The summer of 2014 was the deadliest month for the EN1 highway in Central Mozambique. It’s a troubled road in an armed conflict between the government and its main opposition RENAMO. Together with two friends I traversed, under a military escort, the 100 kilometers between the two villages Save and Muxungue. This is my report…
About a week before we would finally hit this road, we were already in the capital to do the first research. On a particular day at sunset we hitchhiked to the main bus station to see if we could get any direct information about the armed conflict from some bus drivers operating on that route. After less than a minute we found our first sign: a bus with a bullet hole. We located the driver, who then showed us a bus who suffered a similar faith. He told us how one woman had died earlier that month, but things had settled down over the recent days. The drivers themselves had never been too scared to stop driving. “We need to earn money somehow”, one of them told me.
Any saint would advise us against travel over this road, but I felt like it was the only option to get to Zimbabwe in an acceptable time while also allowing for some adventures on the way.
So, combined with that I was already following some news websites for a few weeks, I found out that in the previous two weeks there had been no more reported attacks. I couldn’t be entirely sure because I might had missed some of the news, but also due to the update from the bus drivers in Maputo in the end we decided to go for it.
So, after a few relaxing days in the touristy beach village of Tofo, on the 21st of July (2014) we were the only ones on our way north towards the Save river. From the Internet I knew this was where the bus would stay overnight until the bridge opened up the next morning. There wasn’t anything to do there since we were basically just staying over at the side of a road. The conditions were really rough (even for African standards), which made us decide to rent a small hut with a tiny double bed nearby and stay in it with the three of us. We experienced an interesting and a bit scary night, with drunk soldiers and Justin Bieber screaming out of the loudspeakers keeping us awake all night.
In the early morning we walked back to the bus, only to find that it would still take hours before we could finally cross the bridge. After some time, even though it wasn’t really allowed, I decided to shoot a movie and explain the situation:
Soon after, we crossed the bridge. The bus we were in looked exactly like the one which appeared on a South African news website. Apparently, one month earlier passengers used it to hide behind the wheels when the column came under attack in a cross fire.
Unfortunately, after we had finally left I could not take out my camera anymore as people around me told me I would be jailed if I would film any of the things. Assuming that Mozambicans are quite used to some problems in their country, I took this advise serious and therefore did not take too many photos. The only thing I can still share is some pictures of our convoy slowly building up (see later below).
We crossed the bridge around 8:00AM, after which it still took a few good hours for the column to build up to about 200 vehicles. When the column from the other side finally arrived, I counted how it had came along with about 25 soldiers. Some were carrying Ak47s, others RPGs, some were masked while others weren’t. I am not entirely sure what happened then, but I assume each of them found a spot somewhere in the back of a few civilian pickup trucks. There were no army vehicles apart from one armoured personnel carrier (APC) with a heavy machine gun mounted on top. It never made me feel any safer though, since the guerrilla attacks before had always taken place from the dense bushes on the side of the road. Once those rebels would open fire, there would be no one to stop them from making their first victims.
The Military Escort
So it seemed that people that morning were tense and nervous, a feeling that only increased when the military escort finally started on July 21st, 11:00 AM. After the column from the other direction had passed us, we were next. I had no idea if they had been