Thousands of workers took part in the traditional May Day parade through central Maputo on 1 May, protesting vociferously against low wages and the mass redundancies that have resulted from the government's privatisation programme. The parade, organised jointly by the two trade union federations, the OTM (Organisation of Mozambican Workers) and CONSILMO (Confederation of Free and Independent Unions of Mozambique), took place under the slogan "For greater justice in the redistribution of wealth".
As they marched past the rostrum where President Joaquim Chissano and Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi were sitting, many of the trade unionists chanted "13 per cent is nothing" - a reference to the 13.5 per cent rise in the statutory minimum wage decreed by the government on 29 April.
This brings the minimum wage up to 353,886 meticais ($30.5) a month, dismissed by the marchers as a derisory sum. Many hand-written placards expressed anger at the small size of the increase.
"Chissano, we're tired of starvation wages", read a banner carried by workers from the electrical equipment company, Intelec, while bank workers demanded "No to wage inequalities between Mozambicans and foreigners".
Some of the placards denounced privatisation as such, while others protested that privatisation should not be used as an excuse for mass sackings. "Privatisation yes, but no to mass redundancies", declared the banner from the Matola coal terminal.
"Is privatisation a sign of development or does it mean the suffocation of many families?", asked workers from the airport company, while placards carried by clothing workers protested "Privatisations doesn't mean mass lay-offs, closing down factories, or turning factories into warehouses".
Some of the marchers were protesting, not at the minimum wage, but at the fact that they are not receiving any wages at all. "10 months without wages", read the placards from the Bico Rico poultry company. "Six months without wages, three years without length of service bonuses", protested workers from a Maputo chemical company, while the workforce of the privatised rubber firm DINUFA, protested they had been "11 months without wages and four months on strike".
"Is this the better future ?", asked the DINUFA workers, referring to the slogan "For a better future" used by the ruling Frelimo Party in the 1994 election campaign.
But the most dramatic protest came from the country's largest textile factory, Texlom, which is currently paralysed due to what the workers describe as crass mismanagement by the Portuguese firm SOGETEX which was hired to run the factory.
As the Texlom workers marched past Chissano, they placed their hands on the back of their heads, the women ululating, and the men in total silence. They bore placards reminding the government that Texlom has been seven months without wages, electricity or water (since SOGETEX has not paid the bills). One placard even demanded "the death penalty for those who destroyed Texlom".
Much of the protest was in the form of songs in Shangaan, the dominant African language in Maputo. Some workers happily sung insults at members of the government and at parliamentary deputies, one of which translates roughly as "You people are all scoundrels".
Workers from Maputo City Council sang at the President "Chissano, you're starving us to death with these low wages".
The president took the criticism in his stride, and after the march told reporters it had been "one of the best May Day parades of recent years".
The Mozambican government on 27 April announced a special fiscal and customs regime for all investments in the Zambezi Valley. At the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, the Minister of Public Works and Housing, Roberto White, announced massive tax and customs exemptions for new undertakings in the valley, and for fresh investment in existing ones.
The area covered by the new regime is the entirety of Tete province, the southern part of Zambezia province, including the provincial capital, Quelimane, and the northern parts of Manica and Sofala provinces. This amounts to about a quarter of Mozambique's total surface area.
Under the new rules, all capital and intermediate goods will be exempt from import duties, sales and consumption taxes. So will raw materials, if they are for production destined for export.
All investments in the Zambezi Valley will be exempt from corporation tax for the first five years of the new regime, and as from the sixth year will benefit from an 80 per cent reduction in this tax.
There are exemptions for a series of other, less significant, taxes, and the whole package adds up to a fiscal regime that is even more favourable for investors than the one designed for Industrial Free Zones. White said the special regime will last until 2025, in order to entice major investments into the region.
The Minister listed the economic areas entitled to claim these benefits - they include agriculture, forestry, wildlife, water supply, energy, telecommunications, industry, passenger and freight transport, the building of housing and of industrial and commercial infrastructures, and banking.
"This makes the central zone of the country a priority for the attraction of capital", he added, pointing to the "immense resources" of land, water and energy currently lying untapped in the Zambezi Valley.
He noted that, despite difficulties in reaching an agreement over tariffs with its main client, the South African electricity corporation Eskom, the Cahora Bassa dam, after a hiatus of a decade and a half, was again exporting power (mainly to Zimbabwe).
Studies for a Cahora Bassa north bank power station, and for a dam at Meponda-Ncua, 70 km downstream from Cahora Bassa are continuing, he added.
He was confident that a major forestry investment in the northern districts of Sofala would lead to the export of 200,000 tonnes of timber a year, and that negotiations to resume coal production at Moatize, in Tete, would prove successful.
