The second national conference of Mozambique's Association of Veterans of the National Liberation Struggle (ACLLN) opened in the central city of Chimoio on 11 January with a call by President Joaquim Chissano for a careful analysis of the future "statute of veterans".
The statute is the legal document that will stipulate veterans' privileges, and the state's obligations towards them.
Speaking at the opening session, President Chissano, who is also the ACLLN chairman, stressed that in drawing up a draft statute "the real conditions and possibilities of the state must be taken into account".
"As an instrument to defend our rights, the statute is not an end in itself", he said. "It will only produce palpable results with the efforts of all of us, on all fronts of combat for the well-being of ourselves and of future generations". President Chissano hopes to avoid exaggerated demands from the veterans, perhaps mindful of the problems this has caused in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
The President recalled the heroism of the liberation war, describing the veterans as "the makers of freedom and independence, the producers of the most beautiful and noble pages in our history".
"Many of the best children of our motherland offered their youth and, in many cases, sacrificed their lives so that Mozambique could be a free and independent country", he declared.
But the Association has let over ten years elapse since its founding conference and its activities have largely been invisible. Hence Chissano's call that the conference should "redynamise the activities of our association". But he added that "the problems accumulated over 10 years cannot all be solved in one meeting" - thus anticipating criticisms of any omissions in the conference deliberations.
Several foreign dignitaries were to attend the conference, including South African President Nelson Mandela, and former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda. However, one of Frelimo's closest allies, former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, has sent his apologies: he is unable to attend, since he is currently on a visit to the United States.
Interior Minister Almerino Manhenje has expressed serious concern over the ill-treatment dispensed to Mozambicans described as illegal immigrants in South Africa, and has promised to have further discussions on the matter with the South African police authorities.
Such discussions are to deal with the manner in which repatriation of illegal Mozambican immigrants in that country is processed. Currently the deportees claim they are not allowed to collect their belongings, are beaten up, are mauled by police dogs, and are subject to other humiliating situations.
Manhenje noted that this issue has been discussed several times with South Africa. "We are trying, once again, to clear this matter up with the South African Immigration services, so that Mozambicans are treated in a dignified fashion in that country", he said.
Manhenje added "We are aware that some Mozambicans go to South Africa with bad intentions, but we also believe that there are others who go there with very good intentions, and this has been a tradition in the region".
One of the chief complaints against the way illegal Mozambican immigrants are treated in South Africa concerns the use of this clandestine workforce by South African farmers.
The farmers are said to employ them but when the time comes to pay wages, their employers denounce the Mozambicans as illegal immigrants, and they are simply rounded up and repatriated without receiving their money. The cycle is then repeated, so ensuring a free source of labour for the farmers. Manhenje said that this is one of the issues to be discussed with the South African police.
Commenting on the question of free circulation of people and goods between the countries of the region, Manhenje said that this is still far from becoming a reality, despite discussions at several ministerial meetings last year.
The Mozambican government has lifted the ban on fishing that was imposed on Cabo Delgado province in the north of the country on 2 December, following an outbreak of severe food poisoning linked to the consumption of fish contaminated with pesticides.
A press statement from the Health Ministry on 5 January said that for the past three weeks there have been no fresh cases of chemical poisoning reported from Cabo Delgado.
Patients have been admitted to the province's health units suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, but these cases have been caused by cholera, says the ministry.
In the light of the apparent end of the poisoning outbreak, the government has authorised a resumption of fishing, and the processing of fish.
As for dried fish processed before the ban, and still stored in various warehouses, the ministry statement warns that this can only be sold after the provincial directorates of health, of agriculture and fisheries, and of industry, trade and tourism, have certified its quality.
The government will continue to undertake efforts to establish the circumstances of the poisoning.
It warns that the use of pesticides or other chemicals for fishing or in the processing of fish "will be regarded as an assault on public health and hence as a crime".
The general theory as to how the pesticides entered Cabo Delgado waters is that fishermen used the chemicals in an attempt to increase their catch. But no fisherman has yet admitted to this practice.
The health ministry release also gives official figures for the death toll in the current outbreak of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases (including the Cabo Delgado food poisoning).
Since the outbreak began (in September) 15,922 cases have been registered and 890 of these victims have died, which gives a lethality rate of 5.6 %.
This is more than twice the lethality rate in the previous cholera epidemic. Between August 1997 and the end of May 1998, 35,221 cases of cholera were diagnosed with 804 deaths - a lethality rate of 2.2 %.
Cholera never disappeared entirely from the country, but the number of cases declined sharply during the 1998 winter months. The return of warmer and wetter weather has seen a resurgence in cholera, and a spread of the disease to Cabo Delgado and Nampula provinces, which were untouched in the first outbreak.
