Dhlakama’s death big loss for Renamo, blow to democracy

Southern African Development Community (Sadc) has witnessed an unprecedented wave of events that have swept away leading opposition stalwarts, leaving a vacuum and political uncertainty for smooth political transitions in the region. In February, Zimbabwe lost MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, leaving the party and the struggle for democracy in shambles. On May 3, 2018, opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama breathed his last, triggering a seismic shift in Mozambican politics that is bound to activate party succession disputes if not addressed amicably.

By Samuel Jack Matikiti

Upon assuming power in 1979 after the death of Andre Matsangaissa, Dhlakama led the party for 39 years and in October 1992 he was a signatory of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between his Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) and Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), ending 16 years of civil war. Since then, Mozambique has had a one-party smooth transition of leadership renewal from Samora Machel to Joaquim Chissano, followed by Armando Guebuza and the incumbent Filipe Nyusi although there has always been contestations, with allegations of electoral fraud.

The dominance of Frelimo as the country’s ruling party for the past four decades since independence in 1975 has largely been because of the success of its information warfare which effectively depicted Renamo as an insurgent outfit responsible for the callous and brutal acts of mutilation of civilians.

To the international community, Dhlakama was labelled as a blood-thirsty warmonger, always eager to grab power through the military guerrilla. However, after the 1992 peace agreement between Renamo and Frelimo, Dhlakama transformed himself into a champion of democracy, always demanding the government to be transparent and accountable to the people. Politically, he wanted Mozambique to be an example in promoting free and fair elections, hence he has been against Frelimo’s alleged election rigging.

Dhlakama was also against government’s misuse of public funds in a country with millions of people living below the poverty datum line, like in most developing countries.

Mozambique has been experiencing a shift of the political parties’ support-base with Renamo witnessed an increase in its supporters in the last few years as Mozambicans no longer trust the development of the country in the hands of Frelimo. Dhlakama has been known for advocating for a shift of the capital city to Beira since geographically it is the centre of the country. The idea was that development in Mozambique has since favoured the south, yet resources that bring funds to the State are vast in the north where development has not been realised. Rather it is only in Maputo were most development is taking place, where most Frelimo elites live luxurious lives.

In Mozambique like most post-colonial political systems, rivals don’t necessarily have to like each other, rather the ground rules of a democratic society are to
encourage tolerance and civility which Dhlakama during his lifetime advocated and stood for. There has been a spate of political incidents in Mozambique with an escalation of military attacks in the last five years and a considerable number of civilian casualties.

The usual allegations have been that Renamo has been behind the attacks. However, closer sources also revealed that the ruling party has also been behind the attacks, as it seeks to criticise and weaken the power of Renamo since it has been gaining much support.

This can be evidenced by attacks on Dhlakama’s convoy in Gondola along Chimoio–Beira road and the burning down of Renamo headquarters in Chimoio which later triggered and fuel political tension.

Such incidents have seen Dhlakama and his party threatening to go back to war if Frelimo fails to address their demands.

Dhlakama’s strength was in his control of Gorongosa area, his soldiers − mainly those who partake in the 16-year civil war and his access to weapons which has since backed his opposition politics and guerrilla-kind of warfare. To him, all the threat of wanting to revert back to war was motivated by a just cause, for he wanted a perfect society in which political power should be justly and fairly distributed. In his words, the only language African revolutionary ruling party(s) understand is a threat of violence.

His leadership qualities as an opposition leader were portrayed by his ability to control hundreds of his armed men currently in the bush and negotiate a long-lasting peace deal with the government which leaves little doubt whether Renamo, will have a party successor who can hold the party intact.

Dhlakama’s death comes at a time when efforts of reaching a consensus on the way to resolve Mozambique’s challenges and move the country forward were at an advanced stage.

Dhlakama’s death might act as a catalyst for serious political instability if government fails to play the game wisely as this can divide the country.

Though the ruling party or the government might see the death of Dhlakama as an end to long intra-state conflict that has caused the death of thousands, the situation might mark the beginning of demise of Mozambican democracy that has been flourishing.

Samuel Jack Matikiti is researcher, writer and lecturer with the Zimbabwe Open University. He can be contacted on

Do you have a coronavirus story? You can email us on: