By Bernard Chiketo
CHIPINGE – Zimbabwe and Mozambique are both suffering rising casualties and cattle rustling during skirmishes along their border in an area plagued by conflict over scarce resources, officials and villagers say.
The neighbouring countries accuse each other of triggering clashes taking place along the central stretch of their 1 000km frontier, highlighting persisting tension over an unresolved dispute that has seen Renamo — which is also the official opposition in Mozambique — launching a low-level guerrilla campaign against the ruling Frelimo government, that has spilled into Zimbabwe.
The low intensity war in Mozambique, which has killed hundreds of people, is taking its toll on Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands and the south eastern plateau, despite President Robert Mugabe’s vow to stop the hostilities with Afonso Dhlakama’s Renamo armed bandits — who have resorted to cattle rustling from Manicaland villagers to feed its fighters and raise funds after the Mozambique army pushed it out of cities.
And as cattle die of starvation due to drought, opportunists are also mounting night-time raids to replace lost stock from the neighbouring country.
Angry locals have also begun raiding Mozambican cattle pens, inviting revenge incursions.
The fighting along the border has also left dozens of houses and various food stores burned and looted, plus dozens of herds of cattle stolen.
Mugabe has said he wants to stop cattle rustling along the border, at a time Mozambique refugees have been allowed to blend into border communities, instead of refugee camps.
Addressing his Zanu PF supporters in Dande, a northern border community at the end of last year, Mugabe said he had received reports of trans-border cattle theft.
“Let us forge good relations with those beyond the border in Tete. I hear that you take each other’s cattle.
“Leave people’s cattle alone. Are there no cattle here? I thought they were the ones who should have been after our cattle. What is happening? Let’s stop that practice,” Mugabe said.
David Mandimutsira, a cattle trader, said fighters had stolen a 50-strong herd from him and another herd from his brother.
He said the military had failed to stop the raids, with soldiers running into the bush the moment they came under fire.
South of Dande along the border in Chipinge, furious locals are crossing the border to steal cattle, confirmed an opposition Member of Parliament.
“There are some known individuals who are going into Mozambique to steal cattle,” Musikavanhu MDC MP Prosper Mutseyami said.
When about 50 cattle were stolen from Zimbabwean small farmers and driven across the border in Chipinge in December, Mugabe’s deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa reacted by sending in the army.
Acting president then, Mnangagwa told Parliament that some of the cattle had been recovered.
“Some people have been invited to identify their cattle,” he said.
Mnangagwa said provincial security leaders of both countries were constantly meeting to discuss the escalation of cross border incidents and rising tension.
According to a December 10 police intelligence brief from Chisumbanje Police Station, the cattle were stolen by “15 suspected Mozambican soldiers armed with AK 47 rifles”.
When police visited the Zamuchiya area where the cattle were seized, they saw “five suspected Mozambican soldiers and some civilians with machetes and knobkerries”.
And there have been rising killings.
Infact, it was the abduction of a man from his village, who was later killed in Mozambique, which prompted Mnangagwa to deploy the army along the border.
Shockingly, his identity was never established. But investigations by the Daily News on Sunday revealed he was many of Mozambican refugees moving in and settling along the border.
Recently, two suspect Mozambican soldiers and 25 men armed with bows and arrows crossed the border into Nyanga, rounding up four refugees and their cattle from Nyamutenha village, ward 11, where they had settled, locals said.
They were reportedly taken to Nyabutu camp. Their fate remains unknown. Some of the Mozambicans are committing atrocities, then fleeing their homes to settle here as refugees, while others are driven out of their homes.
But in both cases, they do not sit back but organise cross-border revenge attacks, investigations revealed.
“We are in no way screening these immigrants… (we are just) allowing them to settle among ordinary villagers, risking their safety,” a Mapungwana village head who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
“Our government is messing up its refugee processing protocol and it may cost the nation its peace.”
Chipinge South Zanu PF MP Enock Porusingazi agrees that the refugees need to be placed in appropriate facilities for their safety and the preservation of peace.
“Once a person flees from war or terror, he is classified a refugee and should be quarantined in a camp for safety and protection,” Porusingazi said.
But until Zimbabwe reins in cattle rustling and implements appropriate refugee handling procedures, it remains on the brink of being sucked into the conflict.
But to keep itself from its strategic neighbour’s internal conflict, Zimbabwe will need to carefully monitor activities along the long border and not just the political impasse between Frelimo and Renamo. Daily News