Agriculture Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario has announced that for the first time since independence in 1975, Mozambique has achieved self-sufficiency in maize.
Addressing a conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, Rosario said that grain production had grown by 22 per cent in the 1996 harvest, and by a further 11 per cent in 1997, reaching a total of 1,469,000 tonnes. Not only could the country cover all its own maize needs this year, but it produced a surplus of 100,000 tonnes.
Despite this, there was an overall grain deficit of 201,000 tonnes, since Mozambique still had to import all of its wheat and much of its rice.
There is no guarantee that the good harvests of recent years will continue. Rosario pointed out that the "El Nino" phenomenon (an anomalous warming of surface waters in the Pacific that disrupts world weather patterns) is likely to produce a serious drought in southern Africa in the 1997-98 crop year.
He said that the government had drawn up contingency plans to face such a drought, but warned that it would be a serious setback for the country's efforts to achieve food security. He urged the international community to give full support to the government's contingency plans, to minimise the damage caused by any "El Nino"-induced drought.
Rosario also stressed the National Agricultural Programme (PROAGRI), which is currently undergoing final assessment by foreign donors. This is a five year programme, involving investment of $200-$300 million.
Rosario said that PROAGRI "will allow us to integrate public sector agricultural investments into a single body, so as to have a multiplier effect on the development of agricultural activity".
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) approved last month a $60 million five year food and services aid plan for Mozambique, according to the WFP Regional Director for Africa, Mohammed Zejjari, during a visit to Mozambique.
Zejjari told reporters in Maputo on 12 November that the plan was approved taking account of the current political stability in Mozambique and covers the areas of education, health, the reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructures, food security and prevention of natural disasters.
He said that $11 million has been earmarked for the education sector, to supply food for 57,000 students in 180 schools.
The reconstruction and rehabilitation sector will receive $12.3 million, for the rehabilitation of 900 primary schools, 2,700 houses for teachers, 240 health centres, and 600 houses for health workers.
Through this building work, about three million people will have access to primary health care, while about 270,000 children will have access to primary education.
"From 1975, when WFP started its activities in Mozambique, up until 1996, it has supplied about 1.5 million tonnes of food and about $570 million", added Zejjari. He summarised the WFP mission in the region as to save lives in emergency situations, to improve nutrition and quality of life of vulnerable people and build self-reliance.
The Italian government has granted $1 million to finance Mozambique's National Mental Health Programme, according to Giancarlo Santone, coordinator of CIES, an Italian non-governmental organisation, specialising in mental health.
One of the projects being carried out by CIES is the rehabilitation of infrastructures and staff training in the area, said Santone.
He added that his organisation has already installed a new water pump and has rehabilitated a documentation centre in the Infulene Psychiatric Hospital, on the outskirts of Maputo. The use of this centre by students, health workers and the public is free of charge.
Besides wards and other infrastructures, CIES is also to rehabilitate individual houses "for patients to be able to live with their families in order to render their cure more efficient", said Santone.
The organisation is also planning to install a poultry unit in the hospital shortly, to be run by patients who are in a less serious condition.
Other plans of the organisation, according to Santone, include an upgrading course for 34 mental health workers from the central and northern regions of the country, to take place between 17 and 24 November in Chimoio, capital of the central province of Manica.
Santone was speaking during a cultural meeting between patients, artists and the community in general, organised by the Infulene Psychiatric Hospital and CIES, to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the elevation of Maputo to the status of a city.
The Mozambican privatised beer company (CDM) has increased its installed capacity with the inauguration, on 11 November, of a new bottling line in its Mac-Mahon brewery on the outskirts of Maputo.
According to Andre Parker, director of South African Breweries (SAB), which owns 70 per cent of the CDM shares, this brewery will now be able to fill 36,000 bottles of beer per hour.
Parker added that CDM has increased sales by about 200 per cent since privatisation in 1995. It now sells about 5.8 million 12-bottle crates a year.
As for CDM's contributions to the state coffers, the company will pay around $24 million in tax this year.
"SAB is happy to be able to contribute to the economic reconstruction of Mozambique. We are committed to taking part in the development of the country and its inhabitants", said Parker.
The Mozambican Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Oldemiro Baloi, who took part in the inauguration ceremony, praised the joint efforts of the CDM management and workers for the successes achieved. He pointed out that "every time we want to give an example of success in privatisation, we mention the drinks sector".
