-- The Mines Of Mozambique --
11 September 1995. Quelimane.
There's a broad river winding
Through this African lowland
The moon is held up orange and big
See it raise its hands
And the last ferry's pulling out
With no place left to stand
For the mines of Mozambique
There's a wealth of amputation
Waiting in the ground
But no one can remember
Where they put it down
If you're the child that finds it there
You will rise upon the sound
Of the mines of Mozambique
Some men rob the passersby
For a bit of cash to spend
Some men rob whole countries dry
And still get called their friend
And under the feeding frenzy
There's a wound that will not mend
In the mines of Mozambique
Night, like peace,
The all-night stragglers stagger home
Is a state of suspension
Tomorrow the heat will rise
And mist will hide the marshy fields
The mango and the cashew trees
Which only now they're clearing brush from under.
Rusted husks of blown up trucks
Line the roadway north of town
Like passing through a sculpture gallery
War is the artist
But he's sleeping now
And somebody will be peddling vials of penicillin stolen out of all the medical kits sent to the countryside.
And in the bare workshop they'll be molding plastic into little prosthetic limbs
For the children of this artist
And for those who farm the soil that received
His bitter seed...
Cocks begin to crow
And singing birds are starting up
Telling what they know
And after awhile the sun will come
And we'll see what it will show
Of the mines of Mozambique
Bruce Cockburn: Resophonic and Electric Guitars and Vocal
Gary Craig: Drums, Percussion
Rob Wasserman: Bass
Janice Powers: Mongolian keyboard thing
Jonatha Brook: Backup Vocals and Arrangement
Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:
26 September 1995
[Singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn is pretty blunt about his reasons for going to Mozambique to observe a country in transition after 15 years of civilwar.] "My job is an attention-getter. That's the skill I can offer. When you step on a land mine -- it depends on which kind it is -- it either rips you to shreds or it takes your legs off." [There are an estimated two million land mines in the countryside of Mozambique, many of them unmapped, even since the democratic elections of October 1994. As 4.5 million refugees return from inside and outside Mozambique, they are attempting to go back to farmland that may still be deadly, though the war is over.]
"Now you can travel around the country, but you have to watch where you put your feet. The cities are still full of displaced people and many of them have missing parts. [Finding mines] is so slow. They have to find everything by hand. It's very dangerous work and very costly work." [Cockburn said that despite the land-mine problem, Mozambicans are looking forward to building a better future.]
"The people were optimistic, but there is also a real sense of uncertainty because the economy is so screwed up." [But Cockburn said he doesn't do his travelling specifically to get inspiration for his music.]
"You don't go on these trips looking for songs per se, but you always go with your eyes open. It would be pretty cynical to go to Mozambique looking for songs, but I'm happy when they come."
- from "Mines still threat in Mozambique, Cockburn says: Cross-country tour precedes visit to African country" by Kim Bolan, The Vancouver Sun, 26 September 1995, (Final Edition). Submitted by Nigel Parry.
September 1995 - "The Mines of Mozambique"
"The road from Quelimane to Nampula winds prettily between lines of mango and cashew trees planted by the old colonial masters to draw people to where their activities could be monitored. It takes a long time to do the drive. The road rolls and heaves like a rough sea. A lot of rainy seasons have come and gone without anyone working on its repair. During the long years of war much of the countryside was emptied of people. Those who remained in RENAMO-controlled zones were put to work, not maintaining the road, but cutting shallow trenches in rows across the paved portions in order to slow vehicular traffic to where it would be vulnerable to ambush. Even though, since the peace accord was signed in October 92, scrap metal dealers have been busy, you can still see the twisted remains of convoyed trucks here and there along the roadside.
While scavengers sort out the physical detritus of war, Mozambicans in general are trying to sort out its psychic debris. What was the true course of the war? There was virtually no communication between people caught on opposing sides -- and it's only now that one can grasp the real shape of recent history.
