From Rovuma to Maputo: Mozambique's Guerrilla War

In the 1960s, the Mozambicans threw off Portuguese colonialism. Now, guerrillas are fighting to free their country from Soviet imperialism and an insane ruler.


My introduction to the mysterious guerrillas of Renamo—Resistencia Nacional de Mocambicana, the Mozambique National Resistance—was sobering. It was late in the afternoon of June 13, 1985. Some hours earlier, I had secretly crossed into Mozambique from a neighboring country, paddling a bark canoe across a muddy river that forms the border. After hiking some 10 miles through the dry bush, my two guides indicated we were approaching a Renamo camp. Finally, I thought—my fourth attempt in two years to get inside here and see these people, and at last I am doing it.

When a shot rang out from the trees ahead, I didn't think much of it—probably a sentry notifying others of our arrival. I was wrong. When I walked into the camp, a grisly scene awaited me. An executioner had fired the shot, performing a coup de grâce on a captured spy of Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front), the Soviet-backed Marxist insurgency that had gained power upon Mozambique's independence from Portugal in 1975. The dead spy had just been decapitated with a machete. As the headless corpse was being carried off, a Renamo soldier picked up the head, the left temple blown away by the executioner's bullet, and held it up to me. "I do not think," he said with a relaxed smile, "that we will have trouble from Frelimo spies for a while." The commander of the camp, Commandante Fujao, ordered the soldier to place the head on a stake by the nearest road as a warning to any other Frelimo agents in the area.

A table with a clean red-and-white-checked tablecloth and makeshift wooden chairs had been set up. Fujao gestured for me to sit down and explained: "If President Dhlakama [Afonso Dhlakama, president and chief military commander of Renamo] hears of this, he will be so angry he may want to put my head on a stake. The president says above all we must never terrorize the local people, that the local villagers should look at us as their friend and protector from Frelimo tyranny. But when we captured this man spying on us, he confessed to being a Frelimo soldier. He was not a local villager, although he was pretending to be one. Since our job is to kill Frelimo soldiers, we killed him." He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "Now, welcome to our camp, welcome to Renamo. Would you like something to eat?"

I said yes, and someone brought me a bowl of nzima, corn porridge. Fujao continued to talk with my two guides, Mozambicans who were Renamo agents in the neighboring country. They talked in Portuguese, the lingua franca between all Mozambican tribes; one of my guides spoke passable English, however, and so was able to translate for me.

Fujao was an impressive specimen, his skin as sleek and blue-black as gun metal, muscles bulging out of a maroon knit shirt, spikes of Rastafarian dreadlocks that made his hair look like a nest of tarantulas, a captured Soviet pistol in a holster on his trim waist. He was 31 years old and had been with Renamo for four years. Before that he had worked in a restaurant in the coastal city of Beira. When his father incurred the wrath of a local Frelimo official and disappeared, Fujao joined the resistance.

My first attempt to get inside rebel-held Mozambique had been in 1983. Doing initial field research on anti-Soviet insurgencies, I had first slipped inside Nicaragua with the Contras. Next came Afghanistan, and then I was off to Africa. In Nairobi, I met up with my initial underground Renamo contact.

I ended up getting to know a number of Renamo leaders in three black African countries neighboring Mozambique. They were unable, however, to get me inside Mozambique in 1983 and again in '84, due to a number of complications, not the least of which was the security problem of white skin—if I were black, they could have slipped me inside easily, but a white man does rather stick out in rural black Africa.

In September of 1984, I spent two weeks along Mozambique's border waiting for a Renamo patrol to come and take me inside. It never came—too much fighting in the area with government troops—and I didn't get in, although I later learned that an intelligence report had been filed with the US government alleging that I had. It was a set-up, I am convinced, by the Mozambique lobby in the State Department, a lobby desperately seeking support for the Communist government of Mozambique and hysterically hostile toward Renamo. It is this lobby within the Reagan administration that was responsible for the wining and dining of Samora Machel, the Communist ruler of Mozambique, in Washington, in September 1985.

This hostility seems bizarre only if one thinks the purpose of the State Department is to diplomatically defend the national interests of the United States. The mystery vanishes when one remembers that the State Department is a bureaucracy and that the primary purpose of any bureaucracy is to perpetuate and enhance itself. The State Department has evidently convinced itself that it will be a wonderfully prestigious feather in its bureaucratic cap for it to "wean away" Machel from the Soviets and into the "American camp," using its great diplomatic skills and promises of vast foreign aid, bank loans, and International Monetary Fund credits.

