The three and a half years (1986-90) that I was posted in Mozambique were perhaps the worst time in the country’s history. A brutal campaign carried out by RENAMO had devastated the countryside. Factories and schools were all destroyed. The Marxist-Leninist FRELIMO Government was unable to provide any succor to the people, but it had provided safe havens to the Patriotic Front and ANC (African National Congress ) of South Africa which gave a good excuse to the Apartheid regimes in the neighbouring countries to carry out raids across the border in Mozambique. Consequently by the mid 1980s the FRELIMO government had lost control of much of the country. The government’s writ was now limited to the major cities only – the capital Maputo and the provincial capitals.
The country was broke and nothing was available in the market, not even such ordinary items as nails, light bulbs, bread, soft drinks, pen and paper. There was hardly any business activity and very little traffic on the roads. Petrol, sugar, rice, cooking oil and flour were available on ration cards at a subsistence level only to the Mozambican nationals. Foreigners, like the officials and employees of the diplomatic missions, UN and International Organizations were not entitled to buy rations at the government stores. They had to buy provisions in the black market or from the ‘Interfranca’ departmental store, the only one where imported goods could be purchased on payment in US dollars. This one outlet for foreigners did not sell food items or any other perishable items, except some tinned drinks and biscuits. There was one International English medium school in the city – the only one in the whole country – where children of foreigners could get admission. The Ambassador’s daughter and my two children received education there for three years. The standard of education was not much to talk about. The ‘second class’ teachers; men and women, were adventurous nationals of UK and Ireland. Some others were the spouses of expatriates. But the condition of the schools for the locals was pathetic. The school buildings were in a state of disrepair – books and stationery were hard to get. The poverty all around was so glaring and the conditions so pitiable that the foreigners’ community, at the personal level, was impelled to help as much as possible in alleviating the sufferings of the Mozambican people. UN agencies such as the UNICEF and WFP had set up offices and were providing some relief.
My wife, Nigar Nazar, also took the initiative. She mobilized some of her friends: local Pakistani ladies as well as other women from the diplomatic community. Prominent ladies from the Pakistani (Gujrati speaking) community gladly joined the campaign. There was a small business and trading community in Maputo comprising almost entirely of Gujrati speaking Pakistanis and Hindus of Indian origin. Some of these Pakistanis were quite prosperous by local standards and contributed generously. This group of ladies would regularly hold functions – lunches and dinners to raise funds for charity. My wife, a cartoonist and an artist of repute would make presentations of her works, of much interest and amusement to children and their parents who would gladly pay the entrance fee for the shows. All such earnings would go to the charity fund. After some months the group had raised a sizeable amount.
A local public school in the vicinity of the diplomatic missions on Kenneth Kaunda road was in a bad state of disrepair. It had hundreds of students from poor localities on its rolls but classes could not be held with any regularity because of the damaged roofs and broken doors of its classrooms. The ladies’ group visited the school and felt that their money would be well spent if they would get the classrooms repaired. My wife, the head of the group called on the Principal and offered to get the essential repairs done. The Principal informed her that this being a government building, permission from the Ministry of Education would be needed. So she called on the Minister of Education Ms Graca Machel, (later Mrs Nelson Mandela) widow of Samora Machel, the late President and Revolutionary leader of Mozambique. Graca Machel, the much respected member of the Mozambican cabinet was very pleased with the group’s offer. She not only gave permission but also visited our home to meet my wife and learn more about the charity group. The school rooms were repaired and white washed. Now the school was ready to hold regular classes in two, and at times three shifts, much to the relief of the students and their parents. Ms Graca Machel gladly agreed to inaugurate the renovated premises of the school and was the guest of honour. During her speech on the occasion she asked the Principal to display a large scale map of the world, and addressing the students said, “Do you know the country Pakistan?” Then she pointed it out on the map and said ‘This is Pakistan, and the lady here (pointing to Nigar Nazar) is from Pakistan and she has got your school repaired.” There was much clapping and appreciation. The major contributors to the charity fund were Pakistanis, wives of Pakistani businessmen, and my wife who headed the group. Graca Machel’s acknowledgement and appreciation of the Pakistanis’ contribution was of much satisfaction and pride for us all. It would be recalled that in 1976, on the eve of independence of Mozambique, Pakistan had extended technical support by sending pilots, engineers and maintenance persons to Mozambique, training their airlines’ pilots and technicians. Graca Machel had also noted Pakistanis’ help during the funeral ceremonies of her late husband .
