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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Readings in Nonviolence

‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).

First published in 2000 in ‘Peace News’ No.2440 ( and used with permission of the author. We will continue the theme of art and peace in the next couple of ‘Readings’

Transforming arms into art

By Jan van Criekinge

Mozambique belongs in Southern Africa, amongst the countries most affected by war and violence over the past decades. Its geostrategic position - in the context of Cold War relationships in Southern Africa, its proximity to the economic heart of apartheid, and its major railway and transport routes to the Indian Ocean - made Mozambique very vulnerable to the policy of "destabilisation" by the two remaining white minority governments in the region, following its independence from Portugal in 1975.  

The long guerrilla war (1964-1974) against oppressive Portuguese colonialism developed a tradition of armed struggle and guerrilla heroism that didn't end with independence. Few wars have been as bitterly controversial both inside and outside a country, and marked by such disinformation and propaganda by both sides, as the one which destroyed Mozambique from 1976 to 1992. In this war-- which pitted the central Marxist government of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) against the guerrilla rebels of the National Mozambican Resistance (Renamo)- between 350,000and 600,000 people were killed, another two million were displaced, and most of the country's rural and economical infrastructure was virtually destroyed. In particular, the massive use of landmines by both sides, placed all over the country, put a severe mortgage on any future development.

 However since the war ended on 4th October 1992, with the general peace agreement signed in Rome between the opposing parties and with the backing and financial support of many international institutions, peace and the process of reconciliation seems quite sustainable in Mozambique. In this process grassroots groups based on both traditional community structures and more "modern" institutions played a very important role.

External or internal?

Partisans of both parties involved in the war continue to disagree over the nature and degree of internal support and external assistance received by Renamo, and about the failures made by the Frelimo government after independence (due to many unfulfilled expectations by the poor rural population).

Since its founding in 1976 by members of the Rhodesian security forces, and with the aim of destabilising the newly independent country, Renamo built on the split between the urban and rural segments of Mozambican society. At the end of the1980s Renamo forces controlled a great part of the central Mozambican country-side and enjoyed the allegiance, either voluntarily (ethnic background and respect towards traditional chiefs) or by brute force (forced recruitment, use of child soldiers, atrocities) of the rural population. On the other hand the central government's autocratic style of rule and its attempts to turn Mozambique into a "communist" society--by purging it of traditional leadership down to the local village level, alienated both many early party members who had been active in the anti-colonial struggle and the rural population in general. Frelimo made itself deeply unpopular by declaring traditional rule and practices "backward". This stage of widespread popular discontent generated large internal support for an externally-backed movement such as Renamo. The rebel movement found it easy to recruit new and young fighters besides its regular practice of forced recruitment, and forced villages under its control to provide food for the fighters. The rural population, thoroughly traumatised by the ongoing atrocities, left the countryside in large numbers. Parts of Mozambique became ungovernable and unsafe for everyone, especially because of the number of landmines.

At the end of the 1980s, with the changes in South Africa that would lead to the death of the apartheid system and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destabilisation campaign against the so-called Front Line States, of which Mozambique was a significant member, also came to an end. Widespread war fatigue on both sides, the growing awareness that neither side could win the war through military confrontation, the lack of external support after the end of the Cold War, and international mediation, finally brought a sustainable peace. In contrast with what happened in Angola, both parties were involved in the peace process and large sums of international money has been spent on appeasing both sides, particularly Renamo. Although many Renamo leaders could easily be convicted of war crimes against civilians.

The bought peace

It was against this background that the reconciliation process began. The general peace agreement of 1992 was remarkably comprehensive. It included rules about the formation of political parties, it guaranteed freedom of movement and freedom of the press, it made clear provisions on how elections should be held, and it made arrangements for the massive demobilisation and reintegration of former fighters of both sides into civilian life. One week after the signing of the peace agreement the United Nations approved the establishment of the United Nations Operations in Mozambique (UNOMOZ) to monitor and verify its implementation. Despite serious scandals, the very bureaucratic way of working and the high cost (one million US$ per day!), for nearly two-and-a-half years this UN operation was quite a success. UN monitoring included demobilisation, encampment of ex-combatants, and preparation for elections, mine clearance and lots of humanitarian assistance. The criticism sometimes heard about the peace process is that Mozambican peace was literally bought--with lots of international money.