What I finally was able to do in 1984 was interview Afonso Dhlakama by radio from a neighboring country in southern Africa. When I asked him about this effort of the US State Department, he called it "a very foolish and naive dream." Such dreams have become characteristic of the State Department's outlook toward the world. Jonas Savimbi, leader of the anti-Marxist UNITA guerrillas in Angola, once told me that "it is the Third World that has to give the West the courage to oppose the Soviet Union and stand up for its ideals, not the other way around—to provide a cure for what Solzhenitsyn calls 'the Western disease.'"

The son of a paramount chief of the Changane-Ndau tribe, Afonso Dhlakama was born on New Year's Day in 1953 at the town of Chiba Bava in Sofala province. At the age of 19, young Afonso was recruited by his uncle Samuel (presently with Mozambique's ministry of health in the capital, Maputo) to join the resistance, Frelimo. It was March of 1972, and Afonso had just deserted from the Portuguese colonial army, into which he had been conscripted the year before. Frelimo had been formed by the union of three Mozambican nationalist movements in June 1962 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with Dr. Eduardo Mondlane as its leader. In 1964, Frelimo had initiated an armed campaign against Portuguese colonial rule.

Both Mondlane—a US-educated physician and an official with the United Nations—and Filipe Magaia, Frelimo's military commander, were opposed to Marxism and were particularly suspicious of the Soviets. A rivalry developed between Magaia and Samora Machel, a stridently fanatic Maoist who had joined Frelimo in 1963. In October of 1966, Machel and his supporters murdered Magaia, whereupon he assumed Magaia's position as military commander. When a pro-Soviet Frelimo faction assassinated Mondlane in February 1969, Machel switched from Maoist to Soviet Marxist, becoming, with Soviet backing, the overall political and military leader of Frelimo. The liberation movement was transformed into a "revolutionary vanguard," and any leaders still clinging to Mondlane's original goals of pluralistic democratic tolerance, and not espousing Soviet Marxism-Leninism, were either killed or expelled.

The Soviet connection was well hidden from teen-age recruits like Dhlakama, who joined Frelimo to fight for an independent and democratic Mozambique, free from Portuguese rule. When independence came in June of 1975, Portugal's Communist government of Vasco Goncalves—having seized power in a coup the previous year—was eager to turn Mozambique over to Soviet-sponsored Frelimo. Dhlakama, a company commander, was appointed head of logistics for the Frelimo army in Sofala province. From his vantage point in Beira, where he was stationed for the ensuing two years, he saw that his country had not gained independence at all but that it had merely switched from being a colony of Portugal to being a colony of the Soviet Union.

And being a Soviet colony was almost unimaginably worse. Machel's attempt to transform the country into a Soviet Marxist society resulted in a reign of terror that paralleled on a smaller scale the one the Khmer Rouge were conducting at the same time in Cambodia. The Mozambican people—exhausted and desperate for the peace and freedom Frelimo promised them—were to discover to their horror that Samora Machel was Africa's answer to Pol Pot.

Shortly after "independence," Machel instituted a "Campaign Against Prostitution and Banditry." The first wave of arrests netted 15,000 people. The Mozambican people were told by Machel that he had uncovered countless numbers of "enemies of the people" in their midst, entire classes of them in fact: the internal bourgeois, the reactionary, the imperialist, and the colonial agent. In order to correctly "mobilize and organize the masses," Machel told them, these enemies must be ruthlessly rooted out. It was one's "revolutionary duty" to inform the government who they were, even if they were members of one's own family. Thousands were denounced by their neighbors and relatives as former agents of PIDE, the Portuguese colonial secret service.

When the jails quickly overflowed, Machel set up "reeducation centers"—concentration camps that he called "laboratories for the transformation of man." The camps were run by SNASP (the Popular National Security Service), trained and organized by East Germans. This agency also operated the "People's Revolutionary Military Tribunals," responsible for filling up the laboratories with "infiltrados" (fifth-columnists) and "counterrevolutionary parasites." US and other national intelligence estimates state that 200,000–300,000 Mozambicans have been imprisoned in Machel's Gulag, where well over 75,000 have died.

