Manual, The Gentle Soldier
When I think of Manual, I can’t help associating his experience with the box office hit, Forrest Gump. It seems that for a good part of his life, this gentle man, was running from one war to another – doing everything in his power to avoid conflict – the political conflict he neither supported nor wanted any part of.
Manual was born in 1931 in Muxungue, central Mozambique. It was a simple life in that imports had not been introduced to the area and they lived on what the local land could provide. His uncomplicated childhood would be just that, his childhood. His adulthood would tell a different story – an age that coincided with the colonial reign and their struggle to remain in power and finally 16 years of guerrilla war between the 2 Mozambican political parties, Frelimo and Renamo.
TO FLEE SLAVERY: The slave trade had been banned. But unlucky for Manual, the colonial Portuguese representative in the Muxungue area was an ars of a man! He fully supported it and actively captured fit, young men and sent them to Maputo, forcing them into slavery. Manual was 16 at the time and had no intention of being captured. In 1947, he fled Mozambique and crossed the border into Zimbabwe where he remained for 2 years.
TO MARRY: In 1952, Manuals father arranged his marriage to a young girl named Eliza. And lucky for her, Muxungue had a new representative – a Catholic pastor. He did not support the slave trade. He also promoted Monogamy, a new phenomenon in the area. The honeymoon, however, was short-lived.
TO BE CAPTURED: The Portuguese government was in its prime. They needed strong men to work in ‘services’ and in the military. Manual was taken to Beira where he was forced to complete a 6 month contract. He dared not attempt an escape – they had been warned; you run, we shoot.
TO SAIL TO ASIA: My eyes almost popped out of their sockets when he casually mentioned that he’d been to Asia; he’s seen Singapore, Hong Kong AND India. It was certainly not what I was expecting to hear from a peasant farmer whom I’d met on a dusty road on a Mozambican sugar estate. In 1958, the Portuguese had colonies dotted all over the world, one of them being Macau, a small island off China. In order to protect their claimed land from other prying powers hoping for a cut out of the world atlas – in this case, China – they needed their military to guard and ‘fight off’ any threats. Manual, along with thousands of other Mozambicans and Angolans were shipped out to protect a land they had never heard of.
The voyage took 28 days. They were fed rice, sweet potatoes and maize and were surprisingly treated with a mug of wine every night.
For the 2 years of forced service, he was not paid a cent!
On return to Mozambique, he was granted with an identity card and could freely return to Muxungue, meet up with his estranged wife and seek out a job.
TO FLEE ALCOHOL: So he went for the best job available – to work for the Muxungue police force. Food was plentiful as well as beer! Life was good for many years. But Manual became less enthralled with the job as time went by. He was not happy with the amount of alcohol being consumed by the police force and possibly by the amount of alcohol he was drinking. So he packed up once again and moved back to Beira to look for a new job and to live the life of an honest man.
TO FLEE MILITIA: HE was told of a well-paid job except it meant that he would have to move northwards to Tete. And so he did. But only to find that he had been conned and would be forced, once again, to fight for the Portuguese military against his own people, against his will. He discarded his uniform in the bush and fled once again, returning to Beira to look for another job.
MAFAMBISSE BEGININGS: Finally, a job that hopefully would not involve fighting! In 1971 he was employed as a security guard at the Mafambisse sugar mill.
FIRED FROM HIS JOB: In 1976, the Portuguese regime had come to an end and the Portuguese were made to leave Mozambique overnight. Mozambique was flung into war by the 2 local parties Frelimo and Renamo who were (and still are) fighting for ruler ship. Frelimo took ownership of the mill and fired anyone who had previously worked for the Portuguese.
SELF EMPLOYED: That was it for Manual – he’d had enough of fighting other people’s battles. From this day on, he’d live a simple life and he’d farm. He’d farm for himself and his family.
Manual is now 82 years old and has lived on a small plot of land on the outskirts of the sugarcane estate ever since being fired.
His face is etched with experience. He survived the colonial regime, a guerrilla war, he was separated from his wife and family for many years, he’s lost friends and family to horrific violence, he’s been forced to serve militaries without pay and just recently, he has lost his only daughter to Aids.
But through it all, this man radiates kindness and love. He’s a gentle soul, only wanting peace for himself and his family, never a fighter. Someone who has chosen to discard the conflict, the negativity, the anger and bitterness and everything that was lost, including time.
“I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learnt from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions and not our circumstances.
Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.”