In 1975, Portugal surrendered its East African colony to the Mozambican people. Not willingly. After a number of years of struggle for independence waged by the Mozambican Liberation Front - FRELIMO - and parallel wars in its other African colonies, Portugal found itself exhausted. A coup by young army officers against the decades-old Salazar dictatorship brought democracy to the European nation and freedom to its last few overseas posessions. These weren't the only such struggles going on at that time. The neighbouring country of Rhodesia was the scene of fighting between a white racist government and black nationalist guerrillas who found sympathy in Mozambique. Ken Flowers, who was then head of the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization, includes in his memoirs an account of his involvement in the recruiting and training of RENAMO (Mozambican National Resistance). This was a group of disaffected Mozambicans led by one Alfonso Dhlakama whose function was to destabilize that country, and keep it from effectively supporting Robert Mugabe's rebels.
This activity continued from 75 to 80. Then Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe became president. At this point the reins of RENAMO were handed over to the South African military.
Apartheid South Africa moved to maintain its own security partly by controlling the exports of its land- locked neighbours, Botswana, and the new Zimbabwe. Open seaports in Mozambique and Angola would interfere with this agenda. RENAMO became the instrument of South African foreign policy, completely destroying whatever vestigial infrastructure existed in post-Portuguese Mozambique, almost succeeding in closing the ports at Nacala, Beira and Maputo.
RENAMO also became famous for atrociously brutal tactics with respect to forced recruitment and the treatment of prisoners.By the end of the eighties, the horrors of civil war and the ill will engendered by FRELIMO's questionable economic policies had been compounded by an extended period of drought. RENAMO was starving. South Africa was undergoing major change. FRELIMO had no more money to put into the war effort. The Soviet Union, its principal backer, was extinct. Under these conditions, with the involvement of the UN, an end was negotiated to the war. The peace accord provided for the creation of democratic institutions and the holding of elections which took place a year ago.
When I was in Mozambique in 88, there was no evidence that RENAMO had a political platform or anything like legitimacy. They were simply "the Bandits". So it came as quite a surprise to me, and I think to others, when they emerged from the elections with something like 40% of the vote. There was plenty of evidence in 88 to support the former characterization of RENAMO, evidence which still abounds. I talked with the nurse in charge of a rural health post at Luala, in Zambezia province, who was blind in one eye because RENAMO soldiers had driven a pin into it. Nevertheless, that picture didn't tell the whole story. In its attempt to replace colonial structures with a Marxist social order, FRELIMO had gone out of its way to humiliate and render powerless the traditional village leaders who had previously been supported by the Portuguese as a means of controlling the population. This, among other things, alienated large numbers of people. RENAMO turned this alienation to its own advantage by presenting itself as the friend of the traditional leaders. It seems, too, that peasant communities, when threatened by the war itself, had to choose between fleeing toward RENAMO or toward FRELIMO bases, and their choice then led to a similar choice at election time. There was an understandable feeling of exhaustion with war and the sense that if RENAMO didn't do well, the fighting would continue. Angola is currently providing an example of that scenario.
So where are we now? After 500 years of colonialism and 25 years of war, we have democracy in a country which for the most part does not value or even recognize any community larger than the village. Even at that level you don't see the acknowledgement of interdependence among people that you find in some other places. To what extent this is a mentality spawned by the war is not clear, but there's no doubt that the "Sauve qui peut" concept is what prevails.
We have a government with virtually no funds- which has, in the years leading up to the peace and those since, been compelled to restructure the country's economy at the behest of the World Bank and friends, opening the way for unfettered capitalism. We can now witness the spectacle of drastically underpaid teachers finding it necessary to charge students for the release of their marks; of thousands of demobilized soldiers without work or other support falling back on banditry to survive, who sometimes rent their weaponry from underpaid police who themselves frequently resort to mugging passers-by to augment their wages. (About this I can speak with great authority, having been held up by 2 cops outside my hotel in Maputo).
All this in contrast to a feeding frenzy on the part of international business and its local agents. There are oil companies, mining companies, logging companies, Japanese trawlers, entrepreneurs of all sorts, many of them Portuguese and South African. The irony is inescapable. Even the HIV virus, kept at bay by Mozambique's relative isolation during the war, is appearing as a colonizer.