This was not the society Dhlakama had fought for. As he looked around at the horror of Machel's social engineering—the camps; the wholesale attempt to destroy the tribal way of life by forcing villagers into communal farms; the forcing of thousands of "unemployed parasites" and "marginals" from the cities into completely undeveloped countryside, dumping them into remote bush areas to build villages and farm land from scratch; the East German spy and informer network disenabling anyone from trusting a fellow citizen, even a brother or a son; the endless and ubiquitous force-feeding of Marxist propaganda; and Soviet Russians running everything, ordering Mozambicans around as chattel—Dhlakama decided he had to fight again.

But how and with whom? It was then he decided to find Orlando Cristina.

A white Portuguese whose family had been in Mozambique for generations, Orlando Cristina had been a big-game hunter and guide. He joined Frelimo in Tanzania in 1963, as did many white Mozambicans who sympathized with the democratic ideals of Dr. Mondlane. Becoming increasingly disaffected from Frelimo after Mondlane's murder, Cristina had any of his remaining illusions about the movement shattered during the months of transition government prior to independence, when Frelimo got its first taste of power.

Machel's first project was the systematic elimination of the black and white middle class of Mozambique. Ninety percent of the 260,000 Portuguese settlers fled Frelimo's campaign of terror and expropriation in a mass exodus back to Portugal.

Of all those whose property Frelimo seized, perhaps the wealthiest was the industrialist Jorge Jardim, whom Cristina had come to know as his guide on big-game hunts. Jardim agreed to finance Cristina in setting up a radio station called Voz da Africa Livre, the Voice of Free Africa, which started broadcasting from Rhodesia in June 1976.

After listening to the clandestine broadcasts of the Voice of Free Africa, Dhlakama made his decision. In June of 1977, he slipped across the border into Rhodesia to find Cristina. He was also looking for a man he had once met in Beira, hoping he had made it to Rhodesia as well. He had, and Cristina brought Dhlakama together with Andre Matadi Matsangaisse, revered today as Commander Andre, the founder of Renamo. Having fought extensively with Frelimo, Matsangaisse was assigned upon independence to the Engineering Corps in Beira. Shortly thereafter, however, Matsangaisse, a charismatic and fiery orator, began denouncing the new regime for bringing dictatorship instead of democracy to his country. When he tried to organize a protest movement among his fellow soldiers, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Sacuza.

Escaping from Sacuza in October 1976, Matsangaisse managed to gather together a small band of disaffected Frelimo soldiers and led them on a daring raid attacking the Sacuza camp the following April to free his fellow former prisoners. The raid was successful and the camp overrun, whereupon he asked the liberated inmates to join him in a Second Struggle for National Liberation: "Frelimo has sold out the revolution to the Soviet colonialists. Now we must fight for democracy and the independence of Mozambique all over again. Are you with me?" When they all shouted yes, the Mozambique National Resistance was born.

Matsangaisse went to find the people behind the Voice of Free Africa to ask them for help. "You are doing much talking," he told Cristina when he met him, "and what your radio says is true. But we are willing not just to talk but to fight, to take up arms against Frelimo. Will you help us?" Cristina got Jardim and other wealthy retornados (Portuguese Mozambicans who had fled to Portugal) to finance the purchase of arms and supplies and the setting up of a sanctuary training camp at Odzi, just inside Rhodesia. As this was getting under way, Dhlakama arrived. He and Matsangaisse quickly developed a strong bond, and soon Dhlakama became Matsangaisse's second-in-command.

A guerrilla insurgency, in order to be effective—indeed, to initially survive at all—requires a sanctuary in a neighboring country. Recruits can flee there to be trained, and the insurgency can be resupplied. For the Nicaraguan Contras, it is Honduras. For the Afghan mujaheddin, it is Pakistan. For the Eritreans and Tigreans in Ethiopia, it is the Sudan. Not even Jonas Savimbi's UNITA is entirely self-contained in Angola but is continuously resupplied with gasoline and diesel fuel from South Africa and other material aid from several black African states, all physically transported across the border from Namibia into Angola. The fledgling Renamo was able to set up in and initially operate out of Rhodesia.

With Cristina coordinating finances and providing supplies, Matsangaisse was able to gather around him an evergrowing number of escapees from Machel's Gulag and disaffected Frelimo soldiers who had fought the Portuguese and needed no training from the Rhodesians in guerrilla warfare. Renamo teams began conducting raids and ambushes on Frelimo garrisons and convoys and targeting the transportation infrastructure at key points, such as bridges. Over the next two years, from mid-'77 through mid-'79, the exploits of "Commander Andre" leading his men-in-arms against Frelimo tyranny became known throughout all of Mozambique. By August of 1979, two base camps had been established in-country, both in daily radio contact with Cristina at Odzi.

