The Steady Beat of Wars and Heavy Rains

Women in Mozambique bear the brunt of civil war, droughts and floods.

Fellows 2017

By Andrew Mambondiyani

May 22, 2017

Also published by The Globalist

With just a thin dark grey shawl thrown over her shoulders, Leocadio Simango, was soaked and shivering as she trudged through the streets of Chimoio, the fifth-largest city in Mozambique, on a rainy morning.

Leocadio was selling an assortment of small wares- biscuits, sweets, canned drinks and some potato crispy. She carried these items in a dish covered by a dirty piece of plastic to protect the wares from getting wet.

The incessant rains could not deter her as she roved through a labyrinth of parked mini buses, which are used for public transport in this city. She chatted with potential customers through the mini bus windows.

“I can’t stay home, even in this rain. I need to feed my children,” Simango told The Globalist with a faint smile. “I came to this city last year fleeing from the war in Barue district (Mozambique).”

Internal displacement

Simango, a single mother of three children aged 4, 6 and 9 years, said she was living in a derelict shack on the outskirts of Chimoio.

“The war has destroyed our lives. And the heavy rains experienced in this country this season has made my life even harder. I have no proper shelter or sanitation, food is scarce and no warm clothes for my children,” she said dejectedly.

“I am told the war is over but I can’t go back home any time soon. It (war) might start again.”

War and drought

The civil war in the country flared up in 2014 after the collapse of the 1992 peace accord. As if that weren’t bad up, the onset of domestic hostilities was coupled with severe droughts and floods.

These events have become the major drivers of the crisis facing women in Mozambique. They spark food insecurity, destroy hard-won assets and leave households without income or means to access food.

Thousands of people, especially women have been displaced in central Mozambique as a result of political and military conflict between Renamo rebels and the FRELIMO government.

There have been reports of military violence, destruction of houses and food barns, looting of livestock, persecution of local leaders and people linked to the ruling party by armed Renamo bandits.

Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama decamped to the bush in 2012 accusing the government of breaking the 1992 peace deal.

Dhlakama only emerged from the bush to run in the 2014 elections he subsequently lost. Since then, the central parts of the country have witnessed attacks on civilian and military targets.

Permanent insecurity

The government has blamed these attacks on the armed wing of the Renamo, which demands to govern six provinces where it won in the 2014 general elections.

While Simango and thousands of other displaced women remain in Mozambique, some have crossed the border into Zimbabwe and Malawi where they are now living as refugees.

A combination of the civil conflict and the climate change induced calamities has made life difficult for these refugees.

The United Nations Children’s Fund February 2017 Humanitarian Situation Report says 2.1 million people in Mozambique were facing food and nutrition insecurity as result of the impacts of El Nino induced drought.

Dashed hopes

And after a year of drought, Eriza Mlambo from Makuu, a small remote village in Mozambique, was anticipating a better farming season this year.

The El Nino induced drought was coming to end and experts had predicted good rains as the La Nina conditions were setting in late last year bringing hopes of good rains.

By October last year, Mlambo had tilled much of her maize fields and was ready for the onset of the farming season.

But one November night, the villagers’ dreams of a good farming season came to a screeching halt. Armed men, believed to be Renamo soldiers, razed the whole village to the ground.

Fleeing in the night

Villagers fled their homes with nothing – leaving clothes, food, livestock and everything behind.

“We fled during the night with nothing. Our dreams of a good farming season were shuttered,” Mlambo said.

“Homes were burned down by the soldiers. People were killed. But we are not sure whether they were government forces or the Renamo.”

She lost contact with all her adult children who fled inland into Mozambique during the raid.

“I pray to see my children again when this war is over,” she said.

External displacement

After days of travel with other women, Mlambo finally crossed the border in Zimbabwe in December last year.

Today she is one of the more than 800 Mozambican refugees living at Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, near the border with Mozambique.

“The heavy rains which were experienced in the region from December last year to early March this year really affected us,” she said.

“We had no food, no clothes or anything warm; we had no shelter. It was a bad experienced having fled away from a war and face the harsh weather conditions.”

The civil conflict in Mozambique has displaced thousands of people both internally and externally.

A combination of war and climate change-induced calamities have seriously affected the Mozambican populace – mostly women and children.

Escaping with children

Anna Sithole another Mozambican woman from Chingowe Village, who fled the war with her six children, told harrowing stories of living in the bushes with nothing to eat.

“We had prepared our land for planting but we had to abandon everything because of the war. We tried to return to our village but everything was gone. Homes were set on fire,” Sithole said.

“Our situation was so critical because we were moving out of a drought season and we had no food.”

For days during the journey to Zimbabwe, Sithole and her family slept in the open with nothing to cover them from the harsh weather.

“All the heavy rains experienced in December last year, pounded on us. There were floods and it was a really traumatic experience,” she said.

Zimbabwe’s role

During a tour of Tongogara Refugee Camp in April this year, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Prisca Mupfumira said 864 Mozambicans refugees were at the camp.

Thousands more are believed to have melted in communities along the border Mozambique and Zimbabwe border area.

Mupfumira said the government had availed 90 metric tons of maize, 60 tons of rice and 1,000 mosquito nets to cater for refugees.

The refugees are currently monthly individual rations of 12 kg of maize meal, 2kg cowpeas, 0.75 kg cooking oil and 0.5 kg soap.

The Mozambican refugees are now also benefiting from the cash-based intervention of $13 per individual per month just like any other refugee at Tongogara Camp.

But for the refugees, the future remains foggy. They are not sure they will enjoy any peace in the country soon.