Repression of a farmers march in Mozambique

Today the 24th at 9am in the District seat of Manhiça [in the province of Maputo], around 300 farmers, members of the Farmers Unions of the districts of Manhiça and Marracuene met to deliver a letter to the District Administrator, in which they demanded better implementation of the Land Law, and to denounce the violation of the legitimate rights that farmers have over the land, as well as abusive prices that commercialization imposes on farmers.

In a peaceful manner, and with slogans like “The Land is our Wealth,” “Let’s value our agricultural production,” “Supporting production: this is how to defend Land,” “Farmers united, we will always prevail,” “For the correct implementation of the Land Law,” the march started at the headquarters of the Manhiça District union to the District Administration. Twenty minutes after the march started, a police barrier formed of approximately 10 uniformed police armed with pistols and rifles interrupted the march claiming that it was not authorized. Another 10 antiriot agents supplied with teargas, rifles, rubber bullets and other firearms, waited their turn in a truck parked a few meters from where the protestors met police, just where the dirt road ended and where National Highway no. 1 began.

For 30 minutes, there was an exchange of arguments between representatives of the farmers (headed by Vice President of UNAC Joao Palate) and Chief of Police of Manhiça. Letters which communicated to the Mayor and the District Administrator that a peaceful march would occur were presented. Another letter was shown to the police, which was sent to the very Police Force present, informing of the activity and requesting its presence to guarantee that everything would occur in an orderly fashion and would not put citizens in danger.

Fifteen minutes after the beginning of the conversation, the antiriot police took positions and put themselves in the front row right in front of the protestors (the group of “negotiators” remaining between the antiriot police and the protestors.)

The Chief of Police argued that in spite of it being a peaceful protest, and in spite of being previously duly informed his Force and the local authorities, he had orders originating from the Mayor of the city of Manhiça to stop the protest.

After thirty minutes of conversation, the Chief of Police said that his patience had run out and that they were going to load up to disperse people. The antiriot police started to load up their weapons with rubber bullets and gas canisters.

At this moment, and exercising their responsibility as citizens, the protestors decided to retreat and march backwards. Peacefully they had arrived and peacefully they marched away. At this moment, when the women and children, the men and women, the boys and girls, the elders assembled started to walk back to the headquarters of the District Union of Manhiça, the antiriot police started to load up and to beat people on their backs – in a cowardly and aggravated manner, with abuse of power – the men and women who peacefully and unarmed were obeying the order given by the policy to return to their headquarters.

For ten minutes we were ‘kindly’ accompanied by police who indiscriminantly and without mercy beat the men and women present.

A number of people were injured, noting with sadness that a member of the Union of Manhiça had to be take to Hospital by his colleagues, seriously injured in his arm, which he had lost use of.

Two cameras were consficated by members of the antiriot force.  One of them was torn from the hands of Luisa Alberto Fumo, with disproportionate aggression given we were returning peacefully to the headquarters of the District Union and obeying the police order.

The other camera was confiscated from Luis (UNAC) when he was headed to the Union Headquarters from the city by car. The farmers were already assembled at the District Union headquarters and the police followed to the place where it all began. They set up a checkpoint and stopped Luis (UNAC) forcing him to hand over his camera.

The media which we invited to cover the event (like [private station] STV) were tricked, upon presenting themselves to the District Administration, they told them that “there was no protest scheduled.” The jornalists, upon seeing that there was really nobody on the streets (as the police had just stopped the march at the intersection that met the National Highway no. 1), turned around and returned to Maputo. BVy the time they reached Marracuene, we were able to phone them to ask them to return and explain what had occured, but there had been a problem with the car and it was impossible for them to return.

In spite of everything, the news was covered by Radio Mozambique and by local papers.

When we returned to the Union District headquarters, we were outraged and exhausted and we prepared some food and had an improvised assembly in which the many cases of abuse that farmers had experienced in the District of Manhiça  were explained (stealing of lands for private parties and the sugar enterprise MARAGRA – when not tricked into giving them away – by the Mayor of the District Seat – the very person who ordered the ending of the protest), the illegal imprisonment of various members of the associations of the District Farmers Union of Manhiça who had their lands stolen from them.

About 3pm, those from CIC Batá accompanied by various members of the District Farmers Union of Manhiça made their way to the checkpoint of the police (where they still remained) to demand the return of the camera taken from Luisa.

When we arrived at the police checkpoint, Marrengula and I got out of the car and we were accompanied by a member of the antiriot police to where the chiefs of the police were meeting with other police without uniform, on the terrace of a bar on the side of the highway. They asked Marrengula who he was and I responded that we worked together, and one of them joked that he was my driver and the rest broke out laughing. To continue they spoke to him in a terrible way and told Marrengula to leave.

I stayed with the police and I told them to give back my camera, and they said that they would return it if I erased in front of them all of the photos that police appear in. I agreed to erase them and they gave it back. Before leaving, they took information about me (full name, and the organisation I represent) and they asked me where is our main office and what we were doing in Manhiça. After responding, they let me go.

After I got the camera back, they look the wounded colleague to the hospital and we returned to Maputo.

Santiago Merino López
Technician-Delegate to Africa
CIC Batá (A Spanish development NGO with work in collaboration with Via Campesina in Africa)

Translation from Spanish by Janet Gunter