In Wake of Mozambique War: Learning Forgiveness

After a long civil war that left Mozambique one of the world's poorest nations, people on both sides are ready to put down their weapons and get on with life.

FOR Miguel Cuna and his family, the end of Mozambique's nearly two decades of civil war has meant an end to kidnappings, robberies, and beatings. It has also meant letting go of anger.

``Renamo [the rebel forces] did bad things and I suffered,'' he says, a frown creasing Mr. Cuna's boyish face. ``It is hard to suspend bitterness but one must. We are all tired of war.''

For Manuel Frank, an attorney on the other side of the war who lost his house and had to live far from his family, the end of conflict in this southeast African nation also has meant getting on with life.

``I came back with nothing but a suitcase,'' Mr. Frank says. ``I had lost everything. But I felt no bitterness. Instead, I felt I had been reborn,'' he says softly. ``This was a different country.''

Their separate tales of forgiveness, even after suffering through a war that took an estimated 1 million lives, reveal why so many of Mozambique's 16 million people want to return to their villages and put the ugly past behind them.

The nation held its first democratic elections Oct. 27 to 29, two years after peace accords began to put an end to the conflict. This former Portuguese colony became the latest southern African country to reject the war and chaos that has ravaged much of the continent.

The election victor was the formerly Marxist ruling party, Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front). The losing party, Renamo, (Mozambique National Resistance Movement), accepted the results rather than returning to the bush for the kind of guerrilla war that it had waged before, mostly against civilians.

Frelimo supporters

If anyone can be expected to bear ill-will against Renamo, it would be the Cuna family. Memories of Renamo's atrocities against this family still keep them awake at night.

The Cunas come from a long line of supporters of Frelimo, which won a drawn-out independence struggle against Portugal in 1975. It then tried to crush Renamo, which revolted, first with the help of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and then South Africa. But with peace, the family's militancy has mellowed.

Although old suspicions linger, Miguel, who was kidnapped for five days by Renamo gunmen three years ago and witnessed the execution of two companions, says Mozambicans must let the anger go.

His younger brother Afonso, who recalled similar tales of maltreatment, agreed: ``We desperately crave peace and normalcy.''

Like many Mozambicans - who lost relatives, limbs, or friends in the conflict - the Cunas hope Renamo will keep to its pledge to accept defeat. And like many others struggling daily with prices that can rise 100 percent a month and an economy wasted by drought, war, and inefficient socialist experiments, the Cunas's greatest concern is food.

Miguel, his two brothers, and their assorted wives and children sell the odd sack of sugar for several dollars at the local outdoors market to provide for the communal pot of maize porridge that makes up their main daily meal. Their home is a shack of wood planks and metal sheets on the edge of Maputo, the capital.

``We grew up with Frelimo, the men fought for it,'' explains Miguel's sister-in-law Ana Maria, who was eight years old at independence. ``It is the only thing we have known,'' she says. ``But that does not mean we believe the government is filled with saints. What has it done for us?''

Summer rains leak into the crowded dwelling. Washing is done from a metal drum of water. Jobs are hard to find for this unskilled family of farm laborers from the southern Gaza Province who joined a wave of humanity seeking work in the capital.

Miguel, who was a soldier for five years, says he would rather be unemployed than pick up a gun again. Like 60,000 other demobilized fighters, he declined to volunteer for the new peacetime joint army, which has only mustered up one-third of its anticipated 30,000 force. ``I need to eat but would rather disappear from this world than fight again,'' he says to a chorus of assent from the other men in the room.

Renamo lawyer

Manuel Frank's reentry into mainstream Mozambican society after a decade on the rebel Renamo margins is summed up by a simple metal plaque on the front door of his Maputo flat.

``Advogado'' - Attorney - it states.

While announcing one's profession is not unusual in an impoverished country conscious of status, Mr. Frank's label harbors a double pride - he has returned to respectability from the political cold now that peace has come to Mozambique.

He says his criticism of government corruption and policies led to the closing of his law practice and sent him into exile in Portugal in 1983. He joined Renamo there as its Lisbon representative and lived a lonely life, far from his wife and three children who stayed behind. In Europe, he was often shunned by liberals, who rejected his denial of claims by Western governments that Renamo had committed atrocities against civilians.

But since he returned home a couple of months after the Oct. 1992 peace accords, Frank has settled into a sought-after legal job at a bank that provides a flat - luxurious by Maputo standards - with telephone and indoor plumbing. He can openly talk about his political beliefs without fear.

Preaching reconciliation across the erstwhile divide comes easily to Frank, who describes himself as a man of books rather than arms. He grew up in Tete Province, one of Renamo's northern strongholds, but never joined his friends to fight in the bush.

Frank's independence was tested when he served as a Renamo representative on the independent National Electoral Commission (CNE), which oversaw the elections. He distanced himself from a boycott over fraud allegations declared on the first day of voting by Renamo leader Gen. Afonso Dhlakama. The boycott prompted fears of renewed war - and Frank felt his loyalties lay with preserving political stability.

``As a CNE member I had to maintain my neutrality,'' he says. ``[General] Dhlakama's position took me by surprise. It was difficult at times to reconcile my role as an independent mediator with those who had named me.''

Working closely with Frelimo officials on the CNE convinced him of another thing - he could collaborate with his former foes without renouncing his views. ``It was a pleasant surprise, it gave me hope for national reconciliation,'' he says, adding that he would join a coalition government if asked to.

Like millions of other Mozambicans displaced during the war, he has been forced apart from his family. But Frank has been reunited with his son, Amiro Conde, who recently moved down to Maputo to finish studies interrupted by the war.

Amiro voted for his father's party but is not interested in politics. He lives in a Frelimo neighborhood but feels no persecution. ``Many of my friends are from Frelimo,'' Amiro says. His father nods approvingly.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.