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An interview with top MDM politician Lutero Simango

Mozambique will hold national elections in October. Politics in the southern African nation has been dominated by two parties, FRELIMO and RENAMO. But now a young party is causing waves across the country, pledging to focus on ‘a development agenda’

In 2009 Mozambicans watched the birth of a new political party, the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (Movimento Democrático de Moçambique – MDM). In only four years the party has managed to gain control of three strategic municipalities. In the last municipal elections in 2013, it emerged as a serious challenger to the ruling FRELIMO, [1] one year ahead of the national elections.

Meanwhile, very little is known about MDM’s political orientation and the reasons behind its rise. To gain greater insight into MDM’s political thinking, Fredson Guilengue, project manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung – Southern Africa (RLS), interviewed the head of the national parliamentary group of MDM, Lutero Chimbirombiro Simango (LS). Lutero was born in 1960 and is the older brother of Daviz Simango, president of MDM.

While Daviz [2] resides in Beira, Lutero is based in the capital city of Maputo. Their parents Uria and Celina Simango were assassinated. [3] Uria Simango was one of the founding members of FRELIMO and its vice president from the party’s inception in 1962 until the time of the assassination of its first president Eduardo Mondlane in February 1969. He was then ousted in an internal power struggle in which Samora Machel and Marcelino Dos Santos took control of the party.

RLS: When did you take your first steps into politics?

LS: There was always a political creature inside me. But I also always attached considerable importance to academic training. I think it’s the academic training that kept the ‘political creature’ at bay. Somewhere between 1974 and 1975 our parents were taken away from us. I only started accepting that they were not coming back to us in 1976. It was during this period that the ‘political creature’ started to develop. During the same period many people I knew had been arrested for their political convictions and detained at the military headquarters in Matacuene. During one of my visits there I also had the privilege of being introduced to André Matsangaissa.[4] In 1977 some rebel groups rose against the FRELIMO regime. I had access to these groups and I also took part in their meetings. I even remember considering joining such groups. But my desire to pursue my studies was stronger. This coupled with the fact that I had loved listening to the radio expecting an announcement that mum and dad were coming back home.

I effectively started in politics in 1990 with the new constitution that gave Mozambicans the possibility to form political parties. My decision was also influenced by the fact that my parents had been politicians and because we belong to a family of missionaries. Being a missionary doesn’t always simply mean being religious but also open to serve. It is part of our family values and I think our father also felt it.

RLS: MDM started in 2009 created and supported by RENAMO, PCN and FRELIMO dissidents. To what extent is the party unique or different?

LS: I don’t like to use the term dissidents because it sounds too heavy. ‘Dissidents’ implies people constantly hunting for power, which is not the case. It’s incorrect to say that MDM was born of discontentment with FRELIMO, RENAMO and PCN. I think there are moments when all of us feel that we have to contribute to our country and it is in these moments that new windows open. I consider that the formation of MDM resulted from a new window of need to save democracy and defeat bipolarization. But above all it was necessary to rebuild hope in Mozambique. It was a window based on these three pillars that was the critical factor behind the formation of the party. MDM doesn’t only comprise people formerly belonging to those parties but also young people who had never been politically militant. I think MDM is a Mozambican political party that serves Mozambicans but, above all, it is a political party with no military history. It’s not a militarised product. It’s a product of civilians with a democratic mind and development orientated. If you pay attention to the political discourse, you will notice that while some assume to be the custodians of independence, others consider themselves the fathers of democracy. We are fine with both assumptions but we insist that now we have to focus on a development agenda. We want to talk about housing, employment, health, education and how to manage our natural resources. We come with a new way of doing politics.

RLS: What do you think about the allegation by Chichava (IESE 2010) that MDM belongs to the Simango family and that it has two presidents (Daviz Simango in Beira and Lutero Simango in Maputo)?

LS: I think Chichava’s opinion is very unfortunate and he has done the Mozambican people and the international academia a disservice. I believe the results of his investigation are both misleading and single-sided. It reflected tension within MDM caused by our former general secretary using arguments on information provided by this person. The argument that MDM has two presidents is baseless. Everybody knows that there is a president and I am the head of the parliamentary group. Yes we are siblings but before that we are citizens. I am not aware of any legislation in Mozambique impeding two individuals with the same parents being part of the same organization. Therefore, it would have been a different debate if he had said that my appointment as the head of the parliamentary group was based on nepotism. My appointment resulted from an internal reflection that took my political experience as Member of Parliament into consideration. There is no way one can say that the party belongs to the two brothers of the family because we have obtained seats in all municipalities of the country except Mutarara and Macia. We are now governing four towns. If it was a family party how would we have been able to build this capacity countrywide?

RLS: According to Cahen (Plural 2013) MDM is a centre-right Christian party. Why have you opted for this ideological orientation? Wasn’t your strategy to distinguish yourselves from FRELIMO (perceived to be leftist with a history of ideological radicalism) and from RENAMO (clearly a right wing party)?

LS: I would not say we are centre-right Christian. Let’s only say centre-right because if we said centre-right Christian we would exclude non-Christians. The reason is very simple. When we discuss the nature of a typical Mozambican we would need the capacity to evaluate his socialisation. A Mozambican is, by nature, individualistic. We all lead independent lives: we possess our properties, goods, machambas (a small plot of land), our yards, our trees, etc. When you visit my home, I can go to my chicken coop and offer you a chicken. I also have the honour of taking you there and saying, ‘My dearest friend, please select the chicken you would like to eat.’ This is what we would call ownership - individual ownership.

In Mozambique or in Africa in general, there is no so-called collective life on management of goods. Collectivisation should not be imposed upon people, it must occur naturally. Collectivisation doesn’t exist amongst Mozambicans. I have my machamba and my own goods, but I still have the liberty to share with you even though the goods are mine. At the end of the day everyone has personal possessions. I don’t know whether you call it capitalism or market economy but it’s about property and property rights. It is a concept involving capital and profit. MDM believes in a market economy and private property. We have to encourage people to have private property. We have to encourage people to have their own houses. This also involves each one of us having our own land. This is capitalism classically speaking.

On the other side, we are Africans. For us nothing just happens. There is always a greater power. This thing is God. The Christians would call it Christ and the Muslims would say it is Allah, revealed by the prophet Muhammad. I don’t believe atheists exist. Every human has a belief system. When I am neither Christian nor Muslim I believe in the spirits. It’s also a religion. Whatever religion it might be, it’s a religion. MDM believes in this. Because MDM participates as international democratic Christians, this doesn’t mean we are only for the Christians. We are for everyone.

Meanwhile, we also believe that we need education and health. We can pick from the left what the right cannot provide. MDM advocates education for all. This must be picked up from the left. The same applies to health. At the end of the day we advocate for a social market economy because the people don’t always have enough money so the state must play its role. To build state capacity we encourage that everyone pays taxes.

I believe we inadvertently distinguished ourselves from the others (FRELIMO and RENAMO) by firstly understanding the socio-cultural formation of our people. As I said for us as Africans our only place is centre-right.

RLS: How do you evaluate the results of the latest municipal elections that reflect a meteoric rise of the party nationwide and what were the contributing factors?

LS: The 2013 elections have been an important milestone for the party. They allowed us to consolidate our establishment as a political organisation. They strengthened the presence of the party nationwide, regardless of the results. It proved to the Mozambicans that we have members countrywide. It once again disproved Chichava’s theory and reflects the existence of a new group of voters. It strengthens the trends towards a third way. But I agree with those who suggest that we wait until the October elections to see if this trend will continue. The results we have obtained have never before been recorded by an opposition party. It is for this reason that we cannot say that the results reflect the vacuum created by RENAMO’s boycott. RENAMO has never conquered Quelimane and Nampula. RENAMO has never reached 40 percent in the city of Maputo and Matola. RENAMO has never reached 48 percent in the city of Chimoio. So this means that there is a new generation of voters.

RLS: Sergio Vieira (SAVANA 2014) said that it was very dangerous to allow MDM to get into power because it might be representative of revenge against national independence. He also referred to the support which MDM has been getting from the ultranationalists in Portugal, from racists and from members of the European and American extreme right. Some believe that Vieira (and others within FRELIMO) fear revenge by your family because of their involvement in the assassination of your parents. What is your opinion about this? Is there any potential or real possibility of revenge?