The Maputo-Matola conurbation, with a population of well over a million inhabitants, needs at least 500 buses, with a capacity of 90 passengers each, to overcome the shortage of public transport, reports the daily paper Noticias on 13 November.
Currently, the publicly-owned Maputo bus company (TPM) is operating with only 45 units on an average day. As a result, privately-owned minibus taxis, that have tried to cover the demand unmet by public transport, have been operating in extremely overcrowded and dangerous conditions.
To find a solution to the problem, the Mozambican Transport Ministry has hired a foreign consultant to carry out a study of the situation. According to the Maputo city transport director, Jaime Muchanga, the objective of the study was to find ways to regulate the functioning of private passenger transport.
The results were presented on 12 November in Maputo during a meeting with the passenger service operators.
The study advises that the operators of the minibus taxis should group together in small companies, so to allow improved management of the sector.
Muchanga indicated that only 190 minibus taxi operators are registered in Maputo, but about 650 vehicles, TPM buses included, have been operating, and even so, they do not solve the problem.
The report points out that, at peak hours, about 33,000 people travel every day from the suburbs to the city centre and vice-versa.
Maputo Mayor Joao Baptista Cosme, who chaired the opening session of the meeting, stressed the importance of the study, saying that it will improve the management of both TPM and private passenger services.
He pointed out that the privately-owned minibus taxis have been ensuring the service for about 60 per cent of the passengers.
The one day meeting brought together public and private operators, as well as representatives of some donor agencies.
The Mozambican government on 12 November announced that the country's first municipal elections will be held on 29 May 1998.
Initially, the elections were scheduled for 27 December this year, because the local authority legislation stipulated that the elections be held in 1997, and the government said that no date earlier in the year was possible.
On 28 October the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, amended the local authority legislation, allowing the elections to take place "within the first six months of 1998", but leaving it up to the government to set the exact date.
The elections will be held in all places that enjoy municipal status. Currently there are 33 of these - Maputo, the other ten provincial capitals, 12 other urban areas that are classified as cities, and ten (one in each province) that are classified as towns.
The highest ranking officer drawn from Mozambique's former rebel movement Renamo, Lt-Gen Mateus Ngonhamo, deputy chief of staff of the Mozambican Defence Force (FADM), has broken with his party's line on conscription.
During the debate in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on the government's military service bill, at the end of October, Renamo came out very strongly against conscription and in support of a volunteer army.
Renamo felt bitterly enough about this issue to boycott the rest of that day's session when the Frelimo parliamentary majority ensured that the bill reintroducing conscription passed its first reading.
However, in an interview published in the independent newsheet Mediafax on 13 November, Ngonhamo, who was head of Renamo military intelligence during the war of destabilisation, declared that, "as a citizen and as a military officer", he is in favour of conscription.
President Joaquim Chissano urged, on 12 November, the residents of the district of Moamba, about 60 kilometres north-west of the capital, to find solutions themselves for the problems of the district.
Speaking in Moamba town, the President told a mass rally that the solution to their problems is in "our hands", but "we have to work seriously".
He was answering the residents' messages asking him to help solve the problem of hunger in the district, supposedly caused by drought (though in fact the southern Mozambican rainy season does not usually begin until October/November, which makes talk of drought somewhat premature).
They also asked President Chissano to do something to help rehabilitate the Moamba irrigation system, which has been paralysed for more than a year due to lack of equipment. The residents also complained to the President about lack of security in the district, which leads to frequent rustling.
"Here, in Moamba, we have neither enough schools nor health posts with basic conditions", read another of the messages given to the President.
"We are aware of your worries, and we are doing our best to find a solution", said President Chissano. He stressed the need for people to pay their taxes, as a way to contribute to the government's capacity to intervene in the social areas.
Chissano is making a two day visit to Maputo province, to assess, among other things, the level of implementation of the government's programme.
On 12 November, President Chissano visited the Moamba irrigation system, a demining field in the locality of Sabie, and the Corumana dam.
Chissano's delegation in this visit includes Eneas Comiche, the interim governor of the province, the Education Minister, Arnaldo Nhavoto, and the deputy minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Abilio Bichinho.
Mozambican sappers employed in demining work by the South African company Mechem are threatening to go on strike in pursuit of demands for a shorter working week, and better treatment by the company.
The sappers are working in the Sabie region of Maputo province, about 80 kilometres north of the capital on a demining project named "Terra Limpa" (Clean Land).
