On Monday this week, JA staff and board again took to the streets of Maputo. After the historic and fun march in Maputo back in August, where we were joined by human rights and environmental organisations from all across southern Africa, this week Mozambican organisations continued to march to assert their rights.
The occasion was 10th of December, the International Day for Human Rights. The march to commemorate this day was organised by Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League) in Mozambique in partnership with Justiça Ambiental, National Forum of Community Radios, and others.
The marchers gathered at 9am at the Independence Square in Maputo City, and marched up Karl Marx Avenue and then up 24th of July Avenue. The marchers were a small but vocal group. We chanted non-stop, filling the streets with loud and animated slogans in Portuguese:
- “Respect Human Rights”,
- “What do we want? – Human Rights!! When do we want it? – Now!
- Viva freedom! – Viva! Viva right to information! Viva!
- Life is not for sale, life is to be defended!
- The Right to Health – is Ours! The Right to Education – is Ours! The Right to Land – is Ours! The Right to Information – is Ours! The Right to security – is Ours! The Right to demonstrate – is Ours!
- Down with those who commit violence – Down!
- Down with those who violate human rights – Down!
When the marchers were a block away from the Parliament building/ National Assembly, we suddenly came face-to-face with a roadblock. We had asked for and received permission to hold the march on that route, and to deliver a petition to the Parliament on human rights situation in Mozambique. Yet, it was obvious that the government of Mozambique had a different idea. We were greeted with great pomp and show by the Rapid Intervention Force. It must be remembered that, just a few months ago, it was the members of this same Rapid Intervention Force that fired on communities protesting displacement and dispossession due to Vale’s coal mining operations in Tete province, central Mozambique.
The Rapid Intervention Force stood in our path, blocking the march route. They blocked the road and even had a massive armored tank in the middle of Maputo city! Every once in a while, the soldiers from inside the tank would peer out and look at us; their weapons drawn. Please see the photos.
The police on the streets were far less subtle. They were fully dressed in riot gear, even though we were less than 70 marchers holding only a peaceful protest on a pre-approved march route chanting for peace and human rights! Yet, the police were armed with tear gas guns, rubber bullets, pistol and who knows what else. We were barred passage to even the entrance door of the building of the Parliament, and after a long wait we were only allowed to send four of our representatives to deliver the declaration. The declaration urged the government to respect human rights.
There is no reasonable explanation for the reaction of the government and the police. Only one explanation makes sense. It was an intimidation tactic. Civil society in Mozambique is small but is getting more and more vocal. The communities are raising their voices against oppression, and this is threatening the state’s plans for more greed and unsustainable development. But we have one message to send to the state: We will not be silenced. We will continue to speak out against injustice.
Come join us!