The sun was rising when six-year-old Franisse went down to the river near his village in the Gaza province of Mozambique. His family was fast asleep in one of the huts at the top of the hill. It was the boy’s job to collect water for them every morning.
The bandits arrived while the boy was dipping a large plastic drum into the water. They captured Franisse and forced him to walk up the steep path to the village. There they gave him matches and told him to put fire to the thatched hut where his mother and father lay sleeping.
Franisse threw a match onto the roof and within minutes the hut was covered in flames. As his mother and father ran screaming out of their home, the bandits chopped off their heads with pangas. Then they killed each of Franisse’s brothers and sisters and cut their bodies into pieces.
The bandits forced the boy to collect the bodies and put them into a large drum. One of them found a Frelimo flag, the party that was elected by the people of Mozambique to rule their country. The man wrapped the flag around the head of Franisse’s mother. “This,” he said, “is what Frelimo brings to you.”
IN THE BEGINNING
The men who killed Franisse’s family were from Renamo, a rebel movement fighting against the government of Mozambique. The organisation began more than 15 years ago at the time of the struggle for freedom in Zimbabwe. The white security forces of Rhodesia started Renamo to fight Robert Mugabe’s guerrillas who had bases in Mozambique. After Mugabe won the war, Renamo left Zimbabwe and came to South Africa.
The South African government did not like the socialist policies of Frelimo and was afraid that the ANC was going to set up bases inside Mozambique. So they gave camps, guns and equipment to Renamo and trained its members to fight Frelimo.
Today the South African government says it doesn’t support Renamo anymore. But the bandits still get food, training and arms from somewhere and they still continue to kill and burn villages, schools and hospitals all over the country.
More than half a million people have been murdered in Renamo’s war against the people of Mozambique. The United Nations believes that two hundred thousand young children have seen their parents killed by the rebels.
After Franisse saw his family murdered, Renamo forced him to join them. The bandits made the boy kill animals. Then they told him to drink the blood of an ostrich. These things were done to destroy any feelings of love for other people that the child had in him. They were done to turn Franisse, a boy of six, into a killer.
After a few weeks the bandits were satisfied that Franisse was ready to be one of their members. They sent him out into the bush to carry food and ammunition for a gang of Renamo bandits.
Some months after he was kidnapped by Renamo, government soldiers attacked the camp he was living in and rescued the boy. They tried to ask Franisse what had happened but he could not tell them. Because of the horror of what he had seen and done, Franisse could no longer speak. The boy had become dumb.
VICTIMS OF WAR
Today the government of Mozambique is doing everything it can to heal the wounds in the minds of young boys and girls like Franisse. They have opened orphanages in all the provinces of the country and they have asked Mozambican families to look after children who have lost their parents in the war. But can they do anything to heal the damage done by Renamo to the minds of thousands of young people like Franisse?
In Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, the government has started an orphanage called Lhanguene. A group of psychologists at Lhanguene are trying to help the young victims of the war.
The psychologists have worked out ways to get young people to talk about the horrors they have suffered at the hands of Renamo. By talking about these things, the children are able to rid themselves of their bad memories.
The psychologists try to get the children to talk by asking them to draw pictures and act out plays of what Renamo did to them and their families. And they also help the children to talk about their nightmares. People’s dreams often tell about the fear and pain in their minds.
SILENCE AND DREAMS
After Franisse was rescued from Renamo by Frelimo soldiers, he was taken to Lhanguene. There the methods used by the psychologists began to work. After drawing pictures showing how the bandits murdered his family, the boy began to speak again.
But for most of the day Franisse still lives in a world of silence. Only now he is able to say the words: “What is going to become of me?” and “I wish I could have done something”.
When he dreams, Franisse often sees the staring eyes of his mother with the black, green, red and yellow colours of Frelimo wrapped around her bloodstained head.
But these days he sometimes has another dream. He is down by the river collecting water for the village. On the top of the hill his mother and father and brothers and sisters are asleep. When he arrives with the water, they wake up and begin another day in their lives.
REBUILDING A LIFE
The psychologists believe that Franisse’s dream shows that the boy is longing for a time when life will be normal again. This is a healthy sign, they say. His dream shows that he is determined to start building the life that was destroyed by Renamo at such a young age.
At the orphanage the young children work together and help each other. In this way the children begin to feel that the horrors of war do not make it impossible to feel love and warmth for other human beings again.
At night, they all sleep in the same room. Some nights, one of the boys wakes up from a nightmare. Every time this happens, his fingers are clenched into a tight fist that will not open. Franisse and the other children hug the boy to calm him. Then they stroke his fingers so that his hands relax and the child can sleep again.
The psychologists want their methods at Lhanguene to be used at orphanages in all parts of the country. They run training courses for health workers from all of Mozambique’s provinces. A group from Frelimo’s organisation for women help them. In this way they are making sure that the project does not have to depend on experts from outside.
But Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. It does not have enough money to build orphanages in every village where Renamo has left children without parents.
So the government asks families to look after the nation’s orphans. It also trains teachers to look out for the problems that these children have and run special courses that will help them to overcome these problems. The government believes that, because of the war, everyone needs to become a healer of wounded minds.
The children at Lhanguene may never recover fully from the horrors of Renamo’s war. But the government of Mozambique is doing all it can to help the victims of Renamo’s evil war.
The time will come when young children, like Franisse, will be able to go down to the river to fetch water for their families without fear — and then go back to the village to wake up their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to the breaking of the new day!
NEW WORDS orphanage — children who have no parents are called orphans. Sometimes orphans live in a home called orphanage bandits — bandits are thugs who carry weapons to be dumb — a person who is dumb is not able to speak psychologist — a psychologist is a person who studies the human mind and tries to work out why people act like they do