Economic restructuring, to be fair, created an incentive to produce, and this has led to an improved situation for some people. It has also, though, provided massive incentives for corruption. There are consumer goods in the country, but the minimum wage is about $17/month - not enough to buy a 50 lb. bag of flour. The cost of importing such goods is whatever you can negotiate with the nearest crooked customs official.
Social spending is gone - sound familiar? Yes but the effects in a place like Mozambique are beyond our worst nightmares. The central hospital in Nampula City used to be decent, if poorly supplied. Now its a cesspool of misery. The mentally ill wander the hallways stinking of urine and raving. The walls are filthy. People who can, bring their own brightly patterned cloth rather than put themselves in contact with the hospital bedding. The gurney used to transport patients who can't walk is an old blood stained stretcher rigged with wheels.
Fecal-smelling wards are crammed with people, most of whom seem to be in for treatment of infections acquired while undergoing operations at this very institution. If you need an IV, you have to pay. If you need blood, you have to buy it. If you need medicine, your family has to comb the pharmacies in town because all the drugs have been sold off long since by the hospital staff. The closest thing to a bright spot in the whole scene is a cop who's there because he shot himself in the foot while chasing a "suspect". He complains because his superiors haven't come to visit. The government can't raise salaries for fear of losing the support of the World Bank. So you have people producing in a modest way, but no money to buy anything and no means of carrying produce to market.
The field against which this is happening is one of near total destruction of transportation, schools and stores in the wake of war, drought, and, in the north, a disastrous hurricane last year.
The war killed all the cattle, drove away or killed the wildlife, destroyed nearly all the trucks, wrecked rail lines, left all but the major cities in ruins -- left rural access roads and fields polluted with landmines.
With respect to this latter, Mozambique is typical of many Third World countries which have been the scene of wars, especially civil wars, in recent years. Over the past 2 decades the presence of anti-personnel mines in such places has come to constitute a major epidemic. The UN estimates that there are around 2,000,000 mines in Mozambique. Although people involved in the process of removing them feel that number is a little bit high, there are plenty to go around. There are plenty of dead and maimed Mozambicans -- 10,000 dead from mines during the war, and at least 500 in the last 2 years.
These numbers don't include the injured, or those deaths occurring in remote areas which largely go unreported. The injured are generally disabled, who become a burden to their families; to what health care resources do exist; who are likely to further swell the numbers of urban beggars, contributing to the instability of society; and who can look forward to a very poor quality of life. Victims of mine accidents are most likely to be civilians, rural people who depend on a degree of physical fitness for their survival.
The one-armed, badly scarred and blinded kid whose sister leads him around to beg from the foreigners at the riverfront cafe in Quelimane is representative: he hit a mine with his mattock while working his family's machamba, or garden plot -- well after hostilities had ended.
When you talk to the technician in charge of the prosthetics workshop support by the French NGO Handicap International, he tells you that probably 60% of his customers are mine victims. The workshop is part of an orthopaedic clinic where patients come for consultation and fitting of artificial limbs, as well as physiotherapy aimed at helping them adjust to their prostheses. In one room they are navigating between parallel bars, getting used to walking without their Canadianas. Their what? Canadianas. These are the short metal crutches which are braced against the forearm. Nobody knows why they're called that, but we get a laugh from the bystanders when we explain that where we come from, women are Canadianas.
Landmines come in many shapes and sizes, but they can be loosely divided into 'anti-tank' and 'anti-personnel'. Anti-personnel mines can be further differentiated as 'blast' and 'fragmentation'. Blast mines, as the name implies, work by simply blowing off parts of the body. Fragmentation mines work like a big grenade, sending shrapnel over a wide radius. There are various methods of triggering explosions, the most common being foot pressure, or a trip wire.
