is low because of the poor quality of the Mozambican nuts, which have supposedly been assessed by the Indian buyers and by a pre-shipment inspection company. Mozambican customs does not believe this story. On 19 January the customs service ordered that 8,000 tonnes of raw nuts currently in the port of Nacala, should not be exported at the rock bottom prices quoted by their owners.

Customs based its decision on the world market price of cashew as cited by Mozambique's Export Promotion Institute (IPEX). The IPEX bulletin for January gave the world market price of raw cashews as between $660 and $800 a tonne - about twice the price the exporters say the Indian companies are paying them.

Dhlakama demands "political agreement"

Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama on 24 January insisted that a "political agreement" must be reached between himself and President Joaquim Chissano in order to overcome what he called "the political and social crisis" in the country.

There have been two recent face to face meetings between President Chissano and Dhlakama (on 20 December and 17 January), but these have resulted in little other than the setting up of five working groups between the government and Renamo.

Government members fear that Dhlakama's insistence on an agreement between himself and President Chissano is an attempt to bypass the constitution and the laws, and to marginalise parliament and the courts.

At a press conference, Dhlakama's words seemed to justify these fears. "We must abandon strict and counter- productive legalism, and embark urgently upon a political agreement", he declared.

He made clear that key parts of such an agreement would be the appointment of governors chosen by Renamo in the six provinces where Renamo won a majority of votes in the 1999 general elections, and/or the holding of early general elections - although (except in extreme cases such as the death or resignation of the President) there is no provision in the constitution for early elections.

Asked whether he now recognises Chissano as President of the Republic, Dhlakama replied that Chissano was de facto governing the country and "talking to him does not imply recognition". Renamo was negotiating with Chissano just as the authorities would negotiate "with a hijacker who has seized a plane at gunpoint and is holding hundreds of innocent passengers hostage", he added.

Asked if Renamo planned to resume the street demonstrations that had erupted into violence on 9 November, Dhlakama said "We are doing all we can to prevent new demonstrations". He maintained that the demonstrations were a spontaneous expression of the popular will. "Dhlakama does not control the people", he said. "The people will know what to do".

Dhlakama declined to set a deadline for the "political agreement", or state how Renamo would react to a government rejection of its demands.

The government/Renamo working groups would meet on 19 February, and would report to the two leaders by 15 March. "Then we shall see what happens by 30 March", Dhlakama said.

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