LS: First, I would say I am very happy to hear these words from Sérgio Vieira. It is an indication that he now accepts that MDM can get into power. He has also begun to recognise that MDM is a serious competitor. If we did not have the possibility of assuming power he would not have commented. This means that we are a threat to FRELIMO so this message is clear. It is also a warning to us. Second, when he talks about revenge, I assume he is thinking that whoever wins the elections in Mozambique will discard the constitution and legislation. This is typical FRELIMO behaviour of disregarding legislation and the constitution. If MDM attains power it will respect the constitution and legislation and the country will be governed based on the rule of law. We have proved our worth with the governance of Beira and Quelimane. We will govern for the benefit of everyone.

It’s possible that Vieira feels the weight of his own conscience. If this is the case, then he must unburden himself and tell Mozambicans everything he knows about the evil he committed. I believe that he is pressurised by his ‘ghosts’. He must assume his responsibilities and Mozambicans will obviously know how to forgive him.

Concerning the alleged support we are getting from outside the country, I must stress that Mozambican legislation on the funding of political parties is very clear when it states that we cannot be supported by outsiders. If he has evidence about external funding then he should use the existing institutions and courts to present these findings. The Portuguese coming to Mozambique today have been invited by the Mozambican government and not by MDM. Likewise, the Americans who are investing in Mozambique have been invited by the Mozambican government. The same applies to the Europeans and the Chinese. There is a tendency within certain government circles to suggest that small and medium enterprises do not have sufficient space to operate because of the big companies invited by MDM. This is untrue. The truth is that there is no policy in Mozambic to promote and protect local, small and medium enterprises.

We consider the case of the assassination of Uria Simango, his wife and of other Mozambicans as a state issue.

RLS: The current political and military instability 21 years after the General Peace Agreement (GPA) reflects a setback in the national reconciliation agenda. What went wrong with the national reconciliation process in Mozambique?

LS: I agree that there are deficiencies in achieving effective national reconciliation. This is the source of all problems. We also have to admit that there was a half-hearted approach to the process that culminated in the GPA. It was a strategic agreement. The signatories to the agreement did not really accept it and they certainly did not accept it as the true end to hostilities. That’s the reason why some maintained a number of their strongholds to wait for the critical moment. But it must be very clear that national reconciliation is only possible when social exclusion and authoritarian policies are removed. We have noticed that there is little effort to develop a policy of inclusion in which we are all united under the national flag. It’s unacceptable that after so many years we are still devoid of a public enterprises board of directors from a different political school. We also note that managers of public goods are all appointed on the basis of political trust and never on individual merit. The same applies to school principals. These are all examples of exclusion and discrimination that breed instability. The national reconciliation agenda should be urgently revisited. We concede that we all made mistakes here.

RLS: What would MDM’s position have been if it had been included in the political dialogue between the government of Mozambique and RENAMO that was intended to resolve the current political and military instability?

LS: I have always been very clear about our position regarding political dialogue. There are so many motives behind it. One of them was the discussion on the GPA, which we thought it best to leave it to the two of them. We were not excluded from the dialogue, however, it is important to understand that the dialogue was the result of an appointment requested by RENAMO to the government of Mozambique (amongst other issues, RENAMO wanted equal representation in the National Electoral Commission). The motivation behind this was lack of implementation of the GPA by the government that later expanded to issues like the electoral legislation. Our position was that the two should discuss issues relating to the GPA. Meanwhile, beyond this, our position is that nobody should be excluded from discussing issues of national interest. That’s why we appealed that the two find a way to stop armed conflict. What we now observe is that both are involved in killing innocent civilians. They must resolve this situation. Therefore, when discussing other issues, they must involve all political actors within Mozambican society including MDM. We must not be side-lined in any debate or analysis about the future of Mozambique.

If we were there our role would have been to remind them that the country must reconcile, progress and we must have a policy to govern the natural resources. We would also stress that we must decide now about the kind of military force the country should have.

