RESSANO GARCIA (Mozambique), April 19 — Mozambican workers in Ressano Garcia, on the border with South Africa, expelled South Africans from their workplaces, and barricaded the road to the frontier.
Infuriated by the attacks against foreign workers in South Africa, the Mozambican workers in the companies WBO, Wartsila and Gigawatt demanded that the South Africans leave. They did not resort to violence against their South African colleagues.
“Today we decided to expel these insensitive South Africans”, said one of the Mozambican demonstrators, Asher Quive. “They work here, but they don’t want our brothers to work in South Africa. If that’s the case, let them get out of here. We don’t want them
The improvised barricades were supposed to prevent vehicles with South African number plates from entering Mozambique. “We don’t want the South Africans to come into our country, just as they don’t want us there”, said Quive.
Quive said the police moved quickly to dismantle the barricades, and briefly detained him as the supposed leader of the unrest. “The police released me when my colleagues demanded that they let me go”, Quive told reporters.
The disturbances effectively closed the border for several hours. The police fired into the air to disperse the demonstrators, and they replied by throwing stones at the police. One of the demonstrators, named only as Mavumane, was arrested.
When traffic across the border resumed the police escorted South African vehicles. But by late afternoon the situation at the border had returned to normal.
Some of the bus companies that ply the Maputo-Johannesburg complained that they had suffered heavy losses. Some of the morning buses turned back rather than attempt to cross the border, and the fares paid by the passengers had to be repaid. The companies also reported anxious would-be passengers phoning up to cancel tickets.
In Maputo, Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario told reporters on Friday evening that, despite indignation at the anti-foreigner pogroms, Mozambicans should not retaliate
“We are continuing to monitor the situation, in order to save the lives of Mozambicans resident in South Africa”, he said, “but all of us, we mustn’t retaliate to situations like this”.
He urged both Mozambicans and foreigners living in Mozambique to stay calm “because the Mozambican government is handling the situation adequately”.
Rosario repeated the same message on Saturday morning at a ceremony in the southern city of Matola, where he was launching a national sanitation campaign organized by the Health Ministry. Retaliation, he said, would only worsen the wave of violence
“We cannot repeat the bad actions of the South Africans here in our country”, he said. “If we retaliate, we will be generating more violence here, which will also be repeated in South Africa, and so the violence will never end”.
Furthermore, expelling South African workers from companies would have a damaging effect on the Mozambican economy, leading to increased unemployment.
Mozambique’s best known writer, the novelist and poet Mia Couto, has written an impassioned open letter to South African President Jacob Zuma, calling for vigorous measures to end the wave of attacks against foreign workers in South Africa.
Couto stressed the ties binding South Africa and Mozambique from the days of the struggle against apartheid, and how Zuma himself lived in exile in Maputo in the 1980s (when he was Chief Representative in Mozambique of the liberation movement, the African National Congress).
“I don’t remember ever seeing you with a bodyguard”, wrote Couto. “In fact it was we Mozambicans who acted as your bodyguards. For years we gave you more than a refuge. We offered you a house and we gave you security at the cost of our security. You cannot possibly have forgotten this generosity”.
“We haven’t forgotten it”, Couto added. “Perhaps more than any other neighbouring country, Mozambique paid a high price for the support we gave to the liberation of South Africa. The fragile Mozambican economy was wrecked. Our territory was invaded and bombed. Mozambicans died in defence of their brothers on the other side of the border”.
In those days the questions of borders and nationalities did not arise. “We were all brothers in the same cause”, said Couto, “and when apartheid fell, our festivities were the same, on either side of the border”.
The links between the two countries extend into the economy. Couto reminded Zuma that Mozambicans had worked on the mines and farms of South Africa “under conditions that were not far short of slavery. These workers helped build the South African economy. There is no wealth in your country that does not carry the contribution of those who today are coming under attack”.
Couto found it unthinkable “that these same South African brothers have chosen us as a target for hatred and persecution. It is not possible that Mozambicans are persecuted in the streets of South Africa with the same cruelty that the apartheid police persecuted freedom fighters”.
Furthermore the murderous xenophobia on display “is also aggression against South Africa itself”, Couto argued. “It is an attack against the “Rainbow Nation” which South Africans once proudly proclaimed”.
The South African authorities had taken measures against the violence – but they were too little too late. “The rulers of South Africa can argue everything except that they were taken by surprise”, Couto said. “History was allowed to repeat itself. Voices were heard spreading hatred with impunity. That is why we are joining our indignation to that of our fellow Mozambicans and urging you: put an immediate end to this situation, which is a fire that can spread across the entire region, with feelings of revenge being created beyond South Africa’s borders”.
He called for “tough, immediate and total measures”, which could include “mobilization of the armed forces. For, at the end of the day, it is South Africa itself which is under attack”.
Couto believed longer term preventive measures were required “to recreate the feelings of solidarity between our peoples and to rescue the memory of a time of shared struggles”.
He pledged that Mozambican writers and artists would willingly work with their South African counterparts to face this challenge.
“We can still transform this pain and this shame into something which expresses the nobility and dignity of our peoples and our nations”, concluded Couto. “As artists and writers, we want to declare our willingness to support a spirit of neighbourliness which is born, not from geography, but from a kinship of our common soul and shared history”.