Anti-tank mines are designed to blow the track off of 60- ton armoured vehicles and generally require a substantial weight to set them off. The front wheel of a jeep will do it -- or a road construction vehicle -- and there won't be much left afterward. Fortunately, anti-tank mines are present only in small numbers in Mozambique. The real obstacle to development is the anti-personnel mines, and the perception of them. It's worth pointing out here that unlike other weapons, mines are activated by the victim. Nobody is aiming them.
Classically, mines are used by soldiers to deny access to an area -- e.g. to create a defensive perimeter around a base or town, or to prevent ambushes by laying them along the shoulders of a road. This application is one seen commonly in Mozambique.
During the war of independence, the Portuguese laid mines in this way. In the late 70's, the Rhodesian forces mined the border areas of Mozambique to deter guerilla incursions. FRELIMO laid strings of mines around towns, hydro lines, military bases and key industrial sites. Private companies mined their own operations as well. The Canada Dry mineral water bottling plant at Namaacha near the border with Swaziland, is surrounded by 4 different rings of Anti-personnel mines. For all that, RENAMO still was able to capture and destroy the plant.
Classically, too, records are kept of the location and number of mines, and the minefields are marked with signs and/or strands of wire. In practice very little documentation survives. Wire and sign posts are removed by people in need of building materials and years later nobody remembers where the mines are.
Now -- when you're the guerrillas, you don't have large installations to defend, so your use of mines is different. And you don't keep records at all. RENAMO proved itself very effective at using its South African-supplied ones as a terror weapon. Put a couple on the trail where you might expect the enemy to walk, but maybe lay some near the local health post or in the schoolyard, or maybe don't lay any, but say you did. RENAMO used a lot of forced labour.
In one case, a primary school teacher was put to work for several days carrying boxes of mines from one of their camps to an area where they were to be laid. He told his acquaintances what he was doing, and the word spread that the area was now unsafe. After the war, it turned out that he was only carrying crates of rocks -- that it was all a trick. It served the purpose though -- area denial -- and I wonder if anyone's farming that land even now? When you've seen what these things do, you're not inclined to take chances.
Problem is, when you're a subsistence farmer, you have to farm or starve. So what do you do? You learn to live with the threat. You start to mythologize it. If your child decides to play with a fragmentation mine and is suddenly reduced to a few bloody scraps of clothing, it's because somebody's offended the ancestors. It's not because someone in Russia or Italy or China or the US manufactured a lethal device and sold it for 5 bucks so your low budget armies could put it in your field. It isn't obvious to you that the manufacturers' government will give its taxpayers money to the UN, so that the UN can hire that same manufacturers' expertise to remove the thing for a thousand dollars.
A lot of effort is going into mine awareness training in Mozambique. These posters and Tshirts are part of that program. It was hard for me to judge whether or not it's working.
A lot of effort and expense is going into de-mining operations, not all of them of the kind just referred to. The UN has a major program in place in the south of the country, training former soldiers from both sides in the location and destruction of mines.
A couple of NGO's are also working in other regions. Halo Trust, a British group and the first NGO to have de-mining as its express purpose, is at work in Zambezia province, one of the worst infested areas. Norwegian People's Aid has a similar program in Tete province using trained dogs to sniff out mines where the soil is too high in iron for metal detectors to be effective. There is a reasonable hope that the problem of mines in Mozambique can be solved -- because of the relatively small numbers and because in many cases they can be worked around. Even though the things can remain deadly for as much as 50 years, given the money and the will to keep on clearing, and to build alternative roads to those that are most heavily mined, we can eventually expect to ease the situation to the point where life can be something like normal.
This may be true of Mozambique, where the war is over and no new mines are being laid. It's not so true elsewhere. A year ago Mozambique was averaging 2 mine accidents weekly. At the same time, Angola was suffering 25/day. In Cambodia, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and a host of other places, there is no short term solution.
There is, however, a long term one. Only one. Anti-personnel mines must be placed in the same special category under international law as chemical weapons. They have to be banned.
Mozambique is facing a frightening array of difficulties. Who will rein in the police? Where will transportation come from? Can it remain sovereign in the face of so much international economic involvement? How do you move a nation from a nearly pre-industrial state into the age of the microchip without being buried by the avalanche of change?
