Mozambique swaps war for a new slavery

Having rich South Africa as a neighbour is a mixed blessing, writes Mary Braid top grid Strap
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The Independent Online
Maputo - "I've come to dance for the Kafirs," revealed the skinny- hipped stripper on the short flight from Johannesburg to Maputo, her first trip out of South Africa.

Convinced that Maputo was a South African-style, tribal homeland, she gasped at the Mozambican capital's high-rise buildings and the miles and miles of deserted golden beaches to the north and south.

Looking forward to the "Kafir" audience - less crude than the fat Boers she danced for back home - she was in for another surprise. In Maputo these days, and particularly on a holiday weekend, white South Africans are just as likely as Mozambicans to be ogling.

Before Mozambique's devastating 16-year civil war, Lourenco Marques, as Maputo was known, was where South Africans came to escape the corset- tight morality of home and experience racially-mixed thrills. Now the war is over, ordinary South Africans are returning. They are coming not just to play, but to set up shop.

Living next door to Africa's economic giant is a mixed blessing for Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries and one left bankrupt by war.

The old South Africa, whose policy of destablising its neighbours included backing Mo-zambique's Renamo rebels, regularly mounted military raids across the border.

In Maputo, the post-apartheid South African invasion is expedited not by tanks but by Land Rover Discovery four-wheel drives.

As the city takes its first faltering steps on the road to recovery, it is the Land Rover owners who are opening restaurants and starting businesses.

The Polana hotel, recently refurbished, is the jewel in the investors' crown. At weekends it is stuffed with South African tourists and on weekdays it operates like a luxury base camp for South African investors.

Some welcome their rich neighbours. At the Costa do Sol restaurant, on the coast, 200 Polana guests are being unloaded. It creates a peculiarly Mozambican tourist scene; the white South African army marching towards white-clothed tables, watched by poor Mozambicans who live on the beach. Nearby is a local bride, all white satin and tiara, swigging Fanta from a can during a break from seaside wedding pictures.

South African visitors have already paid for the Costa do Sol's first refurbishment in years, delighting its owner. But some mutter darkly about colonisation. They complain that the majority of South Africans come up for the weekend in their 4x4s, laden with provisions. "They buy nothing from us and use us like a playground," said one local man. "They destroy the sands with their vehicles and shoo locals off the beach."

While much is made of Mozambique's potential to develop into one of the world's premier eco-tourist locations, further up the coast South African entrepreneurs are reportedly taking advantage of the post-war administrative vacuum and setting up illegal tourist enterprises. "Few politicians will say it in public, but South Africa is going to eat us up," one Mozambican warned.

This resentment may increase. For this is just a vanguard. The new $6 trillion Maputo Corridor Development, in which South Africa and Mozambique are partners, aims to boost trade between the two countries by improving road, rail and communications links between Johannesburg and Maputo and breathing life into the moribund Maputo port, which operates at a tenth of its pre-war capacity. In the next three years, the aim is to increase traffic from 25,000 to 100,000 containers, offering South Africa, as well as Swaziland and Zimbabwe, as an alternative to the congested port of Durban. Economic enslavement to a stronger neighbour is a legitimate fear. But South Africa has many reasons to help Mozambique. A more prosperous Mozambique may stem the flood of illegal immigrants. The ANC is also grateful for its support during the apartheid years. President Nelson Mandela is even believed to have lobbied for Mozambique to join the Commonwealth.

Some investors want to do more than make a quick buck. The previous South African regime may have helped devastate the country, but many young South Africans are caught up in the romance of rebuilding it.

Tourism could aid Mozambique's recovery but until the infrastructure improves, further economic expansion is impossible. Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano recently complained that South Africa is making inroads into neighbours' markets without opening up its own. But Mozambique, the poorest and weakest kid on the block, is in no position to shout too loudly.