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Machel's Death Casts Pall on Mozambique's Shaky Future

November 27, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

MAPUTO, Mozambique — When the black nationalist guerrillas of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique came to power here a decade ago, after a 10-year colonial war against the Portuguese, they thought that everything would at last be all right in their country.

They were now its masters, they believed, and with political power would come economic prosperity: All the profits would remain here to develop the nation's rich resources and would not be siphoned off to Portugal.

None of this has happened. Today, the old revolutionary slogan, "The struggle continues!" has taken on a new and ironic meaning.

The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique--or Frelimo, as the ruling party is still known after 11 years in power--is faced with a rightist insurgency that it has been unable to crush; with the increasing hostility of the country's powerful neighbor, South Africa; with an economy that has shrunk by half in the last five years and cannot feed or clothe Mozambique's 14 million people, and with the realization that Marxism alone is an insufficient blueprint for Third World development.

On top of those difficulties, Samora Moises Machel, the charismatic guerrilla leader who brought the country to independence and became its first president, is dead, killed in an air crash Oct. 19 on Mozambique's border with South Africa.

"You fell at a crucial, difficult moment in our history," Marcelino dos Santos, the second-ranking official in the Frelimo hierarchy, said at Machel's funeral here Oct. 27, addressing the dead president in an emotional eulogy that summed up the nation's predicament.

'Must Learn to Continue'

"With you, we had the certainty of removing the obstacles. . . . Now, we must learn to continue."

Frelimo's choice Nov. 3 for Machel's successor as the party leader, president and commander of the armed forces was Joaquim Alberto Chissano, 47, the urbane and moderate foreign minister.

Chissano immediately pledged to continue Machel's policies, making the war with the rightists and reconstruction of the economy his two priorities. He affirmed Frelimo's commitment to Marxism as "the guarantee of justice and equality" but stressed the party's determination to continue with recent economic reforms that give private entrepreneurs and foreign investors larger roles.

"One individual is not going to change our policies, for those are collective decisions of the party," Carlos Cardoso, editor of Mozambique's official news agency AIM, commented a few days before Chissano's election. "But, quite clearly, the person who is the leader of the party and of the government plays a key role in carrying out those decisions. These are very difficult times, and the choice has to be right."

A former student leader and guerrilla commander and a founding member of Frelimo, Chissano was Machel's natural successor, most political observers here believed. He not only worked closely with Machel for more than 20 years, but he had also argued strongly for the more pragmatic socialism that Mozambique has pursued for the past three years.

While he is not the heroic figure that Machel was as the father of independent Mozambique, Chissano is regarded by both Mozambicans and diplomats who know him as a strong and pragmatic leader. Although he lacks Machel's ebullience, he has great popularity at the grass-roots level, where he is known for his frequent visits around the country and still remembered as a man who delivers what he promises from his brief tenure as premier of a transitional government before independence.

Chissano's first speech, stressing continuity, sought to reassure a people not only grieving deeply over Machel's death but facing multiple challenges to their very existence as a nation.

Maputo's accelerating decay, evident in the long lines for rations, the empty and often shuttered shops, dormant factories and the peeling facades of what once was one of Africa's loveliest cities, makes the average Mozambican ask himself, "What went wrong?"

"There are many reasons, I suppose, but what we really want to know is how we will get out of all this, how we will get on the right road, how much longer will it take," Jose Lobo, a bank clerk, said as he stood in the long line of mourners to pay his final respects to Machel. "Where to begin? Sometimes it seems that nobody knows; there are so many problems."

Challenged by Rebels

Frelimo's rule is being challenged in most of Mozambique's 10 provinces by its right-wing political rivals, the Mozambique National Resistance, a movement known after its name in Portuguese as Renamo. Organized by the former white government of neighboring Rhodesia, Renamo was later supported by South Africa but now appears to have developed considerable strength of its own among disaffected and starving peasants.

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