Then, on October 17, 1979, leading an assault upon a Frelimo army encampment, Andre Matsangaisse was killed. As Dhlakama assumed command of the now demoralized and stunned guerrillas, the situation for the insurgency suddenly looked very bleak. Rhodesia was soon to be transformed into Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe taking the reins of power from Ian Smith. Once that happened, Mugabe, a friend of Samora Machel's and fellow Marxist, would immediately close the border on Renamo. A new sanctuary was needed, and quickly. Only one option was really viable, and for a black African it was not pleasant. But it was necessary: Dhlakama asked Cristina to contact the South Africans.

Through Rhodesian friends, Cristina was soon in touch with South African Military Intelligence (SAMI, or "Sammy"). In April 1980, a few days before Mugabe took over, Cristina and his staff left Odzi to set up camp and the Voice of Free Africa radios at Phalaborwa in the northern Transvaal of South Africa, just outside Kruger National Park, which borders Mozambique. Working with South African officer Col. van Niekerk, Cristina organized regular air drops, of medical supplies and Soviet arms captured in South African raids of anti-South African guerrilla camps in Angola, to Dhlakama's base inside Mozambique.

Renamo was back in business. And business was improving. Dhlakama's position as "President and Supreme Military Commander" of Renamo was unquestioned, for he was proving to be quite talented as a guerrilla leader. Establishing a string of small bases throughout the country, Renamo began attracting thousands of volunteers. A large portion of support came from the "regulos," traditional rural village chiefs upon whom Machel was waging war in his crazed effort to create "a new socialist man" in Mozambique.

The Renamo message was one of Mozambican nationalism versus Soviet colonialism; of defending and respecting the traditions and beliefs of the various Mozambican cultural and religious communities (of a population of more than 13 million, about 12 percent are Christian, twice that are Sunni Moslem, and the remainder native animists) versus a violent contempt for them; of democracy versus Marxist dictatorship; and of the right of every Mozambican to earn his living as he sees fit versus forced communal slavery.

The message also came out of the barrel of a gun, pointed at the economy and Frelimo's capacity to govern. The key targets became the railway lines from Maputo and Beira to Zimbabwe; the oil pipeline from Beira to Mutare in Zimbabwe; the main paved roads, especially along the coast; and the power lines from the Cabora Bassa dam on the Zambezi, which supplies South Africa with 12 percent of its electricity. The power lines were first cut in November of 1980 and twice in 1981. Then Zamco, the South African company that operates Cabora Bassa, made a deal with the guerrillas for an undisclosed amount of money, and the attacks ceased.

No deal was possible, however, with Machel. His response to Dhlakama's offer to negotiate a democratization of Mozambique was to daily denounce the insurgents as "armed bandits" and "creatures of racist South Africa," and to increase the fascist controls and East German surveillance over the people. His Frelimo troops scored some early successes, such as overrunning Renamo's Garagua base in December 1981. Dhlakama then moved Renamo headquarters to a base at the foot of the towering Serra da Gorongosa mountains in central Sofala.

Throughout 1982, Renamo continued to expand while Frelimo's successes against it dwindled. Vast portions of Sofala and Manica provinces, northern Gaza province, and southern Tete province were effectively removed from Frelimo control. By June, Dhlakama's forces had crossed the Limpopo River into southern Gaza, and by August they had crossed the Zambezi River into Zambezia. Things were now looking bleak for Frelimo—just how bleak was revealed when Jorge da Costa, director of Frelimo's secret police, defected to South Africa on June 6, 1982. The picture he painted was grim.

He described Samora Machel as a man certifiably insane with power, who would hide for hours under stairs at a hospital taking notes on staff activities, then spring out and berate the staff for laziness; who would throw hysterical temper tantrums if a stewardess on Air Mozambique did not have a tall glass for a drink of Scotch; who suddenly ordered one afternoon anyone wearing striped clothing on the streets of Maputo arrested, beat up, and jailed—then withdrew the order the next day.

Da Costa's files list the Soviet presence in Mozambique as 4,000 to 5,000 men, mostly military, under the command of Col. Anatoli Shadrin, of the KGB. They list about 1,000 East Germans, headed by Gen. Gunter Weinrich of the East German Security Police, and some 4,000 Cubans, again mostly military, under Col. Haras Sanchez of Castro's DGI (Cuban Secret Police).

