Maputo — Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique’s main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, has accused the ruling Frelimo Party of attempting to poison him.
Renamo claims to have caught two supposed Frelimo agents whose mission was to poison a well near the bush camp in the central district of Gorongosa, where Dhlakama is now living.
The two men, named as Jonas Gerente and Langue Languissone, were displayed by Renamo to a visiting team from the independent television station, STV, and Gerente confessed that he had tried to poison the well.
“It’s true”, said Gerente. “On the morning of 19 December I poured into the well a medicine that is used to eliminate parasites in cotton plantations. I did this at the request of my brother, Xavier Gerente, who promised to pay me 20,000 meticais (about 678 US dollars)”.
Gerente said that, after poisoning the well, he went to inform his brother. The latter told him to wait for a few hours, since the money would be brought by a police officer. But Gerente’s brother never reappeared.
Languissone, a cousin of the two Gerentes, claimed that he too had been contacted to poison the well. “My cousin Xavier Gerente was in my house on the morning of 18 December and asked me to poison the water of the well in order to eliminate the Renamo guerrillas. He said the idea came from a police officer, whom he did not name”.
Xavier also told him that the local population had been warned not to use the well, and so only Renamo would be affected. But Languissone said he refused to have anything to do with the plan.
“I thought the idea was absurd”, he told STV. “What would I gain by killing people in exchange for 20,000 meticais? I ignored Xavier, and went about my life without taking his words seriously”.
There are some major holes in this story. First, neither Renamo (nor STV) has sent any samples of the supposedly contaminated water for analysis (major cities such as Beira and Maputo contain laboratories that could do this). There is also no sign of whatever packaging was used to contain the pesticide. There are no reports that anyone fell ill after drinking the water.
STV filmed the well – which was no more than a muddy hole in the ground. It had no pump, and no lid, or fencing of any kind to protect it. Such wells are a threat to human health even without any pesticide.
Renamo also detained a third man, Eduardo Caetano, and accused him of working for the state intelligence and security service, SISE. They said he had been sent to on a reconnaissance mission and to assassinate Dhlakama.
Caetano flatly denied the accusations. He told STV he was in Gorongosa seeking the services of a traditional healer, whom he had first met two years earlier (the area is famed for the supposed powers of its witch-doctors).
“I just came here looking for the healer”, he said. “I’m not well, and I thought traditional treatments could cure my illness. I was looking for the healer’s house when I was surprised by these people who accused me of being a SISE agent. I used to be in the army, but I’m not a SISE agent and have nothing to do with them”.
Dhlakama told STV “Frelimo is trying to eliminate me physically”. He thought it “shameful” that the police were paying people “to put poison in the well”.
“Since they knew I would be meeting here on 18 and 19 December with my senior staff, and that we were drinking that water, they tried to kill us”, he accused. He said that Renamo is now collecting water from Gorongosa streams, rather than use the well.
The Sofala provincial police commander, Joaquim Nido, denied that the police had anything to do with the Gerente brothers. Poisoning water supplies is a crime, he added, and if Renamo had a case against the men they had seized, it should turn them over to the police.
“We don’t resort to poisoning to eliminate people”, said Nido. “Our task is to protect people, by guaranteeing order and public security. We don’t protect bandits or use them to eliminate anybody”.
Dhlakama also ruled out any further dialogue with the government. Three rounds of talks were held in Maputo in December between government and Renamo delegations, led respectively by Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco and Renamo Secretary-General Manuel Bissopo. But the Renamo delegation refused to attend a fourth round, scheduled for 24 December.
Dhlakama confirmed that he had ordered the delegation not to attend the fourth round.
“They’re playing with us”, he exclaimed. “We presented our concerns, which have to do with the construction of a truly democratic state, but unfortunately our brothers turned a deaf ear, and are trying to drag out the talks eternally”.
“We in Renamo have national agenda to comply with, and so we had to put a full stop to these games”, he added.
“These things of Manuel Bissopo taking coffee with Jose Pacheco, and trying to entertain us and play with us – it’s over. It’s finished”, he declared.
Dhlakama repeated his threat to divide the country along the line of the Save river (the conventional boundary between southern and central Mozambique), allowing Frelimo to govern the south, while Renamo took over the centre and north.
“If they continue to play around with Renamo and with me, we shall not hesitate to divide the country along the Save”, he menaced. Foreign investors would then “have to come to Gorongosa to sign new contracts with the government that we shall form”.
Renamo has been making threats like this for over a decade, but does not have the slightest capacity to carry them out. Similarly Renamo, ever since its defeat in the October 2009 general elections, has threatened to hold nationwide general elections to force the creation of a “transitional government”. But so far not a single Renamo demonstration has been held.
Dhlakama said Renamo would only sit down with the government again, if such talks were mediated by SADC (Southern African Development Community), the African Union, the United Nations and the European Union.
The government, he added, would have “to recognise its mistake” and draw up “serious strategies for building genuine national unity, which would include an equitable division of wealth”. In other words, what Renamo really wants from talks with the government is money, and, since Renamo already receives a state subsidy because of its parliamentary representation, the government sees no reason to give it any more.