Maputo was a lifeless city steeped in poverty. But there were some shops owned by Gujrati speaking Muslims (Pakistan passport holders) and Indian Hindus (now holding Mozambican citizenship).These were very enterprising people. They would manage to bring non –perishable items such as garments, cloth, some spices and other odd items by road from South Africa, or by air from India and Pakistan. Yet there were no shops selling footwear, hardware and electric goods. One day my wife and I were accompanying another couple going to their house in their car. The couple Mr and Mrs Haroon were local residents. On the way Mrs Haroon asked her husband to stop the car in front of an apartment building. She asked my wife to accompany her to the third floor apartment of a family which, she was told, had just returned from South Africa and had brought some assorted shoes to sell. She wanted some for her children. The two ladies went up while we two men kept sitting in the car gossiping for half an hour or so. Finally they returned to the car, Mrs Haroon holding something in a plastic bag. Her husband asked if she had got the shoes for the children. She said that a few shoes available were not of the right size but they had some spare fish which she bought and was carrying in the bag. This was how the buying and selling was carried out – odd items at odd places and at odd times.
[quote]The tailor confiscated one of the two bulbs for himself despite his friend’s protests[/quote]
Another day I was standing in an Indian tailor’s shop for some stitching job. A Mozambican friend of the tailor, who was just passing by, came over to say hello. The tailor asked him what he was carrying in the plastic bag. He replied that he had luckily got two light bulbs from someone coming from Swaziland. The tailor confiscated one of the two bulbs for himself despite his friend’s protests.
Utility services, however, like electricity, gas and water supply in the city were not bad. There was electricity load shedding but its schedule was regularly published in the daily newspaper’s Noticias and adhered to meticulously. Other services were difficult to get. The lifts in most of the high rise buildings were not functioning and the owner, namely the government, had neither the money nor the technicians available to make them functional. The tallest building in Maputo during our time was a thirty three storey apartment building in the city centre popularly known as just, ‘Trinta Tresh”(33) A gentleman—a Pakistani—who had rented one of the apartments on the top 33rd floor returned home late in the evening, parked his car and walked up the stairs – all thirty three floors. When he reached his apartment and put his hand in the pocket for the door key he discovered that he had left it in the car. He walked down the 33 storeys but had no strength left to go up the stairs again. He spent the night in a friend’s house nearby.
[quote]I picked up Dr. Abdus Salam from the Polana Hotel and took him to the Ambassador’s reception[/quote]
Our Mission’s Chancery building, the Embassy Residence and DHM’s house were all located on the main Kenneth Kaunda double road in a posh residential area of the city. But the Embassy’s staffing, financial and budgetary situation was at rock bottom—in sympathy with the conditions of the host country. Yet Pakistan and Pakistanis enjoyed a position of distinction and respect among the local populace. We felt much elated when Dr Abdus Salam, the great Physicist and the only Pakistani Nobel Prize winner visited Maputo in connection with some international meeting. The Ambassador’s reception, planned a few weeks earlier, was to be held on May 28, 1989, and Dr Abdus Salam was to be in town on that day. The Ambassador invited Dr Salam to be the guest of honour in the reception and he accepted. On the day I went to Polana Hotel to bring Dr Salam to the party. Dr Sahib was very gracious. He gave a short speech in which he talked glowingly about his country Pakistan. In the reception, attended by many senior government officials and elite of the city many were pleasantly surprised to learn that Pakistan had a Nobel Prize winning scientist. For us hosts it was a matter of great honour.
Mozambique now is a multi party democracy under the 1990 constitution. Its economy is picking up. The white apartheid regime in South Africa is long gone. Barring the occasional attacks by the opposition party, the situation is peaceful.
Pakistan always had good relations with Mozambique. We provided services of Audit and sent accounts experts to the Mozambique government in the 1990s. We have been regularly offering scholarships and training facilities to Mozambican officials in different fields under our Africa program.
But now we do not have a resident diplomatic mission in Maputo.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org