The nations are being shaken, big nations and smaller nations. Mozambique too has been shaken through the death of Afonso Dhlakama, the main opposition leader. Not only was he a hero, but a father figure to more than half the nation. Personally, we lost a friend. This man opened the way for us to preach the gospel into the far forbidden regions of Mozambique. Since 1985 he continued to assist us in the most extreme of circumstances. Eventually we were privileged to help in return by flying Afonso Dhlakama and his delegation on many peace talk missions that finally led to the signing of the Mozambique Peace Accord in Rome. If you read our book, “Beyond the Shadow”, you will understand some of the depth and meaning of this event to us; and how important it was to be at the funeral. Reconnecting with friends whom we met in the bush so many years ago was an experience that cannot be adequately described. It was a day of deep emotion.
The entire nation was shocked by the death of this man who was President of Renamo, the largest opposition party in Mozambique for forty years. Thousands upon thousands have come out from village or city to show their love and respect. While support for this man has through the years brought persecution, imprisonment and death to many, people have travelled by all and many means in near impossible conditions to show their faces, lining the roads without fear.
The funeral service was held in Beira on 9th May, then the actual burial on the 10th, at his home village more than 300 kilometres away. The people have spoken through the demonstration of their support for a Resistance Leader whose life was constantly under threat and whom they believed would win the Presidential Elections of Mozambique next year.
THE JOURNEY TO MANGUNDE
We drove all day to attend Dhlakama’s burial in the village where he was born. As always, the road was an adventure in itself. In some places the soil between road and bridge has eroded away leaving deep trenches on which the chassis of big vehicles get caught. This can block the road for a day or more while waiting for someone to come to the rescue. Rodney with his ‘Just do it!’philosophy was the ‘someone’.
Everyone stands around while more and more vehicles arrive blocking the road from both sides. To get the land cruiser past the vehicles is an art, while everyone laughs and says, “That man thinks he can do something with that little car?” The gasps of amazement and cheers when he actually does, and the nation can move again. “How do you do it?” asks Pastor Armando. “Just do it,”responds Rod. “There are many vehicles there that could do it. They just don’t do it. They stand around doing nothing waiting for someone to do something. Just do it!”The journey continued with two very close shaves when buses coming from the opposite direction at full speed around sharp curves almost wiped us off the road. We finally arrived late afternoon.
Later in the afternoon we stopped at the Mangunde turn off where police were stationed to direct the way down the bush road. A young policeman ran over to greet us with huge smiles. “Do you remember me? I was at Inhaminga Bible School in 2006!” Everywhere we go, we meet graduates in the most unexpected places, what joy it brings!
A place that until a few years ago had not even a dust road had to arrange space for dozens of cars and several coaches carrying mourners to the ceremony.
Sleeping out in the big field with thousands of people. It was one of the most moving experiences imaginable, with cooking fires all around us, thousands of people sleeping on mats all around, the deep sorrow.
A truly raw African night, listen to the video to feel the atmosphere…. “Dawn Breaking with the Mourning.”
Watch the Ma Zion Video: There were different Christian groups camped about, mostly Roman Catholic. The Ma Zion cult group brought back many memories of the type of ‘church’ mostly found in the bush long ago. They are still numerous, mixing witchcraft with Christianity. Stop and talk with them and you find they are friendly people, happy to receive visitors, ready to chat and listen.
MEETING UP WITH OLD FRIENDS
There are people in parliament, top military position, chiefs and common soldiers and common people with whom years ago, we sat many a night around the fire, eating together or simply dreaming of a free Mozambique. To see them after all these years at the funeral was incredible. As always when meeting old friends, memories flood in from forgotten places of the mind and become as real as the moment. Immediately that bond is alive and new again, and brings much comfort and joy.
Manuel Pereira. He told our guys, “This man Joseph, we knew he always put God first in everything.”
With Victor Anselmo
With General Bob, (he is an absolute legend) Victor Anselmo and Commander Dique. The latter headed up the group who interrogated us with many questions when we were captured by Renamo in 1985. He was also the one who gave us the message two weeks later, “You are free to go. The President of Renamo is asking you to come back again. Please bring bibles, come and preach to our soldiers and to our people. We will help you from village to village.”
With Interim President Ossufo Momade. We last saw Ossufo Momade when he was a General in the bush. He was visibly moved to see Rodney again. “Joseph! Joseph! You are here!” He hugged Rod warmly several times. “Do you remember when…., do you remember the time when …..?” He was happy to receive a copy of “Beyond the Shadow” and asked me to sign it.
MEMORIES OF DHLAKAMA
So many memories, they cannot all be recorded. We spent many hours over a period of years with Dhlakama, He loved to laugh, his entire body would shake when he laughed. I asked him, “Your Excellency, What is your dream for Mozambique?”I can see his face now as I remember how he picked up a camera lying on the table. “See this? Made in Japan.”Then picking up a flash light, “See this? Made in China! Why not Mozambique? I want to see my people educated, they must learn to do all these things. We need universities, Mozambicans can learn. We need people to come and help us, train our doctors, etc etc.”
Then there was the time when I had been walking for hours through the bush with the group who escorted me from village to village to preach. We heard a roar as motor bikes came hurtling through the bush. Dhlakama was on one of them and was surprised to see me so far from camp. When he heard how much further I was going, he jumped off the bike and said, “Madame,” (he always called me that) Please, my driver will take you to that village. I will continue talking with the people here and he will come back for me.” Off I went on the back of the President’s motor cycle driven by his guard.
One of Rodney’s most unforgettable experiences was when he had gone with Dhlakama to a famine stricken village. They found an emaciated, starving old woman on the way. Dhlakama stopped to speak to her, she was too weak to walk. With compassion he bent down to carry her, then one of the Generals stepped forward to pick her up and carry her to the village where she could get something to eat. That night, Dhlakama looked at Rodney “My people are starving, we need food for the people.” Rod saw his eyes fill with tears. There are many stories about this man, some good and some bad. He was not perfect, we write simply as we knew him. He is part of our story, and is remembered as a friend and the one who made it possible for Afrika wa Yesu to be established in Mozambique.
We prayed many times with Dhlakama and answered questions from the Bible. Always he said, “My people need to know these things. Preach the gospel to my people and to my soldiers.”
Many others came over to greet Joseph…. and me, but most knew only him. We were touched by the genuine warmth and joy they showed to see him again. It truly rejoices the heart to be remembered and to share stories together. Great to reconnect with friends not seen for more than 25 years.
The service under marquis tents in the bush was very well done by the Roman Catholic Church. More than 8000 people were present, from the poorest of the poor to those who came in good cars. Then the walk to the family grave site, simple mounds amongst the trees and bush. The grief was heavy and deep, but the people not without hope.
He was buried as he lived most of his life. Simply, in the bush. Look carefully and you can see how people climbed the trees to be able to get a better view.
GOODBYE DEAR FRIEND
“Eu sou Dhlakama” – I am Dhlakama. The message is “Do not think that because Dhlakama has died, we will give up the fight for democracy.”