Renamo's expansion continued through 1983, even with the setback of Orlando Cristina's death at the hands of an unknown assailant at his farm outside Pretoria in April. By the end of the year, Renamo had spread across all of Zambezia and into both Nampula and Niassa provinces (liberating in the process several of Machel's concentration camps), northern Tete, much of Inhambane, and was starting to push toward the capital of Maputo. Machel began turning desperately to the West for help, claiming he was "disillusioned" with Marxism and the Soviets. He even contacted the South Africans: would they sell out Renamo if he would sell out the ANC (African National Congress), an anti-South Africa rebel group headquartered in Maputo.

Pik Botha, South Africa's foreign minister, leaped at the offer. Botha (no relation to the South African president, P.W. Botha) was part of a faction in South Africa's government that thought it more in South Africa's interest to have impoverished and emasculated pro-Soviet Marxist states for neighbors—to maintain a siege mentality among white South Africans, to elicit Western sympathy, to have militarily weak neighbors chaotically disrupted by dissension and insurgency—than reinvigorated democracies led by independent leaders.

Besides, to have the world press film the leader of Soviet Mozambique smiling and shaking hands with the president of South Africa as they jointly signed a mutual nonaggression treaty would be for South Africa, the world's pariah, a major public relations coup. And that is just what happened, at the train crossing at Nkomati on the South African side of the border, on March 16, 1984.

Shortly thereafter, the ANC was forced to move its headquarters to Lusaka, Zambia, and Renamo's supply base at Phalaborwa was closed down. Air drops to Gorongosa ceased—but not before the head of SAMI, Gen. Pieter der Westhuizen, infuriated at what he considered a sellout by Pik Botha, was able to organize a massive resupply of military equipment to Renamo before the accord was signed. Although SAMI continued low-level contact with Renamo after the signing—which Pik Botha admitted this past September—Dhlakama was on his own.

Most of the Mozambican people were as well. In many parts of the country, no rain had fallen for three years. Much of the famine aid sent by US and international relief agencies went to feed the Frelimo army (just as in Ethiopia). By mid-1984, international relief officials estimated that 170,000 Mozambicans had died of starvation and disease since the drought began.

There was no evidence of starvation, however, in the areas controlled by Renamo through which I passed. There was not an overabundance of food, to be sure—my lunch on the trail was usually a piece of raw cassava called "Fernando's Bone"—but rarely did I see children with distended bellies or other indications of real hunger. At a fishing village on a marsh near the border, I asked two villagers who spoke some English how things were.

"Things are much better with Renamo controlling the border and this entire area," I was told. "Now, many people come for our fish. Frelimo tried to control everything, nobody could have private business. With Renamo, we have freedom, confidence—Renamo likes us to have private business. Oh, yes, things are better now!"

With that, a Renamo soldier near me who knew a few English words smiled and cried out: "Renamo—capitalist! Frelimo—communist!" Everyone laughed. He raised his Kalashnikov high and yelled: "Abassos communismo!" [Down with communism.] "Capitalismo muito bom!" [Capitalism very good.]

In all my sojourns with anti-Soviet guerrillas, I have never met any more explicitly pro-capitalist than those of Renamo. Many of them are right out of the bush with little formal education, but they have an intuitive grasp of the necessary connection between political and economic freedom.

A good example was Conrad, assigned to me by Commandante Fujao on my trek through Renamo territory. He worked years ago for a white couple in Rhodesia and remembered a little English. "I don't like communism here because communism is no good," he let me know with an impassioned frustration in his voice. "Very impossible, that one. I like capitalism because I take my money from my job and buy shirt, or shoes, or bicycle, whatever I want. But he [Samora Machel] say no! Frelimo say must have 5, 10 people to buy bicycle, cannot buy yourself. But it is my money! Frelimo has no right to tell me how spend my money. Yes, communism very terrible."

For the Renamo guerrillas like Conrad and many others to whom I talked, communism and socialism means collectivism: property and possessions owned in common; being treated not as an individual but as a member of a work or social unit. Capitalism is synonymous with individual freedom to them: freedom to own and use things individually, freedom to open your own store, freedom to work at a job you wanted (and not one the state tells you to work at), freedom to quit a job you don't like and find another.

Capitalism also means political freedom to them—democracy. "Who chose Samora Machel to be leader of Mozambique?" asked Manuel, the leader of a Renamo patrol I accompanied. "He chose himself—he is a dictator, he gives orders, everyone else must obey. Renamo wants democracia, where people can choose the leader they want."

