16 April 2012
Beautiful and inspiring as the African landscape is, it is all too often also a silent backdrop to the quarrels of man. Mozambique is no exception. The shots of three different wars rang through this country over the last four decades and this area, although remote, wasn’t spared.
Less than a kilometre from my camp, on high ground overlooking rivers on two sides, a Frelimo camp stood during the eighties, when the Frelimo/Renamo civil war still raged. The tents and battlements are gone now and the parade ground is overgrown, but some relics remain and the hole that was once the underground magazine can still be seen.
Further east, along the Limpopo, a fierce assault was launched on Mapai by Rhodesian special forces during the Rhodesian war. They lost an Alouette helicopter and a DC3 there, whilst on the Mozambican side there were many casualties. When news of this attack got out, reinforcements were rushed to the scene from Massingir, further south. They approached through this area but they weren’t unexpected. Not far from here one of their Soviet GAZ trucks hit a landmine and was blown to bits. Thirty-three years later some rusty pieces and scattered debris still litter the ground.
At Mangonzo, an old farmstead that I use as a base when exploring the Kruger Park buffer zone south of Massingir, bullet-scarred and graffiti-covered walls tell of the time when the place was a Frelimo outpost. Renamo, with the opportunism so characteristic of a guerilla war, didn’t miss the fact that the base was served by only a single bush track. One of their landmines blew up the inbound Frelimo supply truck and killed all on board.
That something tumultuous once happened there is clear when one drives over the spot today. There is an area of blackened, scorched sand and debris, but it’s really only when you see the mangled and rusty cab, thrown some ten metres beyond, that you find proof that the fine litter of glass shards, molten metal, flattened food tins, buckles, bolts and bits of spring and tubing could once have been a fully loaded truck.
War is indeed a messy business.