Much of these ambitious plans depends on repairing the Sena line, the sabotaged railway linking Tete and Malawi to the port of Beira. White put the cost of reopening the line at between $312 and $342 million.
A conference on the line held in Beira earlier this month opted to press ahead with labour intensive methods of rebuilding the railway. However, it is not yet clear where the money will come from.
The Mozambican government has approved terms under which the Niassa reserve, a huge area in the far north of the country rich in wild life and forestry resources, will be managed and developed, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Isidora Faztudo, said on 24 April.
The government signed a contract with the company MADAL in 1996 to draw up a development plan for the reserve. A management committee was set up consisting of representatives of MADAL, the Agriculture Ministry and the Niassa provincial government. Tracks within the reserve were reopened, 150 game wardens were trained, and an inventory of fauna and flora drawn up.
The plan drawn up by MADAL for the future management of the reserve has now been approved. Faztudo said that initially the company running the reserve will be 51 per cent owned by the state, and 49 per cent by the "Niassa Investment Company",
This is a new company, in which the dominant shareholder is a Norwegian named Astrup, who is also the main shareholder in MADAL, and has wildlife interests in other African countries. Local businessmen also hold shares in the Investment Company.
In a second phase, new partners will be brought into the management company, including the local communities living in the reserve area. The ownership structure will eventually be 36 per cent for the Niassa Investment Company, 30 per cent for the state, 15 per cent for local communities, and 19 per cent for other Mozambican private investors.
The original Niassa reserve covers 15,000 square kilometres between the Rovuma and Lugenda rivers. The MADAL plan adds 7,000 square kilometres, pushing it to the boundary with Cabo Delgado province.
In addition there are five "buffer zones" covering another 17,000 square kilometres. Hunting safaris will be allowed in the buffer zones, but there will be no hunting in the reserve itself, which is to be used for eco-tourism. There are special sanctuary zones within the reserve, especially in areas where the black rhinoceros, once thought extinct in Niassa, has been spotted.
Faztudo said total investment in the area will be $7.3 million, of which $4.5 million will be spent on eco-tourism infrastructures. $941,000 is earmarked for community investment. In the first five years of activity, she expected the reserve to add $3.9 million to Mozambican balance of payments.
Education Minister Arnaldo Nhavoto on 4 May said that the primary school network, 50 per cent of which had been destroyed by the Renamo rebels during the war of destabilisation, has been almost entirely restored.
"The gross rate of coverage at the primary level is about 71 per cent of children of school age, as against 56 per cent recorded in 1992", he said, adding that over two million pupils have been enrolled this year, as against 1.4 million in 1992.
Nhavoto said that 81 per cent of six year olds were now attending the first grade of primary school, while in several provinces (Maputo, Manica, Tete and Cabo Delgado) this figure was approaching the 100 per cent mark. In 1992, only 59 per cent of six year olds were attending first grade.
The three and a half kilometre bridge linking Mozambique Island, the country's former colonial capital, to the coast of the northern province of Nampula is near collapse, according to local administrator, Ishaca Baraca, who warned that the bridge might fall into the Mozambique channel any day. If it did so, it would take with it the island's electricity and water supply - the cables and pipes are carried by the bridge.
Repair work on the bridge will cost around $6 million.
The Assembly of the Republic on 27 April gave its go-ahead to a competition to rewrite the country's national anthem.
The regulations for the competition, drawn up by an ad-hoc commission of the Assembly, state that entries must be submitted between 30 April and 30 November, and will be judged by a seven member panel of "prominent Mozambican figures from the world of the arts and letters".
The Assembly had previously decided to retain the current tune, and only alter the lyrics. The regulations modify this, saying that the melody can be changed "slightly" to accommodate new lyrics. For the past six years, Mozambique has had a national anthem that consists of a tune, but no words.
The main problem with the anthem is its first line - "Viva, viva a Frelimo" ("Long live, long live Frelimo") - felt to be inappropriate in a multi-party system.
Writers of new lyrics are faced with a daunting task. For the Assembly has included "terms of reference" for the anthem which stipulate that the lyrics "Shall exalt a) national unity, b) national independence and sovereignty, c) the heroism of the Mozambican people, d) work, e) equality amongst Mozambicans, and f) peace and internationalism".
The competition runs from 30 April to 30 November. A jury, consisting of outstanding figures in the world of arts (but the rules do not state how they will be chosen) then selects the winning entry. The new lyrics should then be voted upon definitively by the Assembly some time in early 1999.
The chairman of the board of the privately-owned International Bank of Mozambique (BIM), Mario Machungo, said on 29 April that the bank is looking for financial solutions which reflect the genuine needs of the country.