Renamo's popular support is increasing among the Mozambican people, particularly throughout the countryside. In April 1984, within a month of the Nkomati Accord, Renamo had moved into Cabo Delgado province, whose Makonde tribe inhabitants had formed the backbone of the Frelimo army. With disaffection toward Machel deep, they began assisting and joining Dhlakama's men in droves. Renamo was now operating effectively in all 10 provinces of the country. A British intelligence report of September 1984 stated that Frelimo had virtually lost most of Mozambique north of the Save River (three-fourths of the country). Peasants in Tete province, for instance, were "almost irretrievably disillusioned with Frelimo," having "turned to arms in much the same way their fathers became Frelimo fighters against colonial rule."

The situation in Zambezia province in mid-1985 is typical throughout the country. Each province has a Renamo central base in daily radio contact with all main bases in the province, some of which are in turn in radio contact with small bases or else by runner. Zambezia has 15 main or big bases, 58 small, with 2,480 armed fighters. Frelimo has 2 brigades (4,400 men in each), mostly garrisoned in Quelimane (the provincial capital) and Mocuba.

Virtually the entire countryside of Zambezia is under Renamo control, with only the district capitals and the provincial capital under Frelimo control. The strategy is to stop all road traffic—first out of the country (that is, to Malawi), then to other provinces, then between districts within the province—isolate the district capitals, then begin attacking them inside with sabotage. The airport at Quelimane was badly damaged in raids in January and again in March of 1985 and will be under continual attack by late '85. The roads from Zambezia to Sofala province have been closed since 1983. Renamo's main activity by June was directed toward the Mocuba-Nampula road. There is no offensive strategy of Frelimo anywhere in the province, only defense of the garrisons and convoys.

Supporting the claim that Frelimo is riddled with "countless" Renamo informers, in Zambezia and elsewhere, a recent British intelligence estimate reported that "many MNR [Renamo] commanders are former Frelimo cadres who still have well-placed friends in Frelimo. The MNR consistently obtains information about personnel, arms and food movements throughout the country. The ambush and sabotage success rate is high."

The situation today in Mozambique is in many places rapidly becoming anarchic and chaotic—Frelimo has withdrawn from the countryside, and Renamo does not have the manpower to effect administrative control. According to South African newspaper reports and my own interviews with Mozambican refugees, in several areas deserting Frelimo soldiers have formed marauding gangs; starving young male villagers have resorted to banditry; and Frelimo assassination teams disguised as Renamo soldiers have taken to indiscriminately killing villagers (particularly those suspected of being Renamo sympathizers)—the same technique used by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to smear the Contras—all of which are reported by Maputo as "Renamo atrocities.

By the end of August, Johannesburg newspapers were reporting an "avalanche" of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Mozambique into South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland, portraying Mozambique as a land "torn apart by war and starvation," a country of "panic and chaos…on its knees." Accompanying the reports were pathetic pictures of decaying corpses killed by Soviet land mines that the Mozambique government had ordered strewn along the border to stanch the flow of refugees out of the country. "Frelimo says we must stay in Mozambique so that we can all die together," one story quoted refugee Daniel Mahanuki. "If we return to Mozambique, Frelimo will put us in jail. They also shoot us."

Morale in the Frelimo army was reported as at "an all-time low…with starving Frelimo soldiers crossing into South Africa and offering their weapons in exchange for food." Renamo, on the other hand, had stepped up its activities, with Maputo under a virtual state of siege. "Sources closely connected with Mozambique," concluded one story, "indicate that if it were not for the 20,000 foreign troops in Mozambique—mainly Zimbabweans—the rebels could overthrow the government of President Samora Machel."

That this thrilling prospect of a democratic liberation movement overthrowing—for the first time in history—a Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist dictatorship is looked upon with horror by most Western governments, including the Reagan administration, is one of the most Kafkaesque and revealing geopolitical facts of our day. A weird coalition of US, British, and South African diplomats, businessmen, and bankers has emerged, desperate to support Samora Machel. British officers are now training Frelimo soldiers in counter-insurgency operations in Zimbabwe. South African soldiers are reportedly guarding Frelimo installations in civilian garb. Tiny Rowlands, the British millionaire whose Lonrho Company has extensive holdings in southern Africa, is one of Jonas Savimbi's principal supporters—and also one of Samora Machel's. Harry Oppenheimer, South Africa's wealthiest businessman, held a secret meeting with Machel in London in October 1983 and is anxious to have his Anglo-American Corporation gain lucrative contracts with the Frelimo government. David Rockefeller, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, and Melvin Laird, secretary of defense under Richard Nixon, recently went to Maputo and came back with glowing tales of what money they could make with Machel. When Sen. Robert Kasten (R–Wis.) blocked the State Department's efforts to send military aid to Frelimo, Laird put "enormous" pressure on Kasten to relent, according to a chief aide to the senator.