The first multiparty, democratic and free elections after the end of the war in 1994 showed a clear, although complex and regional-based, picture of popular support for both sides. The results of the latest general elections (December 1999) showed few differences compared to the1994 results. It's clear that Renamo, which is now the major opposition party, can still count on a large popular support in the central provinces, while support for the ruling Frelimo party of president Joaquim Chissano is located in the deep south and in the northern provinces.

The consolidation of peace depends primarily on how the reconstruction process addresses the profound social divisions, political alienation and poverty that sustained the war for so many years. In the first place the reconstruction should meet the needs of the millions of desperately poor rural people who, isolated from large urban and economic centres, and confronted in their daily life with the deadly consequences of widespread land-mines, have so far seen too few tangible benefits of peace. The resettlement of some six million displaced persons and war refugees also continues to be a cause for some concern. Eight years after the end of the war, many former fighters continue to nurse grievances due to the few economic opportunities open to them and the lack of recognition of their contribution to the war and the suffering they endured. But major confrontations could be avoided due to the mediation of churches and other grassroots initiatives and the fact that the two belligerents had both lost their will to fight.

Traditional healing

War-affected populations in rural Mozambique continue to draw on a wide range of traditional rituals to help them deal with the traumas of war and to open the way of reconciliation. In Mozambique, as in many other parts of Africa, health is traditionally defined as harmonious relationships between human beings and their natural surroundings, between them and their ancestors, and among themselves. Such models of healing contradict Western approaches--in which individuals and their social context are more often perceived as quite distinguishable entities.

Home-grown, informal, based on age-old practices of welcoming, healing, counselling and reintegration, this particular "culture of peace", very closely linked with the different rural Mozambican cultures, has been responsible for the sustainability of the peace process.

Civil society as such did not really develop in Mozambique before the ruling Frelimo party had renounced its monopoly on all social and political activity and freedom of the press was guaranteed. During the beginning of the 1980s, by far the most important internal players promoting a climate for peace talks between Renamo and Frelimo, were the churches. The Roman Catholic Church archbishop Jaime Goncalves of Beira played a key role as a mediator, often in close connection with the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community. The Mozambican Christian Council (CCM), an ecumenical body of mostly Protestant churches, established a Peace and Reconciliation Commission in1984. The CCM played a key role in brokering local ceasefires in very remote areas as well as defusing tensions and promoting all kinds of grassroots developments in the post-war era. The CCM runs a programme entitled "Transforming Arms into Hoes" which includes the destruction of weapons. The Methodist bishop of Maputo, Bernardino Manellate, is one of the co-ordinators of the CCM projects in this field. In the same vein is the project of the Maputo-based artist's collective "Nucleo de Arte". By transforming weapons into artistic productions the mostly young artists try to cast-off their war trauma. With peace firmly established and the end of the one-party state system, space has emerged for non-state actors--other than the churches--to play a role in the process of peace and reconciliation. The independent media, human rights organisations, local landmines awareness groups, and many other NGOs, have helped produce the peace desired by the great majority of the Mozambican population. One of these groups is LINK--an umbrella NGO, which represents a broad variety of associations currently engaged in civil education and non-violent methods of conflict resolution. LINK is supported by--among others--the Mennonite Central Committee from Canada.

Considering the terrible, violent and destructive recent past of Mozambique, the population has, in general, demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for reconciliation, very often based on traditional methods and with the financial support of many external donors. In this respect the Mozambican experience might be seen as a "model" for other African regions that are currently at war.

See the website  for a virtual exhibition ‘Arms into art’ in cooperation with Núcleo de Arte in Maputo, Mozambique .

You can also see INNATE’s photo site for a couple of photos illustrating this article.

New on our website: all NNs searchable

The early issues of ‘Nonviolent News’ (Nos. 1-57) have already been on the INNATE website as PDFs.  A complete contents list of items covered in these early issues has now been included so ‘Nonviolent News’ is ‘fully searchable’ back to the first issue which appeared in May 1990.  See the home page at

In the near future we will gradually be adding PDF copies of ‘Dawn Train’ and ‘Dawn’ magazines (the latter ran from 1974-85), which, when complete, will take our online peace coverage back to 1974.

Copyright INNATE 2016