The demobilized soldiers are deeply divided, and Tuesday’s protest was organised by just one group, led by Herminio dos Santos, who has been disowned by several other associations of former fighters.
The main demand raised by dos Santos was that all demobilized soldiers should be paid a monthly pension of 12,000 meticais (about 450 US dollars). This is a huge figure, bearing in mind that the statutory national minimum wages currently range from 2,005 meticais a month for agricultural workers to 5,320 meticais a month for those working in financial services.
Even some officers on active service in the armed forces do not receive a wage of 12,000 meticais a month.
Dos Santos told reporters that his group represents 150,000 demobilised soldiers, both from the government army disbanded in 1994, the FAM/FPLM, and from the former rebel movement Renamo. He also claimed rights for 250,000 militiamen, including the peasant militias known as naparamas.
Such figures are quite impossible. The FAM/FPLM and Renamo were demobilized in 1994, under the auspices of the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ). According to the ONUMOZ final figures, 78,660 troops from the two armies were demobilized.
Prior to the 1992 peace agreement, the government had demobilized some of its troops, and there has been a trickle of demobilization since the formation of the new national army, the FADM. But these cannot possibly add up to 150,000.
Militiamen were part time defence forces who were supposed to defend workplaces. They were not part of the army and were not paid by the Defence Ministry. No firm data on numbers exists, but quarter of a million is a gross exaggeration.
The demonstration was timed to coincide with Tuesday’s meeting of the Cabinet (Council of Ministers), and dos Santos demanded that a member of the government come out to speak with the protestors.
But the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Mateus Kida, told reporters he had no intention of holding a dialogue with dos Santos in the open air. He pointed out that mechanisms already exist for discussions between his Ministry and the former soldiers. Indeed, on Monday representatives of 14 associations of demobilized troops met with Ministry officials – and distanced themselves from dos Santos.
Kida said he did not understand how dos Santos could claim that the Statute of Veterans, approved by parliament in May, is “discriminatory”. The Statute was drawn up by the government after lengthy discussions with the various associations of former soldiers, and was only submitted to parliament after consensus had been reached.
Dos Santos threatens that, if the government did not respond to Tuesday’s demand, “we shall meet next Saturday to decide how to advance to other forms of protest, which do not exclude a march on the Prime Minister’s office”.
A large police contingent kept a watchful eye on the demonstration, but no violence was reported.Post published in: Africa News