The night she escaped death

After midnight, everything was still. Even the crickets had packed up their instruments and called it a night. The only thing that could be heard was the occasional gush of the great Zambezi River and the rhythmic breathing of families deep in sleep.

But not far from the slumbering people of Luabo, was the ugly head of war – a couple hundred blood-thirsty soldiers slowly moving through the bush; their merciless hearts frozen and incapable of feeling for their soon to be victims.

Anna was 8 at the time. It was a cool September night. Thick river mist had descended upon the village, blacking out the starry sky and its light. The chickens and the pet dog huddled in the corner of the mud shack, safe from predators and river thieves. And the family lay side by side on their straw mats, drawing warmth and comfort from each other.

In absolute darkness, Anna was at peace and unaware of how her carefree childhood was about to be shattered; how the silent night was about to be replaced with a thousand screams of terror.

No-one heard them coming. Their arrival was announced with a spray of bullets and hand grenades that would blow up an entire household with each explosion. There was no time for anything, but to grab a child and run into the thicket of the bush.

Anna’s mother was running as fast as her legs could possibly carry her. She had flung little Anna on her back – the youngest in the family – and dared not stop until the gunfire and explosions were the sound of distant fireworks. There was no time to gather the rest of her family. Death was on their doorstep and she could only hope and pray that they had escaped the spray of bullets unharmed.

She allowed herself to rest for a couple of minutes and to comfort her terrified child. She quickly undid the cloth that held Anna firmly on her back. Anna leaped off. The exhausted and desperate mother turned around and in horror, came face to face with the family pet dog.

Meanwhile, Anna was still alive but bleeding heavily. A bullet had penetrated her ankle while trying to run for cover. It was her sister who had recognized her screams of agony and who had bravely gone back and dragged her to safety. Anna lived to tell the story. Her 17 year old brother however, had not been so lucky. He was captured and forcibly recruited into the army, never to be seen again.
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The Mozambican war had started 2 years before I was born and ended the year I turned 13. It had no real significance in my life. All I knew was that our South African Apartheid government supported the rebel group, Renamo. I was born into the Apartheid era and truthfully, did not even question apartheid, never mind question the role my country played in this war. I did not know to what extent apartheid South Africa had fuelled a war that eventually took one million lives.

A couple weeks ago, there was a surge of violent unrest in the country linked to unresolved problems from the war days. I experienced something I have never felt before – fear of a war. Although things have temporarily settled, the peace heavily rests in the hands of Mozambique’s leaders and whether they find a solution through dialogue.

And after all these years, I am becoming acutely aware of what these people went though and lost during the war.

This week, I have focused my attention on the Mozambican women and their war experiences. Generally, they seem eager to talk about the war and what happened to them and their families; how they escaped bullets, how they got raped, abducted and tortured, how they lived in refugee camps and who they lost. It’s never easy hearing these stories. And I can imagine how some of you turn your head away from the screen, not wanting to know more. It’s uncomfortable isn’t it? It’s not pleasant talk for a nice Sunday evening.

But it happened.

Let’s listen this time.