Mozambique: Sofala Governor Denies Any Mass Grave in Gorongosa

The governor of the central Mozambican province of Sofala, Helena Taipo, has insisted that there is no mass grave in the province, and has demanded that the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, be held responsible for “damage to the image of the country”.

Taipo was speaking in Beira on Monday to members of the parliamentary commission on constitutional and legal affairs, and human rights, which is investigating the mass grave claim. The story first surfaced in a Lusa story dated 28 April.

The visiting commission consists of 12 deputies, 11 from the ruling Frelimo Party and one from the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM). The main opposition party, the rebel movement Renamo, is boycotting the investigation.

Taipo, cited in Tuesday’s issue of the independent daily “O Pais”, told the commission “these claims are groundless. It’s a complete lie and has undeclared purposes from which we completely distance ourselves”.

Asked by the commission’s chairperson, Edson Macuacua, what the provincial authorities had done after first hearing the story, Taipo said the Gorongosa district administrator, the local “regulo” (chief), and other local officials had visited the place in the Canda administrative post, mentioned by Lusa as the site of the supposed mass grave, and had spoken to the local communities.

“From the work done, it was found that the information is false”, said Taipo. She demanded that Lusa reveal the source of its story “and be held responsible for what it did because it has denigrated the image of our country”.

The commission also heard the author of the original Lusa story, Mozambican journalist Andre Catueira, who strings both for Lusa and for the independent weekly “Savana”.

Catueira insisted that he follows journalistic norms in writing his story. His sources were local peasants, whom he trusted, but who requested anonymity. He said he had been unable to confirm the story on the ground, because of difficulties in access. He could not reach the exact site of the alleged mass grave because of a heavy military presence (Gorongosa district has been the site of repeated clashes between government forces and the illegal militia of the rebel movement Renamo).

Catueira also made it clear that he has no intention of revealing the names of his sources. Not only is it the normal practice of journalists to protect sources who request anonymity, but this confidentiality is also enshrined in Mozambican legislation.

Denunciations of Lusa from some quarters have even included demands that the Lusa delegate in Maputo, Portuguese citizen Henrique Botiquilha, should be expelled from the country – even though the story was written by a Mozambican journalist.

Furthermore, Catueira’s story helped expose a very real crime. In his attempts to reach the site of the alleged mass grave, Catueira came across bodies dumped in the bush across the provincial border, in Macossa district, which is part of Manica province. These bodies were a few hundred metres from where Catueira’s sources claimed the mass grave was located.

Other journalists confirmed this story and filmed the bodies. The independent television station STV counted 13 bodies under a bridge and in a nearby field in Macossa, although the police later claimed the true number was 11.

Using the excuse that the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, the police, much to the annoyance of forensic experts, hastily buried them, before any attempt had been made to identify them, or discover who had killed them.

Regardless of whether Catueira’s sources were right in their claims of a mass grave somewhere in Canda containing over 100 bodies, the story had the great merit of bringing to light the murders of at least 11 people.

Source: Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique