Mozambique News Agency

No.253, 12th May 2003


May Day events focus on employment

President Joaquim Chissano in his May Day message pledged that the government "will pay special attention to promoting employment through measures that stimulate domestic and foreign investment". President Chissano only attended the first part of the celebrations - the symbolic laying of a wreath at the Monument to the Mozambican Heroes in Maputo. Although President Chissano did not attend the main May Day rally, held in the southern city of Matola, his published May Day message stressed the main theme of the rally, which was the fight against unemployment. He said the government's priorities also included "the creation of income-generating micro-projects, paying particular attention to unemployed women and youths".

The government intended "to improve the system of credits granted under business development programmes". This was a way of "encouraging the emergence of new entrepreneurs and strengthening the national business class".

President Chissano said he was "immensely satisfied at the support which the business sector has been providing to the workers, an attitude which leads us to believe that there exists a good relationship between the social partners".

He praised the tripartite negotiations between the government, the trade unions and the employers associations, which "has the virtue of establishing between the parties involved closer working relations, which is a fundamental condition for harmonising capital and labour".

Thousands march on May Day

Well over 10,000 workers marched through the city of Matola demanding improved wages and an end to mass redundancies.

This was the first time in Mozambican history that the main celebrations of May Day had been shifted from Maputo to the neighbouring city of Matola, an industrial city containing the country's major concentration of heavy industry.

The march took place under the slogan "for employment and a better quality of life", A banner at the Matola square where the march terminated warned that privatisations should not mean "mass redundancies of workers, the closure of companies and turning factories into warehouses".

Workers from various companies enriched these slogans with placards of their own, many of them hand painted. Workers from the Soberana clothing factory warned that the management planned to make 150 workers redundant and pay them only 20 percent of the entitled redundancy pay.

Many workers present protested that they had not been paid for months or years. Workers from Socipalm said they had not received any wages for 61 months.

Workers from the Mozambique Steel Company (IMA) complained of 26 months of wage arrears, and also wanted to know why the government had not handed over the promised 20 per cent of the company's shares to the workforce.

Pensioners joined the march calling for a decent old age pension, and protesting at the obscene pittance of 32,000 meticais ($1.3) a month that some elderly citizens receive from the state. "It's no sin to be old", read their placards.

There was a heavy police presence, to avoid any repetition of last year's incidents when a group who had once been migrant workers in the German Democratic Republic, and who claim that the government owes them money, disrupted the march. The former migrants (known as "majermanes"), some of them drunk, stopped in front of President Joaquim Chissano and other dignitaries, and insulted them, chanting the words "sons of bitches" at the top of their voices.

The OTM regarded this as a disgrace for the trade union movement, and told the "majermanes" that they would not be welcome on the Matola march. In the event, about 20 of them were in evidence on the outskirts of the march.

Unionists call for end to mass redundancies

Trade unionists "are demanding effective measure to ensure that existing jobs are protected, new ones created, and the quality of workers' lives improved", declared Joaquim Fanheiro, general secretary of OTM.

For the first time ever, the main speech at the rally marking international workers' day came from a workers' representative. In the past, the main speech has always been given by the President of the Republic or, if he happens to be out of the country, by the Prime Minister.

Addressing the traditional May Day rally, Fanheiro declared "we are demonstrating against the mass redundancies that violate the right to work enshrined in the Mozambican constitution and labour legislation".

Fanheiro attacked bungled privatisations that had led to the closure of companies which had previously played a valuable role in the economy. He said that, of the 1,470 companies that have been privatised, "about a third are in crisis or have closed".

He also restated the unions' bitterness at the failure of the social security system. The key problem here is that many employers are stealing their workers' social security contributions, with money not passed on to the National Social Security Institute (INSS).

Labour Minister Mario Sevene spoke on behalf of the government, saluting the country's workers. However, he said that the problem of living standards had to be solved, not merely through the annual increases in the minimum wage, but through increases in production and productivity.

Maputo to host SADC games

At the end of a meeting of SADC sports ministers, held in the southern town of Namaacha on 9 May, Minister of Youth and Sport, Joel Libombo announced that Mozambique is to host next year's SADC (Southern African Development Community) games at a cost of a million dollars. Libombo said that Mozambique would have to contribute $200,000 towards the costs. The rest should be provided by the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa, and by a company hired by the Council to promote the games.

The games have been transferred to Mozambique after attempts to hold them in Lesotho and Malawi failed. The SADC Council of Ministers has fined Malawi $100,000 over this fiasco.

These games are for sports people up to 20 years of age, covering the sports of athletics, basketball, football, tennis, volleyball, boxing and netball.

Navy involved in shoot-out

For the first time ever, the Mozambican navy has been involved in an exchange of fire on the high seas.

According to a report in "Mediafax" a navy patrol boat on 7 May intercepted a pirate fishing vessel near the Bazaruto archipelago, off the coast of the southern province of Inhambane.

But the pirate trawler was armed and opened fire on the patrol boat, injuring several of the Mozambican marines on board. Finding themselves outnumbered by the men on board the larger vessel, the crew of the patrol boat withdrew - but not before they had hit the communications tower of the pirate ship.

Unnamed witnesses from the Bazaruto National Park, cited by "Mediafax", said the inscriptions on the trawler were in Chinese characters.

One of the wounded marines was in a serious condition, and he was transferred to Inhambane provincial hospital.

Bank seizes General's property

The privatised Austral Bank has sold off three trucks and 42 flour mills belonging to General Mateus Ngonhamo, the deputy chief of staff of the Mozambican Defence Force (FADM), reports "Mediafax" on 9 May.

An anonymous source in the bank told the paper that Ngonhamo's property had been seized after he had failed, for several years, to repay a loan, and had given the bank no good explanation for failing to honour his commitments. The source said the bank had repeatedly contacted Ngonhamo about the matter.

"Mediafax" says that it was with a loan from Austral Ngonhamo set up a mining company in partnership with retired general Domingos Fondo. The two men had been on opposite sides during the war of destabilisation. Ngonhamo was head of military intelligence of Renamo, while Fondo was the Mozambican army's commander in the southern province of Inhambane, and later commander of the Frontier Guards.

Sugar industry gains with drop in contraband

The Mozambican sugar industry is gaining ground on the domestic market thanks to a decline in the smuggling of sugar from neighbouring countries, reports "Noticias" on 29 April, citing a source in the National Sugar Institute.

This decline in contraband is feeding the hopes of the national industry that it will be able to sell up to 120,000 tonnes of sugar on the domestic market this year.

According to a report from the Agriculture Ministry, the four functioning Mozambican mills managed to sell 82,286 tonnes of sugar on the domestic market last year, against 19,213 tonnes of recorded imported sugar during the same period. (It is not known how much sugar was imported illegally.)

The report shows a 79 percent growth in sales of nationally produced sugar between 2001 and 2002, thanks to measures to clamp down on contraband and to restrict legal imports of sugar.

The price of brown sugar in Maputo has stabilised at between 11,500 and 13,000 meticais (a little less than 50 US cents) a kilo, while white sugar sells at between 14,000 and 16,000 meticais a kilo. These figures seem to imply that there are no longer vast amounts of cheap sugar from neighbouring countries being dumped on the local market, and seriously undercutting the price of the local product.

Last year Mozambique exported 78,739 tonnes of sugar, which earned the country a total of $18 million. But over half this figure - $9.9 million - came from the sugar sold to the European Union (9,140 tonnes) and to the United States (13,248 tonnes).

HIV prevalence rate rises to over 14 percent

The current prevalence rate of HIV among Mozambican adults is 14.6 per cent, Deputy Health Minister Aida Libombo told the Assembly of the Republic on 7 May. This is a significant increase on the figure of 12.2 per cent given by the Health Ministry last year.

Responding to a question from deputies of the ruling Frelimo Party on the government's response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Libombo said her Ministry was stressing diagnosis and treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases (since people suffering from other STDs are more vulnerable to HIV infection).

The Ministry had also improved "biosecurity" in health units. Thus all vaccinations are now given with disposable needles, thrown away and burnt after one use, thus making HIV infection via contaminated needles virtually impossible. Disposable gloves are used by health workers during childbirth, and for all surgical procedures.

Libombo announced that the government was about to take "a giant step" in making anti-retroviral drugs widely available. One such drug (Nevirapine) will be used to prevent transmission of HIV from infected pregnant women to their babies. Others will be available to prolong the lives of people suffering from AIDS.

The initial consignments of anti-retroviral drugs come from India. Libombo said her Ministry has been "seeking out markets to buy these drugs at accessible prices".

The fight against HIV/AIDS "requires the collaboration of all citizens", stressed Libombo. "However much money is spent. however great the commitment of the government, if people individually do not understand and believe that the struggle against AIDS depends on each one of them, then this disease will not be eliminated".

TSL buses in public auction

Five buses belonging to the passenger company TSL were sold at public auction in Maputo on 8 May to pay debts to the government, while another 23 are to be repossessed by the Commercial and Investment Bank (BCI) for failure to keep up lease payments.

A judge from the fiscal execution department, Joao Baptista Castande, told reporters that the decision to sell off the five buses was because TSL owes the state about $49,000 for the acquisition of the privatised Transcarga company, based in the central city of Beira, plus unpaid taxes.

A source at the BCI confirmed that 23 buses will be repossessed. These buses had been acquired under a leasing arrangement with the BCI, but TSL failed to meet the agreed payment schedule. Ten of the 23 buses were operating as express passenger vehicles. The rest were mostly used to transport workers of the MOZAL aluminium smelter.

TSL is currently being run by a workers' commission, since the company management has been suspended for a six month period by mutual agreement between the managers and the workers. However, the commission was not given any powers to run the company's bank accounts.

Poor management of the company led to a strike of the workers in both the Maputo and Beira TSL branches. The strike only ended only when the managers agreed to hand over to a workers' commission power "to control the money made by the few vehicles still operating", said a source in the commission.

Corruption causes underdevelopment

Corruption is the fundamental cause of underdevelopment in Mozambique, according to Assistant Attorney- General Isabel Rupia, who heads the anti-corruption unit in the Attorney-General's Office.

Speaking on 6 May at a Maputo seminar on citizenship, human rights, and respect for the electoral process, Rupia warned of a prevalent attitude that it was not worthwhile for individuals to spend time and effort on honest and constructive work. Rupia declared that corruption corrodes justice and social stability, and drastically reduces the general well-being of the population.

Rupia defined corruption as the subversion of public interest and common property for personal gain. "In recent years corruption has sunk roots in Mozambique, and we have noticed the effects", she said. "Mismanagement, for which corruption is partly responsible, has led to bankruptcies, to the destruction of national industry, and to the deterioration of the public treasury". She also thought that corruption had "perverse effects" on prices, inflation and exchange rates.

Rupia stressed the diversion of resources to ostentation, to conspicuous consumption, instead of to investment. This was money that should have been spent on improving technology and human resources, she argued.

Corruption and poverty were mutually reinforcing. Corruption led to a skewed distribution of resources, thus contributing to poverty. Poverty then forced people to adopt corrupt tactics in order to survive.

Rupia seemed to link corruption to excessive politicisation of administrative positions. "People rise to office in particular public sectors, not because of any merit or capacity", she accused. "This distorts state bodies, including the judiciary. The results are that citizens lose interest in politics, and that the relationship of trust based on laws is broken. The population loses its sovereignty faced with people who hold political power".

Rupia's anti-corruption work has brought her close to death: she survived an assassination attempt in December because the would-be assassin's gun jammed. She told the meeting she was not afraid "because I trust in God, and am very concerned with the destiny of the country".

Mobile phone company separated from TDM

The Mozambican government has converted the publicly owned telecommunications company, TDM, into a limited company, and separated it from the mobile phone operator, M-Cel.

Speaking in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 7 May, Transport and Communications Minister Tomas Salomao said that the institutional separation of TDM from M-Cel was a pre-condition for opening the mobile phone market to competition.

The board of directors of the new TDM took office on 6 May. The chairman of the board is a former trade minister, Joaquim de Carvalho. The company is 80 per cent owned by the state, while the remaining 20 per cent of the shares are reserved for TDM workers and managers. The government intends to privatise TDM, by selling off its shares in the company.

M-Cel ceases to be a wholly owned subsidiary of TDM. It too is now a limited company, whose shares are, for the time being, owned by the state. The former chairman of TDM, Rui Fernandes, becomes the chairman of the new M-Cel.

Responding to a question from the opposition Renamo- Electoral Union coalition, as to when the South African company Vodacom, which won the tender for the second mobile phone licence, would start operating in Mozambique, Salomao said the deadline was 28 August - a year after the date on which the licence was awarded.

If Vodacom still refused to enter the Mozambican market, the regulator, the Mozambican National Communications Institute (INCM), could order a new tender. Or it could offer the licence to the runner-up in last year's tender. Or it could cancel the entire operation, and start direct negotiations with potential operators.

As for the $15 million which Vodacom must pay for the licence, Salomao insisted that this had already been paid into an account in a Mozambican commercial bank. Furthermore, Vodacom has also paid an $800,000 fee for the first year of operations. Salomao said this was a real deposit, and not just a "banker's guarantee" as had been reported in some of the press.

"The telecommunications law says there's no more monopoly", stressed Salomao. "By opening up the sector, the country will gain in terms of technology ad employment. Trying to stop this is like trying to stop the wind with your hands".

Good harvest masks hunger

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWS NET, has warned that severe localised famine in the southern provinces of Mozambique may be masked by a good harvest in the north of the country, which is usually the most productive region.

In its latest monthly analysis, FEWS NET predicts that there will be a lack of markets for surpluses in the north and a growing number of people requiring emergency food aid in the south.

The price of maize has continued to decline in cities as the harvest is reaped. However, FEWS NET does not expect similar price falls in the drought-affected zones in the south.

Despite this, maize is not expected to move from the north to the south because of high transport costs, although the World Food Programme, WFP, does intend to make some purchases from the north for its emergency programme in the rest of the country.

The main agricultural season was marked by erratic rains, long dry spells, and periods of intense rainfall caused by tropical storms. Rainfall was above normal in the north, normal to below normal in the centre, and well-below normal in the south.

In response to the drought in the south, WFP has extended its Emergency Operations until June 2003 and has increased its number of people to be helped to 650,000, although it has not yet been able to assist that many people. The provinces of Tete and Gaza had the largest number of beneficiaries in March.

The lack of rains in December in the south and some of the centre of the country led to a severe drought which caused severe damage to many areas. The country was then hit by two tropical storms. Parts of central and southern Mozambique were severely affected by cyclone Japhet in March.

Although the heavy rains improved conditions for new planting and relief for standing crops such as cassava, it came too late for most of the first season crop.

FEWS NET warn that pockets of severe food insecurity continue in parts of southern and central Mozambique. It points out that the WFP has failed to help all the vulnerable people because it expected the government, NGOs and other donors to contribute. However, FEWS NET states that "very little food has been distributed outside the WFP network".

In March the WFP only managed to help 77 percent of its target of 440,000 people, which was itself less than the 650,000 people found by the National Vulnerability Assessment Committee to be in need of food aid.

The reasons given by the WFP for its failure to meet its own target include a lack of resources and the requirement to mill genetically modified maize, along with the limited capacity of WFP's partners to distribute the aid.

FEWS NET places some of the blame for the inability to distribute food to all those in need on the Mozambican government, which has refused to declare an emergency or launch an emergency appeal. FEWS NET blames this for the difficulties faced by NGOs in mobilising resources.

Assembly approves new family law

The Assembly of the Republic on 30 April passed, unanimously and by acclamation, a radical new family law, on its first reading. The new law attempts to sweep away all discrimination against women in the domestic sphere, and makes the welfare of children the prime goal of family legislation.

It recognises all forms of monogamous marriage - civil, religious and traditional - and even "de facto unions" (couples who have been living together for at least a year, but who are not formally married).

But the law does not recognise polygamous unions, and for this it came under attack on 29 April, particularly from David Alone, a deputy from the main opposition party, Renamo, who argued that polygamy was an integral part of Mozambican rural culture.

Replying to the debate on 30 April, Justice Minister Jose Abudo stood his ground. He said the points made by Alone had also been made forcefully during the earlier nationwide debate on the draft law.

The government was not prepared to make concessions on polygamy. For Abudo, the important issues were to guarantee equality of rights to children born to polygamists, and inheritance and maintenance rights to all wives in polygamous families.

Nor would Abudo change his mind about the minimum age for marriage. Some deputies had wanted to keep the status quo, in which girls can marry at 14 and boys at 16. The new family law, however, sets the age for marriage at 18 for both sexes, though under "exceptional circumstances" girls of 16 would be allowed to marry with their parents' consent.

The bill has now been remitted to the Assembly's Social Affairs and Legal Affairs Commissions for redrafting in the light of the debate. The redrafted bill will come back to the Assembly plenary at the next sitting, probably in October.

New cotton prices approved

The Mozambican government's National Wages and Prices Commission has approved the new minimum producer cotton prices, arising from a meeting in the northern town of Namialo in April between the parties involved in cotton marketing.

The minimum price for a kilo of first grade cotton rises from last year's 3,000 meticais to 3,800 meticais (at current exchange rates, there are about 24,000 meticais to the US dollar). The price for second grade cotton rises from 2,200 to 3,000 meticais a kilo.

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