The health ministry says that the current epidemic is affecting all provinces except Inhambane, with the highest rates of infection in Cabo Delgado and Nampula.
It warns that, although the current situation is "stationary", the continuing rains, plus a relaxation of hygiene during the recent festive season, makes "a slight increase in the number of cases likely".
The ministry appealed to all public and private institutions and to citizens in general to respect measures aimed at ensuring individual and collective hygiene.
Mozambique's publicly owned airports company, ADM, needs $42 million for the rehabilitation of runways and other infrastructures, according to a recent report on the state of the country's airports.
The chairman of the ADM board of directors, Jose Cossa, cited in Domingo on 10 January, said that the company does not possess such funds at the moment, and will need to acquire them from international partners, mentioning in particular the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
The rehabilitation of runways, hangars, and airport fencing, and the improvement of airport security systems, figure prominently in ADM's plans for 1999-2001.
One of the airports that takes pride of place in ADM's plans is that at Vilankulo, in Inhambane. This should be a major tourist airport, with easy access to the pristine beach resorts of Inhambane and to the islands of the Bazaruto archipelago with their wealth of wildlife.
ADM plans to upgrade the Vilankulo control tower, the fencing, the secondary runways, the aircraft parking space, and the building for fire-fighters. It will also build four new residences for civil aviation staff.
There has already been a massive increase in traffic at Vilankulo. In 1996 1,135 aircraft called there, a number which increased to 2,921 in 1997, and to 3,833 in the first nine months of 1998. The number of passengers using the airport increased from 3,000 in 1996 to 12,000 in 1997, and to over 17,000 in 1998.
Vilankulo recently became the ninth Mozambican airport to benefit from runway lights, making it possible for aircraft to use it at night.
The runway lights were installed by the US company ARCO (Atlantic Richfield) which is heading the consortium exploiting the nearby natural gas field at Temane, at a cost of around $300,000.
The new management of Maputo Central Hospital claims that it is solving several of the problems plaguing the institution, including the water supply for the maternity services, shortages of bed linen and uniforms for the workers.
Hospital administrator Joao Tembe said that the reinstatement of the water supply system to the maternity ward, which was one of the major complaints, cost about 157 million meticais (about $13,000).
Most of the problems came to public notice during a visit to by Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi in August, which led to the demotion of the hospital's director, Ildefonso Domingos, and the appointment of a new management.
The Prime Minister detected irregularities ranging from mismanagement of funds, to misuse of equipment and poor attendance to patients.
The new management has dealt with the matter of sophisticated equipment that had never been used, equipment with small faults never repaired, and equipment broken beyond repair.
Tembe said that another matter on his team's agenda is repairing the lifts in the hospital buildings, for which about $42,000 granted by the Embassy of Finland is available.
Concerning bed linen, Temba said that part of the stocks needed has already been acquired from the Mozambican textile company Textafrica.
The Maputo Central Hospital has 1,400 beds, and, initially there will be four sheets for each of them. However, he explained that "this is far below the standard, because ideally there should be 12 sheets for each bed".
Tembe acknowledged that despite all his team's efforts, a lot remains to be done, particularly with regard to the availability of medicines.
He expressed concern over the chronic shortage of medicines and laboratory products in the hospital, and pointed to the need for coordination between the hospital and Medimoc, the state- owned company in charge of the import and distribution of medicines.
As for new administration methods, Tembe said that work is in the pipeline to grant autonomy to such departments as emergency and resuscitation, paediatrics, surgery, orthopaedics, gynaecology and obstetrics.
Tembe also spoke of the "Special Clinic", adjoining the Central Hospital, which was one of the hottest issues during Mocumbi's visit. This is a clinic for patients rich enough to pay significant sums for speedy treatment: the money paid here is supposed to subsidise the rest of the hospital, and provide additional earnings for the doctors involved.
Tembe said that his team has set up a new body, with the task of working out statutes for the clinic, and a list of prices of medical services, among other issues.
He revealed that there is an audit, by the Planning and Finance Ministry, going on at the clinic, to find out how the clinic's funds have been spent.
Mozambique will in March start implementing a new system of maritime inspection by satellite, as a way to check abuses in the fishing sector, carried out both by licensed operators and by poachers, according to the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Isidora Faztudo. The project is budgeted at about $4.6 million.
"We are working so that as soon as the new fishing season opens, by the end of March, we may launch the system of inspection by satellite, at least at the level of industrial fishing", said Faztudo.
The project includes two main components, namely the inspection of the fishing vessels and the management of the activity.
