Oh dear!

Oh dear!

Matonga, Bright

“So President Mugabe invited me to Zimbabwe and I liked what I saw… That was the day that changed my life. No camouflage any more. Every person that I met in Zimbabwe wore a suit and was very smartly dressed, and that was the life I wanted to live… Look at me now. I am looking smart, I am happy with myself as a father and party leader. I like dressing nicely like you with nice clothes, and not sleeping rough in the bush.” Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the Renamo opposition in Mozambique, talks to Bright Matonga (for New African).

New African: Mr Dhlakama, a lot has been heard about you, but how would you describe the Dhlakama of the pre-1992 days when you were fighting against Frelimo, and the Dhlakama of today?

Afonso Dhlakama: The Dhlakama of pre-1992 and the Dhlakama of today are completely two different people. When I was fighting Frelimo, I was fighting for freedom, democracy, human rights and a free market economy.

New African: I thought you had freedom when you gained independence from Portugal in June 1975?

Afonso Dhlakama: I was a Frelimo commander. When we fought the Portuguese, we had only one thing in mind: independence. We lacked foresight. No one discussed or planned or was told what we were going to do after independence. So after independence, it was difficult and impossible to try and bring about change. So we decided to break out and fight.

New African: You mean the “breaking out”, in fact your group (Renamo) was formed by Ian Smith to bring chaos to Zimbabwe and Mozambique?

Afonso Dhlakama: That’s now history. Frelimo wanted 100% communism or Marxism, and we wanted to implement change but Frelimo wanted to destroy us so I became a rebel. But Mr Mugabe was also a rebel, so was Samora Machel, Nujoma and Mbeki.

New African: But you decided to turn against other rebels and your brothers?

Afonso Dhlakama: That’s history but I have changed. We achieved our objectives and accepted negotiations.

New African: Why did you change?

Afonso Dhlakama: Look my son, in war no one wins. You destroy yourself, kill innocent women and children. So President Mugabe invited me to Zimbabwe and I liked what I saw. Frelimo didn’t even want to talk to me because I was a “bandit”! But Mugabe whom I was also fighting against (with his 25,000 soldiers) invited me for negotiations. It was nice to meet him, he took me to State House. I spoke in Shona to the media and I liked Zimbabwe then and I still like it now. That was the day that changed my life. No camouflage any more. Every person that I met in Zimbabwe wore a suit and was very smartly dressed, and that was the life I wanted to live.

New African: What is your relationship with the Zimbabwean opposition party, MDC, and the white communities in Zimbabwe and South Africa?

Afonso Dhlakama: Well, as you may already know, I am the vice president of the democratic parties in Southern Africa, including MDC. I have met Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, and we communicate regularly. I have also met this other woman… er.. Dongo, yes Margaret Dongo and the other opposition parties in Zimbabwe. I was in Zimbabwe during the elections of last June and met government ministers as well.

New African: Who funded these tours and opposition parties?

Afonso Dhlakama: The Westminster Foundation [in London] financed the campaigning for the MDC.

New African: What do they intend to achieve, members of the Foundation; and do you believe the involvement of foreigners is the best way to resolve the issues of Africa.

Afonso Dhlakama: Well that’s a difficult question. We try to cooperate and have business links. But it’s not working. Britain is helping the MDC and Renamo with campaigning. Unfortunately that’s all they are planning to do. They are not saying whether they will help after we win elections. So that’s why I am in London today to try and convince them to release more funds. They are not moving further so we will end up with democracy but no money, and it will be back to square one again.

They keep making excuses and moving the goalposts all the time. Sometimes they say to us, if you the opposition in both Mozambique and Zimbabwe win, there will be war, so why bother bringing in business. And I say to the international community, if Renamo wins elections in Mozambique there won’t be any fighting. We will maintain good relations with all the countries in the region.

Zimbabwe needs Mozambique and Mozambique needs Zimbabwe for business. Zimbabwe brings a lot of business through the Beira Corridor and we need the jobs for our people. I have relatives in Zimbabwe and I speak perfect Shona and Ndau.

New African: Why is it that you always rush to the West when you have problems?

Afonso Dhlakama: We have tried to talk to our leaders and failed. SADC leaders speak with one voice and they don’t want to criticise one another. We think if Mr Mugabe is doing wrong, they should tell him but they don’t. In the SADC, if you criticise Mr Mugabe, Oh! my friend you have also criticised Chissano, Mbeki, Nujoma and Do Santos. You have also criticised Zanla, ANC, PAC, MPLA, SWAPO and Frelimo. They have a very solid bond and they treat each other like brothers. So we feel left out. Also our image [Renamo] is not very good because of the past. They think we are puppets of the West.

New African: Have you ever tried to talk to President Mugabe again?

Afonso Dhlakama: I would like to talk to him again so that we can work things out. Thats why I have decided to give an exclusive interview to you. Also if Mr Mugabe is reading this, we need to talk to him again as an elder statesman. Zimbabwe is the first country I visited when I left the bush.

New African: Do you support Zimbabwe’s land redistribution programme?

Afonso Dhlakama: The problem in Zimbabwe is land, we support that. If it is not resolved now, it will be a problem for everyone. Morgan Tsvangirai should know that, and I have told him so. It will be a problem in South Africa and Namibia as well. South Africa should learn from the Zimbabwean experience. In fact I can foresee the same thing happening in South Africa.

New African: Your country is welcoming Zimbabwean farmers who are unhappy with land redistribution in Zimbabwe.

Afonso Dhlakama: We don’t want Zimbabwean farmers in Mozambique. They should go back and talk to Mr Mugabe and resolve their differences. It is no solution to escape to Mozambique, because they will bring the same problems to Mozambique. Chissano is giving them land in my area of Manica and I don’t like that. We have to look after our people first.

New African: Why is Savimbi still fighting in Angola when other, like you, have stopped?

Afonso Dhlakama. Savimbi is not an easy man. He has his reasons to continue the fighting but he is not doing the right thing. Now he can’t go out, he can’t explain to his people why he is fighting. Fighting is not a solution.

His people are suffering, there is no food and medicine. He can’t motivate his army. I know the experience myself because I had been there for 15 years. It’s not easy. You sleep rough everyday and don’t know whether you will be alive the next minute, the next hour or the next day. You feel rejected and everyone is against you, calling you a bandit, a rebel and all sorts of nasty names. Those names hurt a lot.

If someone like Mr Mugabe, SADC or United Nations offers to talk to Savimbi, he will listen. I listened to Mr Mugabe when we were still fighting, even though Frelimo didn’t want to know. Look at me now. I am looking smart, I am happy with myself as a father and party leader. I like dressing nicely like you with nice clothes, and not sleeping rough in the bush.

New African: So are you going to talk to Savimbi and convince him to stop fighting?

Afonso Dhlakama: Mr Mugabe should try and talk to him. I am sure he will listen to him. If Savimbi or any of his people are listening, they should get in touch as quickly as possible.

New African: Thank you Mr Dhlakama for talking to us. My humble request to you is to go back, bring Savimbi to the negotiating table, then Zimbabweans will welcome you back again. NA

Bright Matonga’s note: The impression I got from meeting Mr Dhlakama is that he now appears to want to join and work with other African leaders. He showed genuine concern for the issues affecting Mozambique and the SADC region, but didn’t know how to create a better image for himself and his party. He thinks he has been let down by the international community and feels used.

Copyright International Communications May 2001

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