In the couple of weeks prior to leaving London for Maputo, my antenna is alert to picking up anything about Mozambique. In the poverty league tables, Mozambique is low down: 4th from bottom on the UN’s human development index (HDI), literacy rate 44.4% (male higher than female of course), HIV AIDS infection rates at 26% in some areas, again female higher than male. I’ve also been doing my skim reading homework in the weighty IMF poverty reduction strategy papers – all woefully familiar ground for me.
But when I heard on the radio about a national two day mourning period for Mozambique’s renowned artist Malangatana Ngwenya, I had to find out more. I have never heard of offical mourning for the passing away of an artist, including flags at half mast … albeit Malangatana was politically engaged and officially so for a while.
In my surfings I have also seen holiday brochure blurbs and images of ‘paradise island’ destinations in molten sunsets on the Mozambique coast, with resorts priced at USD 500-700 per night. Just who is staying in such places? and how do they feel about their contact with local people that must be pretty much reduced to a master-servant relationship? I imagine they try not to think about that too much. This one is Benguera island in the Bazaruto Archipelago, where accommodation is offered “in villas of varying degrees of luxury”.
I remember reading about the indpendence struggle and civil war in the press in the 1980s and 90s. Of course I sympathised with fighting-for-freedom Frelimo. Who was going to feel sympathy for Renamo and its aparteid backers when we were regularly mobbing outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square with placards calling for the trade boycott? Since the end of the war in 1993 Frelimo has been in power, President Armando Guebuza is a former freedom fighter, but Renamo is still the main party in oppostion, though the disastrous socialistic economic policies of the early post colonial years have been dropped. I’ll be interested to see the reality on the streets now, especially since the food riots we were reading about in the press only last September.
I always find that flags and national insignia say something about a national culture. In the Moz flag I speculate about the significance of the colours: green for the agricultural economy, black for Africa, yellow for sunshine, red for blood spilled during the war. The AK47 crossed with a hoe is a typical post war arms-to-ploughshares image, and the book probably means education for all. The star smacks of early Frelimo – there are similar stars on the flags of Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea.
Click below to listen to a few bars of the national anthem – nothing about saving the king or queen, but conquering adversity after the freedom struggle.
Three of the six verses are a refrain that translates:
“Mozambique our glorious land
Constructing the new day stone by stone
Millions of arms, one sole force
Beloved country, we will win”
With its massive coast line Mozambique’s export of prawns brings in 40% of export revenue.
Mozambique was the world’s biggest producer of cashew nuts during the Portuguese colonial period, and cashew is still the country’s number two export, closely followed by cotton.
On the practical side, I am piling up siege stores of ‘what you can’t get in the country’ and I’m grateful for having a British Airways ‘missionary ticket’ that includes first class baggage allowance. I guess missionaries in their day always had to transport vast quantities of holy books, voluminous robes and virgin Mary images and crucifixes, so they needed massive suitcases. I thank them for establishing the tradition as I shove books, heavy bottles of sun block and eye wash into my bags with gay abandon!
As I say my goodbyes at home I will make my way to the airport with a classic “golden voice of Mozambique” song in my mind by Wazimbo. It’s called nwahulwana or nightbird, and will hopefully lull me to sleep during the long overnight flight. Listen here….