So, am I really 'THE' expert on Mozambique?
This question did keep me awake for a few seconds during siesta time as I nursed a 'Café Banheira' (coffee in a bath-tub) on the 'stoep' of the Pousada in Gorongosa Town a few afternoons ago. While I could dismiss it by saying a simple 'of course - who else?' indulge me the latitude to philosophize a while. Consider a small circle drawn in the sand in a desert and now pen in someone dedicated to the study and understanding of every grain of grain contained within that magical ring. That person would surely become the unchallenged Master of that little patch of land and it would be foolish not to consult her (or him) should anyone else require information about it.
Extending this analogy to Mozambique, no I do not go about drawing circles in the sand, nay not even in the forest (with apologies to Afrikaans author Dalene Mathee who wrote 'Kringe in 'n bos'), so perhaps then Expert is probably not the best description for me and I actually prefer the tag ' Mozambique Specialist'.
Now then, greetings to all who share my fascination with Mozambique (and southern Africa in general, I have after all lived here for all of my 58 years), as well as to anyone who has ever entertained, let alone explored, a GRAND PASSION. Yes, Moz is my great distraction, but actually I live in Johannesburg, which, despite its reputation as a scary and dangerous place, is friendly, vibrant and perhaps the only truly cosmopolitan city in the world. I am a teacher of geography and Natural Science and I visit Moz at least four times per year - Maputo is six hours by road away from my home (if the Lebombo/Ressano Garcia border is not congested - if it is, well add up to another five hours or detour via Swaziland, Giriyondo or Pafuri).
So, 'Why Mozambique?' This could well be the title of my autobiography although I would have preferred something like 'Memoirs of an African multi-millionaire', or perhaps 'Mandela, his part in my success'. Well, imagine for a moment that you are standing in the queue at the Ressano Garcia border post during a balmy mid December day. As it is South African School Holiday time, your companions in the almost indistinguishable line (due to pushers-in and hangers-on) are mostly burly folk who, with extended family in tow (who are waiting loudly in their very big and loaded to the gills 4x4 'bakkies' or pick-ups/ute's)- heading for a resort somewhere along Moz's 2500km's of coastline. Now factor in that only a dozen years ago Mozambique was the world's poorest nation (it's now fifth) and that travel by road was at the peril of death, and the country was still at bitter war with itself, and you will begin to understand that we are dealing with a modern miracle here; Perhaps the only miracle that I have been anywhere near to when it happened. It is still happening.
Mozambique retains a relatively high economic growth rate, partly due to high levels of foreign investment and foreign assistance, but it remains the fifth poorest country in the world as measured by the human development index. Its GDP per capita is around USD 200 per year, which translates into about 90% of the population earning below the $1 poverty line and 70% falling below the $0,50 absolute poverty line. The country is also highly dependent on foreign aid, over half its public expenditure being supported by donors and its aid income amounting to over USD 50 per capita.
During my own school days, I had, on many occasions and courtesy of parents who had no fear of the open road and living in an army surplus tent, travelled to all of South Africa's neighbouring states (Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland). Then, during my University career, I dragged fellow students up mountains and down rivers (sometimes the other way around) and into bars throughout the aforementioned countries to which must be added Zambia and Malawi, but yes you noticed it, never Mozambique (well not quite as we did do the 'gun-run' from Nyamapanda through Tete to Zobúè a number of times in the '80's en-route to Malawi).
By the time 1990 arrived and Renamo and the FPLM (the military wing of ruling party Frelimo) were still wrecking the country (aided by 'agent provocateur' South Africa), and thousands of foreign Aid Workers were still soaking up the African sun, I became increasingly impatient to visit this place that Bob Dylan actually didn't visit 1970, and about which he wrote an evocative song included in the 'Desire' album.
Then in 1992 I left Cape Town on a bicycle (yes I did think of using my Landrover but I had already sold it to pay for the cycle trip) and managed to end up in Central Mozambique (Beira) via Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Pete Green, an old 'Varsity mate, had joined up with me and we spent four months in a country which yes, was 'totally f*cked' as the locals put it, but was also strangely charming, hugely humbling and had the friendliest people (fishermen are always honourable folk a friend told me).
In September 1992, a Peace Accord was signed between Renamo and Frelimo and Mozambique will be holding its fourth democratic elections in 2014.