The contract area of the Zambezi Valley that Loxton, Hunting & Associates were involved in mapping was reduced by the occupation of part by the activities of Frelimo (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique). Established seven years before, with their headquarters in Tanzania to the north, the movement had politically and militarily occupied large tracts of Mozambique where the Portuguese Army now no longer had control.
Our contract was the government’s effort to try and hamper this spread by the building of Aldeamentos, villages that could have a military presence. The first stage of the plan was to map the natural resources to define areas where such villages could be sited so as to provide the local people with enough arable land for subsistence farming, or other natural resources such as fishing, timber, mining, cropping or stock production. The latter was seriously hampered by the presence of tsetse fly.
For a while, I had a man working in my team who claimed to have the ‘sleepness sick’, as he called it. I was in a pit chipping out soil samples which I poured into a sample bag he was holding open as he squatted at the pits edge. The weight of it, maybe one kg., upset his equilibrium and he toppled into the pit on top of me. He had fallen asleep.
The next phase would be to plan the layout of such industries as well as land and water resources for each village.
Although, in theory, we were supposed to map all the way to Tete, the area from there to Lake Lifumba was deemed to be too dangerous. So Bruce Barichievy’s section, including the lake, was our western-most boundary.
The Army had shot three suspected ‘terrorists’ in my area in the week before my arrival at the end of August, 1971. Landmines were found on the Doa-Tete road beside the railway line, blowing up a truck.
In late September, Bruce, Norman Trevor-Jones and I moved to Doa, a small village on the railway line. Besides the railway station, a pensão and a few stores, it had an administration post and army barracks. I needed to site pits along that same road towards another station at a village called Chueza, but my team refused to go, rightly afraid of landmines.
The arrogance and invincibility of youth! I consulted with the Portuguese security officer in Doa who said it would probably be alright, but I should not go beyond Chueza. I told my men. When they still refused, I said that I would drive all the way to Chueza and return to prove the way was clear. This I did, but have to admit I was expecting to hear a big bang at any moment. The Army arrested one of my pit diggers as they thought he was laying a mine!
On the evening of Friday, 24th September 1971, the eve of Frelimo’s seventh anniversary, the Army fortified and patrolled Doa, expecting an attack. We three went to bed with our hunting weapons in the pensão and slept like babies. Nothing happened in Doa, but we learned that somewhere up the line towards Tete there had been an attack that had been beaten off.
When we reported back to our base in Mutarara, we found there had been mild panic that we had not come back that weekend. Our leader, Frank Merryweather, wanted Bruce to abandon his area at Lake Lifumba and for me to join Norman at Ancuaze, but we talked him out of it. The three of us mapped Bruce’s area from Lifumba and then all moved to Norman’s camp at Ancuaze on the Zambezi. From a mapping standpoint, this was a sound idea, but it had been a long year and we were getting bush-happy. We were getting irritated with each other; it was amazing that we did not come to blows.
In early November I was re-opening some pits, collecting replacement soil samples for some that had gone missing, when I heard a thunder-clap. Although it was overcast, there were no storm-clouds. Strange. My men looked knowingly at each other.
“Chueza,” they muttered.
After sampling, I needed to check on some of my photo interpretation in the Chueza area, so headed that way. It consists of a small railway siding and, a couple of kilometres away, a store then run by a Portuguese. A patrol trolley had detonated a landmine on the Mecito side about 3 km away, towards Tete. At the siding a steam-train waited, the rotund driver refusing to go and meet the train from Tete, that was waiting at the break in the line, to collect his passengers, until he had a beer.
I assisted by taking Mendes, the driver, to the store for a few beers, then back to his engine where he merely laughed at the inspector, a skinny, mean-looking man, who was beside himself with anger. Mendes hauled himself into his caboose, grinned, waved and blew the train whistle for me as the train chuffed away.
Such was life in Mozambique, back then. I loved it!
In the first two weeks of November, a landmine blew up a truck near the village of Bandar on the Zambezi beyond Lake Lifumba, killing two passengers and wounding five others.. Another blew up the line near Mecito. All trains had several sandbagged flatbeds or coal trucks ahead of them that detonated the mines, usually sparing the engines. Another mine blew up an army vehicle beyond Mecito.
While Bruce and I were mapping the hill-country between Zamira and Doa on the border with Malawi, a twin-engined Cessna flew over dropping leaflets and warning Frelimo to give themselves up. Obviously there had been word of a recent crossing from Malawi. We saw several groups of local refugees trying to hide from us as we drove across country, presumably supposing we were Army, looking for collaborators.
It was to be a losing battle, as the Portuguese determination slowly cooled to the quickening winds of change.
But, for me, this situation, and the area here north of the Zambezi, were soon to be a major background to my novel, The Barros Pawns.