With his photos of Mozambique, Massimo Mastrorillo poses a worrying question to us: why all this human misery, which the camera cannot avoid? Thirty-one years after heartily desired and encouraged independence from Portuguese colonialism, and 16 since a peace agreement was signed between the Frelimo Party and the Renamo guerrilla movement, most Mozambicans still live the most abject poverty.

But when we scrutinize these images again, we become aware of a bond of affection and understanding, established in the looks exchanged between the photographer and his subjects. And we must recognise that Massimo’s message is also that these people have not given up, even if they are empty-handed, hungry, sick and without a decent home.

Do these images of the country where we live offend us? Doubtless they do. But they are necessary and we must have the courage and honesty to face them, because they compel us to reflect, to search for reasons behind the human misery, impotence and solitude skilfully depicted here. And more important still: they prompt us to extend our hands in solidarity, to understand how crucial it is not to abandon these people, who want to realize their wishes, to get what they have long dreamed of.

For a long time, it was said that Mozambique’s stagnation and regression in economic and social terms were the result of Frelimo’s mistaken policies after Independence on 25 June 1975. Today, the situation is seen more clearly. Independence reawakened the minds and hearts of the Mozambicans who, for the first time in their history, appeared to feel and act as one people, from Rovuma River in the north down to Maputo River in the south. It was a time lived in the euphoria and promise of a future without foreign oppression, a time when the Mozambicans began to feel determined and confident in their capacity to reconstruct and develop Mozambique. This euphoria led them to underestimate the colonialist minority that had lost the battle for independence according to its rules. This minority was convinced it could regroup its forces and with the backing of neighbouring South Africa, notorious for apartheid, develop a strategy that would allow it to overturn the victory of the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique. Its tactic was to reunite its forces within a movement of counter-information and propaganda hostile to Frelimo, and to form a guerrilla movement that would be called Renamo, with south Rhodesia and later on with South Africa (when Rhodesia became independent in 1980, taking the name of Zimbabwe).

The painful march towards a Socialist utopia that had mobilised Mozambican youth was destined to be, especially in the eighties, brutally cut short by the activities of Renamo. The guerrillas were active practically from north to south, limiting the administration of the central government, destroying social and economic infrastructure and preventing the circulation of people and merchandise. And as if this was not enough, news came of chronic calamities like drought and cyclones. Even humanitarian aid could barely make it to reach the interior and we witnessed the exodus and displacement of hundreds of thousands of rural families to neighbouring countries and to Mozambique’s larger cities. The impoverishment of the Mozambicans and the regression of the economy were inevitable.

The death of Samora Machel in a suspicious plane crash on 19 October 1986 precipitated an already foretold conclusion. The obvious successor behind the apparatus of Frelimo, Joaquim Chissano, ex-Foreign Affairs Minister, was a naturally diplomatic and conciliatory man. From 1986 to 1992, he conducted progressive adjustments to the dictates of the West, multiplying contacts with South Africa, while the Socialist field transformed from within and the “Berlin walls” fell. The process culminated in the Peace Agreement signed in Rome with the patronage of various entities, the Community of Sant’Egidio in primis.

The new Constitution provided for multi-party elections and the first were held in 1994. Frelimo won the elections and Joaquim Chissano was elected President of the Republic. The country was at peace and with safer roads and circulation re-established, the economy improved significantly. Disarmament and reconciliation among the Mozambicans, under the auspices of the United Nations, proceeded satisfactorily, and were followed by liberalisation of the economy under the aegis of the Bretton Woods Institutions.

Mozambique became an “exemplary case” for the international community. In the mid-nineties, foreign investors started to bring projects, including highly significant ones like the Mozal aluminium factory in Maputo province. Statistics pointed to spectacular economic growth and donors wanted Mozambique to continue being a “success story” at all costs. But the people of the interior, whose history of suffering and superhuman resistance had so moved public opinion in wealthy countries, mobilizing solidarity and aid, those people continued, and still continue, to need help because they are not benefiting from the many, important changes.

Today, the greatest calamity being fought across the whole country is HIV/AIDS. Working towards his goal, Massimo often met its victims in the four years he spent crossing Mozambique to gather pictures. They too face us with a spark of hope in their mortified eyes. Two more general elections have been held in Mozambique. In the last, held in 2004, a new President, Armando Guebuza, was elected, also from the ranks of Frelimo. But people rarely mobilize for elections now because the miracles promised by democracy have not changed their lives.

The so-called “fatigue” of donors on the one hand, and their unrealistic demands on the other, within a complex international context where the sovereignty, stability and security of poor nations is constantly under threat, force these anonymous people photographed by Massimo to muster all their remaining strength in order to survive. This struggle for survival is a clichéd phrase, but there is no other that better describes the Mozambique of today.



Maria de Lourdes Torcato