top of page


Who created the monster and who is behind it?

The year was 1975. The bush war in Mozambique was over. There were shouts of “Viva Frelimo!” everywhere. The Portuguese masters were packing their bags and going home. There was going to be peace at last.

Frelimo soldiers sang their freedom songs with the people and waved their AK47’s. Everyone said goodbye to the bad old times and hello to freedom. But there was one man who had something else in mind.

His name was Andre Matsangaisa. Like most freedom-loving people of Mozambique, Matsangaisa had joined Frelimo and fought for his country. But he was not like other soldiers. He was greedy and wanted something more than just freedom.

Before long, Matsangaisa was caught stealing a Mercedes Benz from an army store where he worked. He was sent to a re-education camp to mend his ways.

But mend his ways he did not! He escaped from the camp and fled to Rhodesia. He was welcomed with open arms by Ian Smith’s army. They had good use for a person like Matsangaisa.


At that time the Rhodesian army was trying to start a new force to fight Frelimo, and especially against Robert Mugabe’s ZANLA.

Matsangaisa became the leader of this new force, which was called Renamo or MNR (Mozambican National Resistance). His job was to get soldiers to fight, kill and destroy everything they could in Mozambique. It is now more than 10 years since officers in the Rhodesian army started Renamo with only a few men. Renamo has now grown to an army of more than 10 000 killers. It has also changed hands.

Renamo became South Africa’s adopted son — the ugly one who is kept away from people and locked in a cupboard.

The change took place in 1979 after the liberation of Zimbabwe. The Rhodesians had lost against Mugabe and no longer needed Renamo. They knew Pretoria might be interested in using Renamo and started having talks with SADF officers.

A deal was made. In 1979 Colonel Charles van Niekerk, an intelligence officer of the SADF, made plans for the Renamo radio station, Renamo soldiers and equipment to be brought to secret camps at Phalaborwa, Voortrekkerhoogte and Waterkloof in South Africa.

Since then Renamo has caused untold misery in Mozambique. Over 100 thousand people have died because of the war. Nearly one million people have fled from Mozambique to Malawi, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Another one million in Mozambique have left their homes to move to safer areas.


Mr Jeremiah Shabangu, a refugee from Mozambique, remembers the first time that he saw ‘vha matswanga’, as Renamo fighters are called. “They came to our village in 1981 to ask for food and to tell us about a new government. They were carrying guns which looked like those used by Frelimo.

“They said that they did not want Machel’s ‘umfumo’ or socialism. They wanted a government which was going to be like that of the Portuguese but with them on the top. They also asked people to join their new army.

“Some people supported them, but many people did not like them. Like many others we were supporters of Samora Machel — but were afraid to tell them because of the guns.

“In 1984 Renamo started attacking people who were Frelimo supporters. Instead of asking for food they started to steal our cattle and our belongings. They burnt houses and killed people with axes and pangas. They cut off people’s ears and fingers with knives, raped young girls and mothers in front of their families and took young men for their army and women as their wives.

“Many people ran away from the villages and went to other countries. I was very lucky to live. They came to my house in May and took my two wives, cattle and other things. They walked with me for a long distance and then told me to go. Then I came to South Africa through the Kruger National park,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes.


In March 1984 Pretoria signed a treaty with Mozambique called the Nkomati Accord. They agreed to stop support for Renamo if Mozambique stopped support for the ANC.

But did South Africa stop supporting Renamo after the Nkomati Accord? There is proof to show that the ‘friendship’ between South Africa and Renamo did not end with Nkomati. Here are just a few examples:

  1. In March this year a policeman, Sergeant Robert van der Merwe, who was sentenced to death for murder, told a court that he had met a person last year in Nelspruit who said he was a “liaison officer” between the SADF and Renamo.

  2. A Renamo fighter, Abilio Jangare, was caught by Frelimo in the same month. He told newspaper reporters in Maputo that he saw eight black South African soldiers at a Renamo base near Furacango in Mozambique.

  3. In 1985 Frelimo found two notebooks and a diary which belonged to a Renamo commander after they attacked and took over a Renamo camp in Gorongosa. These books spoke of many guns and other supplies that were brought to the camp from South Africa.

  4. Frelimo also said they found a message from Colonel Van Niekerk written to Renamo. The message said Renamo should try not to fight the Mozambican army openly. Instead, the South African officer said they should

  5. attack easier targets, like villages, crops and ordinary people. In this way they would make it impossible for Frelimo to govern the country.


The people of Mozambique no longer talk about the freedom that they won from Portugal 13 years ago. They never had time to enjoy the fruits of their struggle. All they have known is death, fear and hunger.

Last month South Africa signed another agreement, this time with Portugal and Mozambique, in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. South Africa wants electricity from Cabora Bassa, in northern Mozambique, which is one of the biggest dams in the world. In the agreement both Mozambique and South Africa agreed to work together to protect Cabora Bassa. This means that Pretoria will have to stop helping Renamo, who have destroyed the power lines from Cabora Bassa in the past.

But will South Africa really stop helping Renamo after all this time? Or will the Lisbon agreement be just another piece of paper, like the Nkomati Accord?

NEW WORDS fled — ran away untold misery — terrible suffering treaty — an agreement between two countries liaison officer — a person who makes sure that people or organisations work well together target — when you point a gun at something, or attack it, that thing is the target power lines — the cables used to carry electricity


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page