The US State Department now bears responsibility for prolonging the bloodshed in Mozambique by frantically propping up Machel when he is on his last legs instead of calling for a negotiated ceasefire and the democratization of the country. So serious is the department in its efforts to woo Machel that in September the dictator was invited to Washington, where he was welcomed into the White House to plead his case for continuing US aid directly to President Reagan. During Reagan's years in office, Machel's government has received some $60 million in US "humanitarian" aid, and more has already been authorized.

Renamo is not without blame, however, for being unknown and cut off from the world. Its military effectiveness in the field has not translated to political effectiveness in the outside world. Angola's UNITA, for example, has a very articulate and personable representative in Washington, Jerry Chitunda, who intelligently and persuasively argues for UNITA to the press, on Capitol Hill, and elsewhere. Renamo has no one. Renamo's political leadership is ostensibly the National Council, the members of which are bitterly divided into two camps, one led by Renamo Secretary-General Evo Fernandes, a third-generation Mozambican of Goan Indian ancestry now residing in Portugal, the other venomously opposed to Fernandes. Caught in the middle of this feud is Renamo's most prominent politician, Fanuel Mahluza, one of the original founders of Frelimo in 1962. An immensely likable and eloquent man, Mahluza has struggled passionately for decades to bring freedom to Mozambique. Yet instead of arguing Renamo's case in Western capitals, today he is languishing in a garret in Nairobi, squeezed out by the rival factions.

Due to confusion arising out of Renamo's fractured political structure, the commonly heard accusation that Renamo has no clearly stated political ideology, that its objectives are "vague" or "murky," is not effectively refuted in the media. The recent appointment of Artur da Fonseca—a native Mozambican now residing in West Germany—as Renamo secretary for foreign affairs may help alleviate the problem, for Renamo's goals are explicitly put forth in a 10-point program. The document proposes a national constitution guaranteeing individual rights and freedoms to be drafted by an elected constituent assembly, specifies the times of free general elections, and provides for a federal form of government with each of Mozambique's 10 provinces exercising "authority over matters of mainly local or provincial importance." Renamo's basic goal is not the seizure of power but rather "the dissolution of all Communist political, administrative, economic, social and other structures in Mozambique," and to see that a constitutional government is freely elected through a multi-party democratic system.

As Dhlakama himself explained to me when I interviewed him in 1984 via radio, Renamo has two primary objectives for Mozambique: "First is to free ourselves from Soviet colonialism. The Soviet Union is the world's curse.…Second is to free ourselves from the tyranny of Marxism. There are no freedoms of any kind in Mozambique today—of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly—none. We want to bring those freedoms to the Mozambican people. We want each Mozambican to peacefully conduct his life and earn his living as he sees fit—instead of being told his purpose in life is to work for the benefit of the state and of Samora Machel."

Today Dhlakama is close to his goal. The Frelimo regime is riven with dissension and may be falling apart. If Machel is not able to get enough Western aid and military assistance, Frelimo's hard-line Stalinist faction, led by Armando Guebuza, will most likely seize power with Soviet and East German help, leaving US and South African diplomats with omelettes on their faces and their "Let's Make a Deal with the Communists" policy in ruins.

Even if Machel does get material help from the West, his army has got neither the manpower—there are probably not many more Frelimo soldiers than Renamo soldiers, not over 30,000—nor the morale to use it. Machel depends on Zimbabweans. That some 15,000 of them, led by Soviet and East German officers, failed to rout Dhlakama's men from the Gorongosa mountains in a massive attack in August may demonstrate their ultimate inability to prevent a Renamo victory—which might occur well before the end of 1986.

Not only did I find myself believing in what the guerrillas of Renamo are fighting for, I found myself liking them personally. Except for officers, who wear a safari-type shirt, they wear whatever they have—an old suit, a bright pink shirt, which often is in rags. Many of them are barefoot. Yet they all try to keep clean. At camp, a young boy comes around with a bowl of water to wash your hands before a meal; there are bath huts with bowls of warm water and a soap-stand at each camp, and separate thatch huts for latrines on the camp perimeter. Every camp I saw was swept clean of leaves and debris.