Inspection will allow the detection by satellite of all boats operating in Mozambican waters. This includes keeping an eye on those vessels that are licensed, "because those ones also need to be controlled", explained Faztudo.
"We should not only be concerned with foreign vessels. We should also make sure that the licensed boats are operating where they were authorised to, and thus, we will have direct information on the fishing areas, the amount of the catch, and the existing resources at any given time - in other words, the management of fishing activity", she added.
She noted that this system will be of use to all companies and institutions whose activities are related to the sea, including the national navy.
For efficient use of the satellite signals along the 2,500 kilometres of the Mozambican coast, receiver and retransmitter systems are to be installed, both on shore and on mobile units at sea.
The installation of two control centres in Maputo is currently being completed, and electronic equipment is also to be installed, initially on 15 vessels to be selected by the Fisheries Research Institute.
At a more advanced stage, the installation of this equipment will be compulsory for all industrial and semi-industrial vessels, operating along the Mozambican coast, according to the director of the national fisheries directorate, Herminio Tembe.
The training of staff to operate this equipment started in September and is to be concluded by the end of January.
Erosion is threatening to destroy the dry dock at the port of Quelimane in the central province of Zambezia, only four years after it was built.
The dock was built with $19 million of Japanese aid money - but was only fully functional in 1997. Throughout 1998, the dry dock was paralysed, and is now undergoing rehabilitation work, budgeted at $8 million. This work is in the hands of the Japanese maritime engineering company, Konoiko.
The director of the Quelimane Fishing Port, Joaquim Tembe, said that, even with the rehabilitation, the dry dock will not last for longer than a year, according to studies by Japanese and Mozambican consultants.
The dry dock should restart operations in February and Komoiko is building a barrier of stones, sandbags and other obstacles in an attempt to halt the erosion. It is hoped that, once the dock is fully operational again, it will be able to repair vessels not only from Mozambique but also from Madagascar.
Tembe said that the current erosion was difficult to explain, since the initial studies, undertaken by Japanese consultants, indicated that the area chosen for construction was safe.
Erosion is a serious problem elsewhere in Quelimane: the ocean is threatening to devour other parts of the city, including the governor's palace.
The governor of the northern province of Nampula, Rosario Mualeia, has described as "a serious problem" the current shortage of water in the province, where sometimes people walk over 10 kilometres in search of water, only to return empty handed.
The shortage is affecting both the capital, Nampula city, and the rural districts. Mualeia said that the situation is so serious, particularly in the districts, that his government cannot find a short term solution to it.
In Nampula city the distribution system is obsolete, and can no longer support the demands made on it by a growing population. New investment is urgently needed, and this will doubtless be the priority task for whatever private consortium eventually takes over the operation of the city's water supply.
In the districts, particularly remote areas in the north-east of the province, such as Memba and Namapa districts, the water shortage is much worse.
Although the current rainy season has been good over most of Mozambique, in these districts there is drought. Even at the standpipes built in villages to expand water supply, little or no water is currently available.
An AIM reporter visited Namapa, and found long lines of women and children carrying empty containers in search of water. The reporter was told that some of them came from as far as 10 kilometres away, and that even so they were not sure of obtaining the water they need because lengthy queues are building up at wells.
Mozambique's military registration has got off to a very slow start with only a handful of young people have so far bothered to register.
In the first two days the recruitment centre in Urban District number one, in the heart of the city, had registered just 35 people.
Registration is the first stage in conscription. All Mozambican citizens whose 18th birthday falls in 1999, are supposed to register before 28 February.
The army then makes a first selection of potential recruits from those registered, and submits them to physical and psychological aptitude tests. Out of those declared fit, a final selection will then be made of those to be called up.
The authorities say they are not worried by the initial slow turnout. Edgar Cossa, head of the recruitment and mobilisation department in the Defence Ministry, said that "tiredness" after the Xmas and New Year festive season contributed to the absence of young Mozambicans from the recruitment centres. Other factors he mentioned were school enrolment, and certain school exams which coincide with the start of the registration period.
There was nothing unusual about a slow start to registration said Cossa, pointing out that the same thing had happened with the "extraordinary period of military registration" in August and September last year.
This was the first registration since parliament reintroduced conscription in 1997, and it was supposed to cover all young people born between 1975 and 1980. Few people registered in the first days of August, but long queues built up at some of the recruitment centres towards the end of September.
If previous experience is anything to judge by, only a minority of those who should register will do so. Although the Defence Ministry regards last year's "extraordinary" registration a success, only about 140,000 people registered, according to Cossa's own figures, out of between 750,000 and a million who should have been covered by the exercise.
Mozambique News Agency
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