Mozambique News Agency

No.206, 3rd May 2001


May Day march calls for labour and wage justice

Thousands of workers joined the traditional May Day parade through the streets of Maputo on 1 May, calling for "labour and wage justice", and for an end to mass redundancies.

Some of them came from sectors of the economy that are in deep crisis. The most dramatic performance came from workers of the giant textile factory, Texlom, in the city of Matola, which has been paralysed for over two years.

As they passed the rostrum, where President Joaquim Chissano and other government leaders were watching the parade, dozens of Texlom workers threw themselves to the ground, and implored the president to intervene personally in the crisis-ridden company.

The 1,200 Texlom workers are, to all intents and purposes redundant, but they have received no redundancy pay, nor over a year's back wages that are owing.

Likewise workers from the privatised glassware companies, Vidreira and Cristaleira, which have also ground to a halt, complained that they have gone two years without wages.

Workers from the rubber company Vulcanizadora de Mocambique said they had not been paid for six months.

There were also complaints from factories which are far from in ruins - such as the MOZAL aluminium smelter on the outskirts of the capital. Although these are the highest paid industrial workers in the country, they were protesting about their wage packets - because they earn less than the foreigners employed at MOZAL.

"Mukhero", the association of informal sector sellers and importers, carried one of the largest banners on the march, and the people walking behind it were in general very well dressed. They complained about customs duties and the high price of entry visas for South Africa.

Some of the placards on the march expressed a general contempt for politicians. Building workers asked deputies from the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, "when are you going to debate workers' wages?".

Union leaders demand living wage

No family can possibly live on the statutory minimum wage in Mozambique - it buys less than 40 per cent of the basic needs for the average-sized family of five members, accused Joaquim Fanheiro, secretary general of the country's largest trade union federation, the OTM, on 1 May.

The minimum industrial wage currently stands at 568,980 meticais ($29) a month. The minimum agricultural wage is even lower, at 382,625 meticais ($19.50) a month.

Addressing a crowd of thousands of workers after the May Day parade through the streets of Maputo, Fanheiro pointed out that the low level of wages forced families to send their children to work.

The trade unions have argued that the basic point of reference for the minimum wage should be the basket of goods that an average family needs to survive - but the employers will not accept this. This clash is the basic reason why no agreement on increasing the minimum wage was reached in April during meetings of the tripartite negotiating forum between the unions, employers and government.

Fanheiro warned that "wage negotiation inside the tripartite forum is becoming increasingly difficult and it may degenerate into conflict".

Fanheiro did not put a figure on how much would be required to purchase the minimum basket: but some marchers bore banners calling for a minimum wage of a million meticais.

Fanheiro also noted that over half the workers registered with the National Social Security Institute (INSS) cannot benefit from social security, because their employers have not sent their contributions to the INSS.

President Chissano warns bad investors

President Joaquim Chissano, addressing the May Day rally in Maputo, warned that any foreign investors "who just want to exploit Mozambican workers and take money back to their own countries are not welcome here".

President Chissano drew a sharp distinction between that form of "investment", and those companies "who want to uplift our economy and Mozambican living standards - they are welcome". President Chissano warned workers "not to take attitudes that may scare away honest investors". He claimed that the workers who "make the most noise, and issue the most threats to investors" are the ones who are best paid.

President Chissano stressed that the Mozambican government remains committed to improving workers' conditions - which was why government ministers turned out to attend the May Day rally, even though they knew that government policies would be criticised.

In a more formal speech on government policy, Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi, said that the government is hoping for economic growth of around 10 per cent this year (after GDP grew by less than three per cent in 2000).

He stressed ambitious projects such as the mining of titanium-rich mineral sands, the planned steel slabs factory in Maputo, the rebuilding of the sabotaged Beira-Malawi railway, and the construction of a new bridge over the Zambezi at Caia all of which would create jobs.

Gaza businessmen protest at absence of flood relief

Private businesses in the southern province of Gaza met on 27 April with the provincial governor, Rosario Mualeia, and complained bitterly that the promised funds for post-flood rehabilitation have not arrived, according to a report in the independent newsheet "Metical".

Gaza was devastated by massive flooding on the Limpopo river in February 2000. Foreign donors, notably the US Agency for International Development (USAID), promised easy credit to help the private sector to recover. But over a year later, the businessmen say they have not seen any of this money. USAID has published a list of beneficiaries in the press - but businessmen at the meeting told Mualeia that some of the names were of individuals and companies who were not victims of the floods. Of those who did suffer from the floods, none have yet received the promised money, they said.

The Gaza provincial director of industry and trade, Joao Macucha, confirmed the complaint. "The lists published by USAID contain the names and companies said to be beneficiaries - but we don't know them", he said.

Businesses also protested that the banks seem determined not to allow access to credit, despite the contract signed between the government and USAID. Under this contract there are various forms of guarantee (including simple insurance) that the banks can be given by companies applying for the USAID funds.

But the banks are not interested in any guarantee other than buildings - even though they know that the buildings owned by the businessmen were destroyed or damaged in the floods.

The municipal authorities in the provincial capital, Xai- Xai, also came under attack. The commercial area of Xai-Xai, near the Limpopo, was swamped during the floods, and has not yet recovered.

One businessman, Assok Lalgi, said that about 60 per cent of the social and economic activities that used to function in downtown Xai-Xai are still closed - including the municipal market, branches of banks, shops, government offices, schools and health posts.

He claimed that it was "lack of will" by the Municipal Council that prevented the revival of this part of the city. The council was accused of not even cleaning up the stagnant pools left by the floods, which have become a perfect breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Parts of the city have an air of abandonment, with grass allowed to grow a metre tall.

Another said "a spirit of ''do nothing'' has become embedded among our rulers". Had they behaved this way when the late President Samora Machel was alive "it would have been regarded as sabotage, and they would have been severely punished". Mualeia agreed. He said he had never seen so many mosquitoes in his life as the swarms that are currently plaguing Xai-Xai, and urged the Municipal Council to take action.

The governor said he was also concerned about the delays in releasing funds intended for flood-stricken businesses, but urged his listeners not to harbour too many illusions about donors.

"It's not worth deceiving yourselves into thinking that the international community will create special funding conditions for Gaza", he said. "It's more than a year since the floods, and if they wanted to create those conditions, they would already have done so".

He assured them that the government, up to and including President Joaquim Chissano, had tried to secure the release of the promised funds.

The fundamental cause underlying the delays, he said, was "the inflexibility of the international community when it comes to disbursing money".

UN Development Assistance Framework

The United Nations system in Mozambique is proposing to mobilise $300 million to finance its development programmes in the country for the period 2002-2006.

The Mozambican government and UN agency representatives on 27 April signed a document on the UN Development Assistance Framework for Mozambique (UNDAF), covering these programmes.

The purpose of this aid is to support the government's poverty reduction strategy, and four strategic objectives have been defined.

The first objective is "furthering the right to individual security", through such actions as preventing the spread of AIDS, improved health care for those living with AIDS, the management of natural disasters and mine clearance.

The second objective is "promoting the right to knowledge and to healthier and longer lives". Under this heading comes assistance to the education and health care systems, notably ensuring equal access to schools for boys and girls, improving the quality and management of education, and equitable access to health services.

Objective three is "promoting the right to sustainable subsistence", with a stress on agriculture and rural development, notably increased production and food security.

Finally, UNDAF seeks to promote "the right to full participation, equity and protection". Under this heading fall initiatives in democracy, decentralisation and the mass media.

The UN agencies pledge to defend five principles in all these programmes "to support the most vulnerable (whether in terms of sex, age, skills or geographical location), to highlight questions of HIV/AIDS and of gender; to build a national capacity for research and information; and to promote participation by communities and by civil society".

The UN release warned that the threat posed by AIDS is now the major brake on the development of Mozambique and of the southern African region. It links the fight against AIDS with increased access of girls to education, as "the key to guarantee long term empowerment, and achieve poverty reduction targets".

The agencies involved in UNDAF are the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Development plan for Zambezia endorsed

Donors and the business community have expressed their confidence in the Strategic Plan for the Development of the central province of Zambezia, presented during a conference held in the provincial capital, Quelimane, on 23-24 April.

The participants at the conference declared that Zambezia's resources should be used to reduce the regional imbalances that characterise Mozambique, and for the economic development of the country.

The public investment in key sectors in the province required over the next five years is estimated at $500 million. No investment pledges were made during the conference.

Abdul Magid Osman, chairman of the board of the Commercial and Investment Bank (BCI), presented the Strategic Plan for the province, which argues for promoting sustainable social and economic development, aimed at reducing absolute poverty and bringing the development rate of the province up to the national average.

The main areas identified for intervention are relaunching agricultural and industrial activity, rehabilitating access roads and modernising the public administration. (Agricultural and industrial production have not yet recovered from the devastating effects of the war of destabilisation - Zambezia was one of the provinces worst affected by the war.)

Osman presented two possible scenarios for 2001- 2005. The first assumes that economic growth will continue at the average growth rate in the five years prior to 2000 (9.2 per cent per annum). That would increase the provincial GDP from $410 million in 2000 to $650 million in 2005.

The second presupposes increased investment leading to higher growth rates, allowing a doubling of per capita GDP (currently just $124) by 2010. This scenario, which also entails a 20 per cent increase in the efficiency of tax collection, predicts a provincial GDP of $674 million in 2005.

The difficulty will lie in raising the money for the public investment required. So far only $92 million of the $500 million required has been promised.

Representatives of the private sector, and donors, including the European Union, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Britain, praised the Strategic Plan.

Nordic support for Zambezi valley development

Three Nordic countries, namely Sweden, Denmark and Norway, have pledged to disburse 35 million Swedish Crowns (about $3.7 million) for the implementation of the Water Resources Integrated Management Strategy for the Zambezi river basin, for the next three years.

An agreement to this end has been signed between the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), representing the Water Sector Coordinating Unit of the Southern African Development Community, (SADC-WSCU) and the international development agencies of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, namely SIDA, NORAD and DANIDA.

The project envisages the establishment of a regional environment favourable to the integrated management of the water resources by the countries along the Zambezi.

A key role in this environment would be played by a Zambezi River Basin Commission (ZAMCOM), to be created, with the task of establishing a legal framework for the management of the basin. The project also emphasises the need to use consultants from all the countries that share the Zambezi, assisted by national experts from ministries dealing with the area. From Mozambique, these experts will be appointed by the National Water Board.

DHD denounces "witch-hunt"

One of Mozambique's leading human rights bodies, the Human Rights and Development Association (DHD), on 27 April denounced a "witch-hunt" of opposition supporters by the police following the clashes of 9 November between the police and Renamo demonstrators.

In its report on human rights for 2000, DHD said the police had hunted down Renamo supporters in almost all the districts of the northern province of Cabo Delgado.

Montepuez was the scene of the worst of the November violence. DHD thought the government was largely to blame for this for failing to take measures against the demonstration, even though it was clear right from the start that it would turn violent.

This was followed by a "vengeful and inhuman" wave of arrests, that culminated in the death by asphyxiation of "around 100 citizens" in an overcrowded police cell in Montepuez.

The official death toll in the Montepuez cell is 83 - but human rights organisations note that the police had no proper records of how many people were in the cell. It is therefore possible that the real death toll was higher.

The DHD report notes that the situation in Mozambican prisons is deteriorating, due largely to overcrowding. For example, the Maputo Central Prison, built to house 800 inmates, now contains 2,303 prisoners.

The prison in Xai-Xai, capital of Gaza province, can hold 70 prisoners. When it was overwhelmed by the huge flood on the Limpopo, in February 2000, it was holding 240 prisoners. Some of these were transferred to the Chibuto district jail. Designed for 30 people, this now had to accommodate 144.

In Quelimane, capital of the central province of Zambezia, the provincial jail has the capacity to hold 90 prisoners. Currently it holds 686. Of these people only 240 have been sentenced: the other 446 are awaiting trial.

The Mozambican police operate "under deplorable conditions", the report states. Police installations are short of even the most basic equipment - such as desks and chairs. The operations room in the Maputo provincial police command contains just "one old typewriter, four tables, a television set and one unreliable phone line". The Maputo provincial command has two vehicles to cover the entire province.

As for the courts, DHD denounces judges who act as if their job is part-time. It claims that the presiding judge of the Sofala provincial court turns up at his office at 11.00 and leaves again at 12.30. If this is true, the backlog of cases in the provincial courts is hardly surprising - in Sofala there are cases awaiting a judicial decision since 1982.