The central base for the province I was in housed 575 men and was idyllic, with many shade trees, small vegetable and flower gardens, stands of bamboo, neat huts, and a gurgling stream rushing nearby. Different commanders have large individual huts, in charge of, for example, infantry, sabotage, and artillery. Some soldiers have small huts of their own, others are housed in thatch barracks—dozens and dozens of huts all well-spaced, not close together. The hospital was made of two thatch long houses, with very basic facilities and few antibiotics. Religion was much in evidence: pictures of Jesus, Bibles in huts, an Islamic mosque, and churches for Ethiopian Copts, Seventh Day Adventists, and Catholics.

One of the young Renamo guerrillas I talked to, 19-year-old Felipe Joao from Nampula, succinctly expressed the individualistic ideology of his movement and what it opposed: 'Communism does things by force, not by popular agreement. It makes people do what the Communists want, not what they want to do themselves.'"

When I had entered Renamo territory, it had been a real trek to reach the central base I was at: some 100–120 miles of walking through all kinds of terrain—hills, flat plains, savannas, forests—but mostly grass, 8- to 10-foot-high elephant grass with burrs that work their way through your clothes and prick your skin, endless miles of pushing your way through this burry grass. There were many live villages, swept and clean, with cassava and corn fields tended and weeded—and many dead villages, abandoned and in weeds, former Portuguese rice and corn plantations with orange orchards overgrown and everything in ruins.

The nights were peaceful and beautiful. Sleeping on a reed mat on the ground in various villages or Renamo bases, with the Milky Way painted across the night sky, I would watch the Southern Cross and Scorpio slowly rotate through the black vault above, and listen to lions cough in the distance. Most Renamo bases I passed through were quite small, with a handful of men, none of whom seemed concerned about a surprise Frelimo attack. I would invariably ask how close the nearest Frelimo garrison was. The closest was "5 or 6 days' walk." (Renamo guerrillas can cover 30-plus miles a day; they have no vehicles, everything is on foot. For Frelimo it is the same: Renamo has closed and mined all roads; Frelimo troops can fly between airports; but most small strips are shut down, and they don't have much heliborne capability.)

On the day I was to leave Mozambique—the border was 40 miles through the bush—I was up at first light to find warm water to wash and a meal of rice and chunks of roasted antelope waiting for me. Off at dawn with a bodyguard of a dozen heavily armed men, we covered the 40 miles in little over 12 hours. The border lay on the other side of a swamp and river that I must cross in a tiny dugout canoe. I had to wait until midnight, I was told, for the boatmen were afraid of hippos, which could easily overturn the canoe.

At midnight I said goodbye to my bodyguard and settled into a dugout with three boatmen and an unarmed Renamo agent in the neighboring country. One man stood in front and poled, another at the rear paddling and steering, the third in reserve. Crossing that swamp, I had never encountered such hordes of mosquitos in my life, not even on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Slowly and silently we glided across fields of lily pads and finally out to the river. "Crocodiles not so bad, but hippos very dangerous," I was informed, but we were late enough so that none appeared. The night was moonless. Smeared with "deet" repellent, I lay back on my pack and watched the Southern Cross and Scorpio pirouette over the Milky Way one last time.

Reaching the other side two hours later, we walked in the dark, past enormous termite mounds 10 to 12 feet high, for about an hour, to a small town and slept on a concrete portico near the marketplace. Up before first light, by dawn we walked a few miles to the nearest train station.

The train ride took 10 hours to a city that had a hotel and an airport. The next morning, it was up again at 5:00 A.M. to catch the first leg of my air trip back to the United States.

Throughout the journey home, the refrains of a Renamo song were still in my mind. Sitting around a campfire at night, I would get out a tape recorder and ask the men to sing. Their favorite was:

The Resistencia Mocambicana is the struggle against imperialism, communism, socialism, Machel.
People of Mozambique! You must take a gun
And struggle against Samora Machel—an enemy of the people
Until communism is put down from Rovuma to Maputo
And freedom and democracy come at last to our country.

Jack Wheeler is director of the Freedom Research Foundation, in Malibu, California, and the author of previous REASON articles on Third World anti-Soviet rebel movements in Angola (April 1984), Nicaragua (June–July 1984), Afghanistan (Sept. 1984), and Cambodia (Feb. 1985).