Maputo — A group of around 350 demobilised soldiers gathered at the AntonioiRipinga athletics track, in front of the office of Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina on Tuesday, to demand pensions from the government of no less than 20,000 meticais (about 664 US dollars, at current exchange rates) a month from the government.
The protestors were members of the Forum of Demobilised Soldiers, led by Herminio dos Santos, which is just one of many organisations claiming to represent the former fighters from the government and Renamo armies, demobilised in 1994.
Cited in Wednesday’s edition of the independent newsheet “MediaFax”, dos Santos boasted that his group “will never be defeated”.
In a series of demonstrations last year, dos Santos demanded a pension for all demobilised soldiers of 12,000 meticais a month. Now he has increased the demand to 20,0000 meticais a month, justifying this by what he called “the galloping rise in the cost of living”.
In fact, there has been no such “galloping rise”. According to the figures published by the National Statistics Institute (INE), based on the consumer price indices of the three major cities (Maputo, Beira and Nampula), inflation in 2012 was just 2.02 per cent, the lowest annual rate since the introduction of structural adjustment measures in 1987.
The pension demanded by dos Santos is more than three times higher than the largest of the current statutory minimum wages. The monthly minimum wages in force since April last year range from 2,300 meticais for agricultural workers to 6,171 meticais for workers in financial services.
The Tuesday demonstrators demanded a meeting with Vaquina, but the government points out that there exists a Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs, which was set up precisely to deal with the problems facing demobilised soldiers.
The Ministry’s press attaché, Lourenco Tchapo, regarded the demonstration as illegitimate, since the Ministry was open to receive complaints from the Forum.
Dos Santos, however, regards meetings with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Mateus Kida, as a waste of time. Those meetings, he said, had painted “a false picture that the government is concerned about solving the problems of the demobilised troops. The meetings didn’t solve any of our problems. Everything’s just the same because the government wants to see how far we are capable of going in demanding our money”.
The demonstrators also spotted a man they claimed was a member of the intelligence service, SISE, in their midst. They seized him and deprived him of his pistol. According to “Mediafax”, it took police intervention to ensure that the gun was returned to its owner, but on condition that the man left the area.
Dos Santos claimed that the Forum will not rest until it has secured a meeting either with Vaquina or with President Armando Guebuza himself.
Tchapo told reporters that the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, has already passed a “Statute of Veterans”, which covers the grievances of the demobilized soldiers.
“There is a law which deals with the questions raised by the demobilised troops”, he said, “and which envisages how much they should be paid in line with how long they stayed in the armed forces. It would be necessary to change the legislation to accommodate the interests of this group”.