RLS: On 22 February 2014 Parliament passed the final reading of the bill on the National Electoral Commission (CNE) and on electoral registration. These two bills where submitted by RENAMO following agreements reached during dialogue. The CNE will now move from 13 to 17 members. Seven of those will come from civil society organizations, five from FRELIMO, four from RENAMO and one from MDM. The Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) at national level will be composed of 18 members appointed by the political parties represented in the national parliament. FRELIMO will appoint nine members, RENAMO eight and MDM one. What do you think will be the consequences of this new set up for the democratic process in Mozambique? Why did MDM vote in favour of politicising the electoral institutions?

LS: All arguments and analyses surrounding this new set-up have purpose whether accepted or opposed. And we all agree that it’s going to be costly. Some even say that this money could be better spent on medication for the hospitals or more school desks. They are all right. Nevertheless, this is the so-called ‘price of peace’. We understand that the objective of these agreements is to stop conflict and to accommodate various views within these institutions. What we are going to see now is that the government will submit an amended budget to parliament to justify the costs of such adjustments. Depending on what is forthcoming we shall review our position because it is well known that we have always voted against the national budget. This time the government wants to gauge how we will handle the situation once opposition proposals have been incorporated.

Because we realised that the agreements between the government and RENAMO were only to accommodate some people, we advanced a single proposal. This proposal was to create conditions to allow the political parties represented in parliament to have at least one representative at polling stations. And this proposal passed. We have always stressed that elections are won at polling stations. If everything goes well at the polling stations, whoever wins will be regarded as the fair winner. We have never had any doubt about this. Our experience in previous elections proves this argument. Even the judgements from the constitutional court make reference to problems at polling stations. The presence of the political parties at polling stations will result in a more transparent process in terms of avoiding fraud. This will benefit Mozambicans because we can be assured that the electoral results are fair. Nevertheless, as part of MDM culture, we will continue to stress to every citizen that his or her vote is secret. Voting is not enough; we must be there to ensure that no intimidation or manipulation takes place.

RLS: What kind of external policy (regional and international) should we expect from MDM after taking power?

LS: We will continue to uphold and respect international conventions and our policy will be based on peaceful co-existence among states. We will respect international agreements between Mozambique and other countries. We will respect the concept of good neighbourliness. We will transform this mutual respect into an opportunity for economic growth for the country. We will respect the financial agreements between Mozambique and the IMF. But it’s obvious that we may revisit the terms of reference because each government has its own objectives. See that we have our own objectives we will have to discuss new terms of reference with the IMF to ensure development and the faster repayment of national debt. We will also defend the UN and the African Union charter. In our diplomatic relations with other countries the interests of Mozambique will always come first.

RLS: The next national and provincial elections are due on 15 October 2014. Does MDM already have a presidential candidate?

LS: The party’s national council will meet on the 28th March 2014. [5] This issue will be part of the agenda. I can assure you that we are open to applications. Whoever wants to apply to be the party’s presidential candidate can do so. If our members decide that internally no-one is capable, outside applications are also welcome. Until then we have to wait.


[1] For a detailed account see Guilengue, F. (2014, February 12). Mozambique’s 2013 elections: The end of liberation movement politics? Pambazuka news, issue 665.
[2] Daviz (born in 1964) joined RENAMO in 1997, rose within its ranks and became mayor of Beira (Mozambique’s second largest city when RENAMO for the first time carried the day in the Mozambican municipal elections of 2003. After having been dismissed by RENAMO’s President Dhlakama on the eve of the 2008 municipal elections, Simango stood as an independent candidate and still won the mayoral post. Soon afterwards, Simango and other RENAMO dissidents who had supported him as an independent candidate formed the MDM.
[3] In 1974 Simango established a new political party the "National Coalition Party" (Partido de Convenção Nacional, PCN). After Mozambique’s independence in 1975 he was arrested, abducted and executed in secret (as were his wife and other dissidents) on the orders of the first Mozambican government (FRELIMO). See Nkomo, B. Uria Simango: Um homem, uma causa. Maputo: Edições Novafrica, 2004.
[4] André Matsangaissa (1959 - 1979) was a founder member and the first commander-in-chief of the Mozambique National Resistance – MNR, today RENAMO.
[5] Meanwhile this National Council Meeting has taken place: Daviz Simango has been elected unopposed as MDM’s presidential candidate.



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