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Angola's woes haunt Mandela visit to Maputo

THE nightmare scenario of a second Angola, where a United Nations-monitored ceasefire and elections collapsed into one of Africa's bloodiest duels for power, overshadows Nelson Mandela's first state visit abroad this week, to Mozambique.

Officials of Angola's rebel Unita movement were in Pretoria yesterday to prepare for a visit by their leader, Jonas Savimbi. Meanwhile, Mr Mandela celebrated his 76th birthday and prepared a message of national reconciliation for delivery tomorrow in Maputo, Mozambique's capital.

In Mozambique, former government and rebel soldiers, demanding to be fed and demobilised, are rebelling. The opposition leader, Afonso Dhlakama, complains of attempts to rig elections planned for October. Budget-conscious Western donors are hurrying to withdraw the massive UN operation in Mozambique (Onumoz). It all has the familiar ring of Angola about it.

Mozambique is important to South Africa. This was made clear by Mr Mandela's decision to make his first state visit there. Resumption of the civil war, which began after independence from Portugal in 1975 and ended with a ceasefire agreement in October 1992, would be a disaster for Pretoria. South Africa is already flooded with tens of thousands of refugees from Mozambique seeking work.

The decision by the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) to support the black nationalist wars in Zimbabwe and in South Africa cost it dearly. For years, Mozambique was a key supply route for arms and trained fighters to the African National Congress's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. South African commandos attacked Maputo several times, and killed Ruth First, author and wife of South Africa's current Housing Minister, Joe Slovo, by letter bomb.

The Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) was armed and trained by South African military intelligence for a civil war, which killed up to one million people and forced millions to flee as refugees to neighbouring countries.

Lawlessness, banditry and corruption are increasing fast as a plan to demobilise the Renamo and Frelimo armies and mould the soldiers into a new army falls behind. Revolts by both armies, held in primitive camps, and lacking food and pay, have multiplied.

Last week a group of Renamo soldiers put roadlocks on the main road north of Maputo, and held several hundred people hostage, including UN personnel, until food was delivered.

The UN Security Council has ordered Onumoz to quit Mozambique by the end of November. Donor funding for programmes to retrain demobilised soldiers has been minimal. Some Russian estimates put the number of AK-47s in the country at the time of the peace accords at over 1 million, although thousands have been sold across the border in South Africa. The Italian contingent to the 6,000-strong UN peace-keeping force has already pulled out.

Seeking to invoke the same kind of compromise which he used to subdue the conflict with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party in the KwaZulu/Natal province, Mr Mandela is expected to calm Mr Dhlakama's nerves by assuring him of South Africa's neutrality in the forthcoming elections.

Mr Dhlakama yesterday accused the Frelimo government of trying to rig the elections in October, by issuing fake voter registration cards, registering foreigners and preventing rural Mozambicans from getting their voting cards by the 20 August deadline.

While he ruled out a return to war, Mr Dhlakama's statement that he would not accept the result of a rigged vote sounded ominously similar to a statement that Mr Savimbi made a week before the September 1992 polls in Angola. Mr Savimbi then cried foul and started the civil war again, which, according to some estimates, has killed 500,000 people in the past 18 months.