In some respects, this is a country which is still at the tourniquet stage of recovery. It must be kept from bleeding to death long enough for it to get on it's feet. It's hard to know where to start to address the situation. One point might be this: I asked an activist for the disabled, himself crippled by a mine, what message he would like carried to the outside world. His response - tell them to stop blowing us up!"
- from "Mines of Mozambique" by Bruce Cockburn, unpublished [?], September 1995. Submitted by Nigel Parry.
12 January 1996(?)
"I was so enraged by what I saw there," he says. "You never knew where the Renamo guys (the principal insurgents in the country) were going to turn up next; they were vicious, vicious guys. The people were suffering so much. They were short of truck drivers and everything, and couldn't move anything over land. I was just mad enough to go, 'OK, give me an AK (assault rifle), and I'll ride shotgun for somebody.' But it was sort of a naive idea, really... It was a very sad, very beautiful country. And it's still just like that."
- from "A Rising Northern Star: Canadian Bruce Cockburn Wins More U.S. Converts" by Brad Buchholz, Dallas Morning News, 12 January 1996(?). Submitted by Nigel Parry.
Hearsay: A lot of your songs revolve around movement and have a 'travelogue' quality...
BC: There's a lot of different aspects to travelogue but one of the important ones is the way it can kick you out of your habits of mind, and I think being regularly kicked out of your habits of mind is very important, vital really, from a creative point of view. Some people get that from drugs or indiscriminate sex but in my case it's been mostly through travelogue! It's a common human thing to fall into an habitual way of thinking about things that needs to be stirred up every now and then - we need to keep having these little cultural revolutions, and travel has occupied that function for me more than anything else. There's a lot of material that comes specifically from certain travels. On the new album, the Mozambique trip inspired two songs. The obvious one is The Mines Of Mozambique but also The Coming Rains was written there. Journeys to exotic places don't always produce songs, but sometimes they do.
- from "Tender is the Night", Hearsay Magazine, Vol. 14b, December? 1996. Anonymous Submission.
BC: [The song is] not an attempt to address the issues of land mines, but it reflects the atmosphere in a country that's infested with them. That's one of two songs on the album that were written on a trip I took there a little over a year ago. The trip was about the issue of land mines. I was going on behalf of a consortium of Canadian development agencies that are working in Mozambique and, as is the case with many third world countries in which development agencies are working, there is this problem with land mines which interferes with everything their trying to do. It interferes with people trying to grow food, transportation of goods from one place to another... puts a tremendous burden on whatever passes for public health in the various countries in question.
Jeff Clarke: It's a horror that we can't really imagine.]
BC: Unless you were in Vietnam, you probably can't imagine it, and I'm sure if you were in 'Nam, you can imagine it all too well. But, it's not something that you want to imagine all that carefully either. You can't go around the city of Mozambique, or any community for that matter, without seeing land mine victims. They range in age from zero to old age. Of course, those are the ones that weren't killed outright. It's a horrendous weapon and there's nothing quite like the feeling of walking around in a land mine field. It's not like anything else I've done - that's for sure.
Jeff Clarke: Keep you on your toes.
BC: So to speak. Keep your toes on you is the idea.
- from a Kink FM 102 Interview with Jeff Clarke, January 1997. Anonymous submission.
"It's a part of the landscape that's inescapable when you're there," he said recently of his fact-finding mission in 1995 on the post-war problem of landmines.
"It was a country at peace when I went there, but the effects of war were everywhere. Landmines are almost like an evil spiritual part of the landscape, like some kind of mythical ogre that's under your bed when you're a kid and you're afraid to step down onto the floor at night. People just simply walking or driving down the road and who have to take a leak, they have to think before they make any moves. They have to remember to leak on the road and not wander off into the bushes or they might be killed by a landmine. And the children can't be children and venture off to play. The landmines are everywhere."