Government reports on post-flood situation

With the rainy season now over, the situation in the flooded river valleys of central Mozambique is gradually returning to normal, but the river Zambezi itself still remains well above critical level.

Briefing the Assembly of the Republic on 25 April on the floods and the government's response, Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao said the continued high level of the Zambezi was in part due to increased discharges from the Cahora Bassa dam.

Simao said that the known death toll from the floods was 113, and 223,000 people were still displaced from their homes.

Despite the logistical constraints, over 3,370 tonnes of food had been taken to the displaced families sheltering in government-run accommodation centres in the four central provinces of Zambezia, Tete, Manica and Sofala. Most of this food had to be airlifted, despite the enormous expense - the average cost of helicopters, said Simao, is $3,000 per hour of flying time.

Simao said the health situation remains under control in the accommodation centres. 300 health workers have been temporarily stationed at the centres.

One of the government's main concerns was to prevent the spread of cholera. There had been outbreaks in Tete: 103 cases had been diagnosed, but there had been no fatalities, said Simao. Water treatment units had been installed in the centres, and the wells and boreholes opened were being treated with chlorine.

150 primary schools were destroyed in the floods, depriving 110,500 pupils of their education said Simao. 760 teachers had been affected, of whom 70 had lost their homes.

The floods had interrupted traffic along 2,800 kilometres of roads. 1,240 kilometres (44 per cent) have now been reopened, but many areas remain inaccessible. The ferry over the Zambezi at Caia, a key link in the main north-south highway, has not yet resumed normal crossings. For the past ten weeks the river has been too high for the ferry to operate safely.

Simao put at 82,550 hectares the quantity of crops lost, affecting 114,450 households. Kits of seeds and tools are now being distributed to all these households so that they can replant, and reap a harvest from the second sowings.

For the immediate future, the government planned to work intensely on re-opening roads, in order to ensure that food, medicines and other essential goods can reach the accommodation centres overland.

Resettlement of the displaced would be undertaken "from a perspective of reducing vulnerability", which would mean ensuring that new homes are built for the flood victims in safe areas, rather than on the flood plains.

The government hoped to use the opportunity of resettlement "to improve the living conditions of the flood victims", said Simao.

Emergency appeal raises $16 million

Total donations in response to the government's appeal for emergency assistance, because of flooding in the central provinces, now amount to $15.8 million, the director of the National Disasters Management Institute, Silvano Langa, told reporters on 20 April.

The emergency appeal, launched in late February, was for $36.5 million. So far 27 donors have responded. The largest donation ($4.5 million) came from Britain, followed by Japan ($3.3 million), Holland ($1.65 million), and South Africa ($1.56 million), Langa announced that the donors' conference to raise money for post-flood reconstruction will be held in Maputo in late May.

Compromise on Bill on demonstrations

The Assembly of the Republic on 24 April unanimously approved amendments to the 1991 law regulating freedom of assembly, after the Assembly's Legal Affairs Commission, in discussions with jurists from both Frelimo and Renamo-Electoral Union reached a last minute compromise on two controversial clauses.

Renamo had wished to repeal the article banning any meeting or demonstration the stated aim of which was contrary to the constitution, the law, public morality, public order and tranquillity or the rights of individuals or collective bodies.

But on 24 April Renamo accepted a compromise article which reads: "The exercise of the right to hold meetings or demonstrations may not offend against the constitution, the law, public morality, and the rights of individuals or collective bodies".

Renamo had also demanded that under no circumstances should the police be authorised to use firearms against demonstrators, even when demonstrations degenerated into violent riots.

The compromise does not mention the word "firearms", but does make it clear that the police are allowed to defend themselves. It states "To interrupt a meeting or demonstration the police shall resort to persuasion or other licit means established by law. The use of means that endanger the lives of people in the meeting or demonstration is not allowed, without prejudice to the principle of proportional means and legitimate defence".

Sugar production unlikely to resume at Buzi

The Buzi sugar company in Sofala province, which has not produced sugar in over ten years, is thinking of switching to other crops, and to livestock, given the lack of investment to rehabilitate the obsolete sugar mill.

The problems posed include the age of the factory and its small size, and the fact that by the time Buzi was rehabilitated, domestic sugar needs could be met in full by the other four functioning mills (Maragra, Xinavane, Mafambisse and Marromeu).

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