FORMER COMBATANTS WORKING TOGETHER, AND A CHURCH SERVICE: Yesterday, we had a really interesting meeting with General Herminio Morais, the former head of Special Forces for Renamo who led the Renamo military team that helped to finish up the peace negotiations that brought the Mozambican civil war to an end in 1992.
Morais had been suggested as a good interview subject by the VAIL project’s research associate here, Salomao Mungoi, who sat with us during our Saturday morning meeting and interpreted for Morais whom he described as a good friend.
All the more remarkable because Salomao had been an officer in the government (Frelimo) forces during the civil war. The two man sat and talked easily together. Both are in their early forties. Each had spent many years in his youth and younger adulthod in military service– and each is now making a serious effort to get the education that the travails of the civil war denied them. Salomao recently completed a B.A. in English; and Morais came to our meeting directly after having taken the latest exam in his law course at Edouardo Mondlane University.
Morais had so many great stories! About his decision to join Renamo in the first place. About the gradually dawning realization that Renamo could not defeat the government forces on the battlefield, and therefore needed to negotiate the best deal it could. About how his views of the people on the other side became transformed from one of “Communists” to one of “fellow-country-men”.
I think two of his best stories were the following:
Firstly, when he went to join the peace talks, in Rome, in June 1992, his counterpart on the Frelimo side turned out to be General Tobias Dai– a man he had been good friends with in his youth. But Dai apparently did not know the identity of the man he would be negotiating with, who still operated always under the nom-de-guerre of “Bob”… “So when Dai saw me, he said, ‘Herminio, its you!’ He couldn’t believe that I had been ‘Bob’ for all those years.”
The second story concerned the way the war ended in the field. He gave most weight, among the reasons the war ended when it did, to the factors of famine and sheer war-weariness. So in the end, the soldiers in the field saw that the negotiations were nearing completion, and many started either deserting their units or fraternizing, in large numbers, with the soldiers on the opposing front-lines. And that started happening on a broad scale even BEFORE the General Peace Accords were formally announced and signed on October 4, 1992.
“It was strange,” Morais said, “because before they had been fighting and then suddenly there was a complete change. It was actually quite dangerous for intermediate-level leaders in the military. They were afraid that their commanders would think they had been complicit in the fraternizing, and that maybe they had been Frelimo agents all along… But then, everyone could see it was happening all over the country, so it wasn’t just a case of traitorous individual commanders.”
He also confirmed the commonly held view that it had been far easier for the military participants in the talks to deal with each other successfully than it had been for the political leaders. “The politicians took four years of talking before they reached the agreement. We did all our business in just four months!” he said…
I can’t tell you how moving it was for me to see these two men, Salomao and Morais, sitting and laughing easily about the old days, given the previous level of hatred between the forces of which they each been a part…
Today, Sunday, was another good day. I started off by going to church with Afiado Zunguza, a cheerful and very welcoiming ordained minister who heads a Methodist peace-and-justice organization here called Justapaz.
Zunguza was not officiating at the service, which was led instead by two African WOMEN ministers and a large group of women lay leaders.
It seems the Methodist church here has some kind of a sepcial “order” of dedicated women lay activists that had been having a three-day conference at this church, culminating today. So about 120-plus members of this organization, all demurely dressed in black skirts, dark red buttoned tunics, and white hats, crowded into the front of the large church building. Some of them were formed into a great choir. Others just sat together in the front pews. Most of the service was conducted in Xitshwa, one of the country’s sixeen or more local languages.
Throughout the two-hour-20-minute service, Zunguza kept me updated with general explanations of what was going on. I, um, sang along by trying to read the words in the hymnal whenever I could. Pastor Joaquima Nhanala gave an animated, beautfully delivered sermon based on James chapter 3. When she was giving examples of the difference between true wisdom and mere “cleverness”, one of the examples she gave was that it might seem “clever: to be able to stir people up one against the other, while true wisdom would be shown by talking and listening calmly to people and trying to find peaceful ways for everyone to get along…. I said a quiet “Amen” to that point!
Interestingly– espeically in view of my experience Friday with the traditional healers– one of the most animated parts of the service ame at the Offertory. Offerings were organized acording to groups within the congregation– first the children, then the youth, then the young adults, then the women, then the men– and finally the visitors. As each group was called, two members of that group would lead its other members joyfully up the center aisle and then stand and hold broad baskets into which the others would place their donations then file back to their seats. There was much singing, some ululating, and a little bit of toyi-toying along the way…
After church, I went running along Avenida Friedrich Engels, the broad esplanade perched over the Indian Ocean; and after that Leila and I had a pretty relaxed day. I’m getting ready for another 3.5 days of good work here before we leave for Johannesburg Thursday evening. But I’ve already started thinking that maybe I should try come back for a decent length of time some time in the not-distant future. I really believe that people in the USA (and probably elsewhere) need to learn a lot more about the incredible cultural and social resources for peacemaking that exist in this country, and I would love to find ways to help that happen.