Cockburn, who is among other things the honorary chairman of Friends of the Earth, is pushing for governments to ban landmines, or what he calls "the plague of the 20th century." "What's even worse about all this is that charity organizations can't do any work there to help the people," he said. "How can you establish a health program when you're spending all your money on fake limbs for people who have been maimed by these things?"
- from "Pause & Play - The Music Column: Bruce Cockburn" by Gerry Galipault, February 1997. Anonymous submission.
20 April 1997
"That song [Waiting for a Miracle] was written in Nicaragua, but it fits a few places. The last place where I've been where it might be said to be true was Mozambique where I was about a year and a half ago. Mozambique had a war not unlike the one in Nicaragua actually, only instead of the U.S. supporting the contras it was South Africa supporting a group called RENAMO. Their job was pretty much the same, fuck everything up as much as you can for as long as you can. They were more successful, I think, in Mozambique than in Nicaragua and it was bad enough, of course, there.
In Mozambique they were pretty much totally successful, so what you see now in place of a country is some lines on a map, some people in uniform...a flag or two, that's about it. There is no infrastructure of any kind, however this is information from a year and a half ago, things may have improved. One thing that definitely did improve was that after 25 years or so of warfare a peace accord was signed and elections were held and it's one of the few examples of that kind of thing going on in recent times that has held. But people, in the process of trying to reconstruct or construct a country out of the ruins that are left are faced with many problems.
Some of the obvious ones, the same ones we are familiar with from watching war movies from anywhere. There's all kinds of self-interest and corruption and exploitation by whoever's got the money. There are some noble attempts being made but those noble attempts are hampered at pretty much every turn by the presence of large numbers of land mines, which cause a problem if you're trying to grow food because you're liable to hit one with your hoe, if you're trying to gather firewood or fruit from the forest because the kids that you send out to do that might step one.
If you succeed in growing food you can't get your stuff to market because the trucks have to drive over roads that may be mined, and so it goes...I'll spare you my speech on landmines, if there's anything that any of you can do to further the cause of a global ban on those things, please do it, because you'll be helping hundreds of thousands of people. This is called The Mines of Mozambique."
- direct quote from a tape of a concert on 20 April 1997, at The Egg, Albany, NY, USA. Anonymous submission.
Bob Duran: Was your travel to Mozambique also with Oxfam?
BC: Oxfam was one of 16 organizations working under an umbrella agency. I first went there in 1988 when that group was first set up, then back again in '95. It was the second trip that produced the two songs on the album: The Coming Rains and Mines of Mozambique."
- from "A Conversation with Bruce Cockburn", by Bob Duran, North Coast Journal, November 1997. Submitted by Bobbi Wisby.
Early 1998-- from an early 1998 solo acoustic concert at Calvin College Fine Arts Center. Anonymous Submission.
[Introducing "The Mines of Mozambique," Bruce commented] "Your country, the USA, still hasn't signed the landmine treaty, even though the rest of the industrialized world has. People, children are being killed by those things and your politicians are just sitting around playing with their dicks-- not that
there's anything wrong with that, of course!"
6 October 1999
[But he says that to view songs like 1997's "Mines of Mozambique" and his 1985 hit "If I had a Rocket Launcher" as political tracts is to miss the point.] "These songs are the product of circumstance, distilled experience, just like the others. The real goal is to share an experience with the audience."
- from "Without cause: Bruce Cockburn gets personal", by Banning Eyre, Boston Phoenix, 6 October 1999. Anonymous Submission
circa 22 February 2000
[Continuing to enthusiastically endorse political stances about the environment
and the poor, Cockburn has most recently joined the movement to eliminate the use of land mines as a weapon of war.]
"For me, it's all one big issue," he says. "All of these things are aspects of how we treat each other and how we relate to the nature of which we are part.
Anytime I can address any of those aspects, I'm happy to do it. It's all really about human dignity and human survival."
- from "Worldly And Wise: Itinerant Troubadour Bruce Cockburn Maps The Human Experience", by Dave Irwin, Tucson Weekly, circa 22 February 2000. Submitted by Nigel Parry.
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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.