April 07, 2005
The September of My Years
The man across from me in Sinatra Bar wants me to believe that everything I know about Renamo is not true. He is mixing beer with Sprite. The bar is small, clean, well-lit and windowless. The tables are black and shiny; there are neon and fake records on the walls. Frank Sinatra songs are indeed warbling over the sound system, but behind the bar the tiny wall-mounted TV is blasting rap videos. Later, a guy plays what sounds like midi versions of Sinatra tunes on a cheap synthesizer, which according to local tastes is an improvement over the real, recorded thing.
Renamo was the good guy of the country's civil war, he says. He likens them to Hezbollah. If you went to a town during the day, no one would say that Renamo was there. But Renamo was there, he says. Renamo blended in with the people because it was the people's army. Why else would people vote so strongly for this party in the peaceful elections since the end of the war?
No, this is not the Renamo that sacked towns, burning them to the ground and carting off everything else, that William Finnegan described in A Complicated War. Not an army funded and armed and fed by the apartheid South African government. The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the economy and apartheid, drought - these things did not drive Renamo to the peace table. It was Frelimo who could not defeat them after 17 years and had to relent.
If Renamo is Hezbollah, the incumbent Frelimo party is Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was running the bread-basket of southern Africa before his edict evicting white farmers and their technical expertise. No one in the West objected to the corruption as long as they could point to Zimbabwe's promising growth. Once he stepped in and messed with the whites, then, from the Western view, things got ugly. But who could blame him, my friend says, he had to do it to win the election.
It is the same thing in Mozambique, he says. The richest men in town are the generals. The president got the money to buy up so much property here by selling ducks. He controls the courts. The nice thing about electing Renamo would be that their leader, Afonso Dhlakama, has been fighting for 30 years. He wouldn't want any of the spoils he's so long been denied; he's learned to live without all that. And besides, he is old now, without ego of the young Frelimo Turks who grabbed power hard in 1994.
Just because it keeps winning elections, Frelimo is getting this reputation for legitimacy. But Frelimo, my friend says, is not the brains of the country. Though he worked in government, my friend had to speak up - he felt like he had a split personality. His anger is born of the opportunistic frustration with the current government, not bad, old blood. He lost his job, but he still works as a consultant. And, after managing Dhlakama's campaign, he has a Renamo seat in parliament. He's now at an Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in the Philippines. Soon he hopes to start publishing a newspaper, an incubator of opposition, perhaps, yes, in South Africa.
Posted by Adam Graham-Silverman at April 7, 2005 02:08 AM