By Lenin Ndebele
THE shooting death of a senior official of Mozambique’s Renamo opposition party as he jogged on the beachfront on October 8 has shaken the country and threatened to scupper talks aimed at ending violence in the central parts of the country.
Jeremias Pondeca, a member of the Joint Commission set up to find solutions in the standoff between the government and Renamo, was gunned down on Maputo’s Costa do Sol beach, where he had gone for his daily exercise routine.
Pondeca lived in the neighbouring city of Matola, but owned two establishments in the Costa do Sol area. He habitually opened them after his early morning jog along the beach. Local independent paper, Mediafax, said it was obvious that the killers had studied Pondeca’s routine, and simply lay in wait for him last Saturday.
Pondeca left Matola at around 5AM, and the murder occurred at about 7AM. The body was discovered by local fishermen. Pondeca was carrying no identification documents and he was not immediately recognised until a day later after his body had been sent to the morgue at Maputo Central Hospital.
Maputo City police spokesperson Orlando Mudumane told reporters that the murder was committed by four men who travelled to the beach in a Toyota Runx. They shot their victim at point blank range, then drove off.
At the scene of the crime, the police found seven spent cartridges from an AK-47 assault rifle. However, it seems that only four bullets hit Pondeca – two in the head and two in the abdomen.
“We don’t know the motive for the crime”, Mudumane said, “but the Criminal Investigation Police is on the ground in order to identify those responsible for this macabre crime”.
The head of the Renamo delegation on the Joint Commission, Jose Manteigas, was clearly shaken by the murder. He was in tears as he told the independent television station STV: “Jeremias Pondeca has been barbarously assassinated. He was a man who devoted himself to the cause of Renamo and the cause of democracy.”
Daviz Simango, the mayor of Beira, and leader of the second largest opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), said “We condemn this way of solving problems. Right now, the interpretation is that this is a political action.
“The state institutions must clear up this case”, Simango added.
It was yet another reason for reforming the police, and he repeated the MDM’s demand that the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC) should not be part of the Interior Ministry, but should be under the jurisdiction of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Antonio Niquice, the spokesperson for the ruling Frelimo Party, told state news agency AIM that Frelimo was shocked at the killing and expressed solidarity for the grieving family. “We are concerned when citizens fall victim to murder”, he said. “We are concerned because all citizens have the right to life”.
Fears Renamo would walk away from the talks have been allayed, at least for now. Renamo national spokesperson Antonio Muchanga was quoted by AIM as saying that the negotiations will go ahead.
“Renamo will continue the negotiations. Even today, if the Joint Commission was in session, Renamo would be willing to take part in the negotiations,” Muchanga was quoted as saying.
“This barbaric act, committed by the enemies of democracy and of the well-being of the Mozambican people, is intended to force Renamo to abandon the dialogue,” he added.
The talks were meant to resume on Monday after being interrupted on September 30. But the coordinator of the international mediating team, Mario Rafaelli, has announced a further delay to October 18, AIM said.
Muchanga said Pondeca will not be replaced as there were still “a reasonable number” of Renamo members on the commission to continue its work.
The commission has so far reached no definitive agreement on any of the matters on its agenda, including Renamo’s demands for six provincial governors and the inclusion of its militia in the army and police.
Part of the commission’s target is to prepare the ground for a face-to-face meeting between President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama. There has been no progress towards such a meeting yet, with Dhlakama saying he had no interest in meeting Nyusi before signing a final agreement, the agency reported.
Renamo and the government were on opposing sides in a civil war from the late 1970s until the early 1990s before a peace accord ended the fighting.
But it still has its own militia and fighting continues in the central regions where Renamo has resumed low level insurgency by blocking transport routes and carrying out targeted killings.
In the run-up to elections in October 2014, Renamo partisans clashed sporadically with troops and police. Renamo has said it will not take up its parliamentary seats in protest against the election results.
President Nyusi says while peace would be ideal, Frelimo will not be giving in to unreasonable demands. He insists Renamo is not interested in peace.
“For us, peace is the most important ingredient for pursuing all the economic and social development projects in our country”, he said on October 4, speaking at Maputo’s monument to the Mozambican Heroes, where he laid a wreath on the occasion of the 24th anniversary of the peace agreement signed between the government and Renamo in Rome on October 4, 1992.
“We cannot continue looking for justifications for killing the hopes of the Mozambican people.”
He stressed his commitment to continue working for peace so that Mozambicans could use the roads without fear of attack, “so that they have no fear of going to visit their relatives, of undertaking their activities and of travelling long distances”.
The peace anniversary this year was held in the shadow of destabilisation, Nyusi said, carried out by the same force, Renamo, which had changed the direction of the country for the worse when it first embarked on war in 1976.
The 1992 agreement had shown that “as brothers, we can find the best paths to solve our differences. But the lives of Mozambican people continue to be disrupted by a group of people who, even though they are part of our society, regard the importance of peace in a different light.”