Speaking during the official inauguration of the bank's corporate finance affiliate, BIM- Investimento, Machungo said that its philosophy is to absorb foreign knowledge and technology without losing sight of aspects that lead to the devising of Mozambican solutions.
BIM-Investimento, with a share capital of two million dollars, is a financial institution consisting of local and foreign investors, namely the BIM itself, two Portuguese banks, the BCP/Atlantico and CISF, and the Mozambican telecommunications and electricity companies, TDM and EDM, which are both publicly owned.
Owing to the fact that BIM's main shareholders are Portuguese, holding 50 per cent of its capital, most of the top jobs go to their own men.
Machungo, a former Prime Minister, felt that the current trend had to be reversed. He said the BIM had to respect its Mozambican roots, and so an increasing number of its senior staff should be of Mozambican nationality.
BIM-Investimento is aimed at contributing to the development of infrastructures, strengthening the Mozambican business class and channelling private funds to productive purposes.
Mozambican Planning and Finance Minister Tomaz Salomao told the ceremony that the initiative would benefit the country, and that local entrepreneurs now had an important economic tool which will answer their concerns.
The paper Noticias has reported that Renamo is forcibly collecting and destroying voters cards in the northern town of Angoche, Nampula province.
Reporters from the paper were shown the voting card of Ossufo Luis, which allegedly was defaced by Renamo.
The Angoche district director of the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), Sergio Moiane, showed reporters six voters' cards, discarded at a petrol station. He said they had been thrown away by Renamo members who feared being caught in the illicit possession of other citizens' cards.
So far the police have detained six Renamo members on charges of seizing voting cards. Some said they did so on instructions from the Angoche Renamo leadership.
Renamo worked hard to sabotage the reconstitution of missing or mutilated electoral registers in Angoche. Citizens whose names were on the missing registers were asked to visit registration brigades between 30 March and 19 April to reinstate them on the register.
According to Moiane, Renamo waged an effective door-to-door campaign, misinforming voters, and urging them not to go to the registration brigades, because correcting the registers was "a Frelimo manoeuvre". They also used the influence of local pro-Renamo "regulos" (quasi-traditional chiefs) to spread propaganda against the registration brigades.
To counter the Renamo campaign, STAE also mounted a door-to-door operation in the closing days of the correction exercise. "Our agents worked in churches, mosques and markets and went from door to door urging people to regularise their situation", said Moiane.
But the Noticias investigation shows confusion about the elections in parts of the town. In the densely populated suburb of Inguri, the reporters found many voters saying that they had already voted. Others said they handed over their voting cards to un-named individuals.
The STAE has claimed that the operation to reconstitute missing electoral registers was, by and large, a success.
During last year's updating of the electoral registers, STAE found that a small number of the 1994 registers had gone missing, while others were mutilated by poor storage conditions, rain, rats and insects.
For the 33 towns and cities where municipal elections are due to take place on 30 June, 131 registers were missing and 59 seriously damaged, affecting about 80,000 voters - four per cent of the municipal electorate.
A campaign to reconstitute the registers took place from 30 March to 19 April. During this period, people who had been on the missing registers were asked to visit registration posts.
STAE deputy director Alberto Razul said that only about 10,000-11,000 names were still missing from the registers. This means that only 0.5 per cent of the municipal electorate is now omitted from the register. The real figure of omission is less, since the 10,000 include voters who have died or moved since 1994.
Despite the boycott of the forthcoming municipal elections announced by the leadership of Renamo, some local Renamo branches have presented candidates.
Interviewed in Noticias on 24 April, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama admitted that some Renamo offices had submitted lists of candidates to the provincial branches of the STAE.
Dhlakama blamed this on poor communications: the Renamo offices concerned did not know that their party was supposed to be boycotting the elections. He cliamed this was because Renamo's telephones have been disconnected by the telecommunications company, TDM, for non-payment of phone bills.
He added that when he heard that the Renamo delegate in the town of Moatize, in the western province of Tete, had delivered candidates' papers to the STAE he sent instructions that they should be withdrawn.
The chairman of the Nampula provincial football association, Agueda de Sousa, has threatened to sue the STAE for rejecting her candidature for mayor of Nampula.
Nomination papers of all candidates had to be delivered by 16 April. According to STAE the supporting papers for Sousa were not in order.
Sousa claimed that the rejection of her nomination papers was orchestrated by the Nampula provincial branch of STAE, and its director, Maria Tirano. According to Tirano, the group of citizens proposing Sousa did not have a name or a symbol, as required by law, for insertion on the ballot paper. Furthermore, she did not have enough signatures backing her nomination: the law states that a candadate must be backed by at least one per cent of the municipal electorate. In the case of Nampula, that means 1,494 signatures.
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