On 13 September six of the 17 sappers told AIM that their main grievance was the length of the working week. They claimed that they are obliged to work from 06.30 until 16.30 every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. (If true, this is a clear breach of Mozambican labour legislation.)
Speaking on conditions of anonymity, for fear that they might suffer reprisals from their employers, the sappers said their wages are not sufficient reward for this work load. They said that an ordinary sapper receives $160 a month, while those in positions of responsibility earn $300.
The sappers also complained that they receive no danger money, and that their contractual situation has not been made clear.
They alleged that they are beaten by their South African employers, and that, since the project started in September, three sappers have been expelled without any explanation.
They said that next week they will send a letter to the Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH), to denounce these supposed irregularities.
"First we want to present our problems, and later we will decide whether to take strike action", said the leader of the group. He thought a strike might start "within days".
This situation is embarrassing for Mechem since, on 12 November, President Chissano visited the demining project, and stressed the importance of mine clearance to allow all citizens displaced during the war to return to their original homes.
The outbreak of cholera in Maputo has now spread to other parts of southern Mozambique, with cases reported from the district of Boane, and from Xai-Xai, capital of Gaza province.
Domingo reported on 17 November that 13 people have died in Boane, but that in Gaza the health authorities have the situation under control. There have been 40 cases notified in Xai-Xai, but no deaths.
In Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola there have now been 43 confirmed cholera deaths, bringing the total death toll to 56.
Boane interim health director Anastancia Flora said that the relatively large number of deaths here was because the victims "don't go to hospital when the disease is in its initial stage".
"Most people in this district are used to going to traditional healers", she said. "Or even worse they swallow supposed medicines recommended by neighbours and friends, and made from various herbs. For them, anything which is bitter is a medicine".
In Maputo torrential rain on 12 November seems to have facilitated the spread of cholera, which is a water-borne disease. The number of sick people showing up at Maputo Central Hospital increased sharply, and there are now two wards dealing exclusively with cholera cases.
A visit to the wards shows that they are desperately overcrowded, with most patients lying on mats on the floor. By the weekend the number of patients in the wards had risen to 257.
Health Minister Aurelio Zilhao has ordered the temporary closure of some courses at the Maputo Health Science Institute, so that the students can assist at the cholera wards. The health authorities have also appealed to retired health workers to come to the hospital and help cope with this emergency.
The Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH) has accused police in the southern city of Matola of torturing and murdering suspects, reports Noticias on 15 November.
According to LDH chairperson Alice Mabota, the Matola police detained 25 year old Crescencio Muchanga on 13 October, and accused him of taking part in the theft of a vehicle belonging to the Ministry of Justice.
She claimed that policemen of the Matola first precinct used torture on Muchanga to force him to reveal the whereabouts of the car. When he refused (or was unable) to tell them, "they shot him to death and abandoned the body in the morgue", said Mabota.
When the LDH became aware of the cases, it informed the dead man's family who buried the body which Mabota described as "completely riddled with bullets".
The LDH also accuses the police of murdering a Matola woman named Luisa Mavulula on 18 October. According to the victim's aunt, Virginia Luis, a police unit arrived at her house searching for a gang of burglars they believed were hidden there.
"They arrived, they asked where the criminals where, and since they weren't there, they opened fire and hit my niece", said Luis. In this case, the police effectively admitted guilt, since they paid for the funeral.
When Noticias interviewed Mabota, she was at the LDH offices with 24 year old Americo Santos, who claimed that he had been severely tortured by the police, who were trying to force him to confess to a car theft.
He said the police buried him alive (though pulled him out before he could suffocate). He was released conditionally, but with a broken rib from the police beatings.
Asked for his comments, Joao Machava, spokesman for the Maputo provincial police command, claimed that Muchanga was shot dead while trying to escape. He said that Muchanga was not arrested for car theft, but for a raid on the home of the director of the Matola registry office, in which the director was shot and wounded.
Machava said the police wanted Muchanga to show them where the guns used by his gang were hidden but he made a run for it. When the police opened fire, they intended to immobilise him, rather than kill him, he added.
He said that the police did not dump the body, but took Muchanga to hospital, where he died. Asked about Mavulula's death, Machava said the policeman who shot her now faced a charge of manslaughter. He said the incident occurred because Mavulula was "living with criminals".
When the police arrived, the men they were after fled. The police opened fire to stop them but one of the bullets hit Mavulula, he claimed.
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