In October of 1994 I drove my old Kombi camper the length of Mozambique to record their upcoming election. The goal was to get to the far north in time for the vote. 1994. South Africa had just had its first democratic elections and the end of the Apartheid regime meant that Mozambique could also have peace.
The anti-liberation movement monster that had been created by Rhodesia and later supported by South Africa – the Renamo rebels, led by Afonso Dhlakama – were now a registered party and the main potential threat to the ruling Frelimo party. As I meandered along deserted roads that should have been the main thoroughfares, the surprising extent of Renamo’s support became clear to me.
I, personally, was not happy with Renamo. The kombi suffered the injustice of the trenches dug by them across the roads at irregular intervals. The trenches were to stop the government forces getting to them, but also destroyed the road for my poor kombi … okay enough on the car stuff. And what about the damn landmines? Stopping to sleep along the deserted road when night approached was scary – the knotted strands of grass that I took to indicate the presence of mines, or was it an absence of mines? I would reverse the kombi in to a selected spot, hoping the engine block would save me from the blast. (kombi, rear mount engine, fyi)
A decade before, when I was doing my military service as an unwilling conscript, my unit had been awaken late at night by our military intelligence commander. Why was a socialist and lefty in military intelligence? Don’t you know I speak Russian? I don’t really, but do speak Yugoslav and could fool the army into putting me in a translation unit. Thank god for dictionaries. Anyway, I was doing my best to be subversive while getting through my two years and so when we were trucked to a military railway siding somewhere in Pretoria my sleepy brain became a bit alert.
We were asked to unload wood crates from one set of railway freight cars to another. The boxes were marked ‘Farm Implements, product of Nigeria.’ Right. I kept trying to pry a box open, but these damn Nigerians made good containers. I managed to convince a soldier that I knew how to handle a forklift (had never even sat in one, actually,) and began to unload the very heavy boxes onto the siding. As the Colonel moved away, I rammed the forks into a box and lifted, the box splintered and it was open.
The noise attracted the Colonels attention, but by the time he had reached me, I had already seen that they did not contain farm implements. No, the box was packed with new, folding butt AK47s, covered in industrial grease. I swore my silence and conspiracy as the Colonel hurried to cover the hole. Did I ever share with you what a good liar I am? The railway cars we were loading the boxes into pointed east. In 1984, that meant the boxes were surely destined for Mozambique. 1984. That was when South Africa signed the Nkomati Accord to stop arming Renamo. Seems I was not the only accomplished liar in Pretoria.
What was I to do with this info. I tried to feed it to a couple of newspapers, but it was the word of one troopie who could not go public (treason charges, etc etc). The knowledge stayed hidden.
I felt Mozambique and I had history. The trip up north was a great journey of discovery, and some of the places I stopped in looked like the isolated garrisons had not heard of the end of the war just yet. Fell in love with Beira, the main central city along the Indian Ocean. This despite the zoo being home to displaced people instead of animals, and the fanciest hotel/casino being a multi floor camp for those fleeing the war in the countryside.
I made it to Nampula in the far north for election day, but the poor kombi had had enough. The engine died. I spent a week watching a very calm Muslim mechanic take it apart on a dirt floor and put it together. He had no parts. The kombi never ran again and is now, I believe, a chicken coop. I should have gotten it out, but it all seemed too much hassle. Sorry dear kombi, RIP.