Following independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique was quickly plunged into a 16-year civil war that would render vast swathes of land unsafe and unusable because of the prevalence of landmines and unexploded ordnance.
1.0 – Overview of Mozambique
The Republic of Mozambique, formerly the People’s Republic of Mozambique (from 1975 to 1990), is a country located in Southeast Africa bordered by Zimbabwe (to the east), Tanzania (to the north), and Eswatini and South Africa (to the south).
Mozambique has a total area of 801,590 km2, making it the 36th largest country in the world (by land area). Mozambique’s official language is Portuguese, with their recognised languages including Swahili, Mwani, Chewa, and Tsonga.
Mozambique was colonised by Portugal in 1498 and gained independence in 1975 following the Mozambican War of Independence.
2.0 – What conflicts occurred in Mozambique?
Two major conflicts have occurred in Mozambique – the Mozambican War of Independence (1964 – 1974) and the Mozambican Civil War. Mozambique has also been involved in the Rhodesian Bush War (1975 – 1979), Uganda–Tanzania War (1978 – 1979), the RENAMO Insurgency (2013 – 2019), and the Insurgency in Cabo Delgado (2017 – Present).
2.1 – Mozambican War of Independence (1964 – 1974)
The Mozambican War of Independence was an armed conflict fought between the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and Portugal which led to the independence of Mozambique in 1975.
The conflict began on the 25th of September, 1964. It began with the growth of nationalist sentiments due to the mistreatment of Mozambican indigenous people, the growing number of African nations that were becoming independent subsequent to World War II, and the income / occupational disparity between the Mozambican people and the Portuguese.
FRELIMO was formed in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on the 25th of June, 1962, during a meeting of political figures who had been exiled from Mozambique. FRELIMO was headed by Eduardo Mondlane and the group consisted of several merged nationalist groups such as the Mozambican African National Union, the National African Union of Independent Mozambique, and the National Democratic Union of Mozambique.
FRELIMO gained support from various foreign governments including those of Tanzania, Algeria, Ghana, Zambia, Libya, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, Egypt, Yugoslavia, and Somalia.
FRELIMO relied on the populace to support their cause as their combatants were only 7,000 strong – versus Portugal’s large military force. Mozambique’s military wing was commanded by Filipe Samuel Magaia and his forces were trained in Algeria.
Weapons were provided mainly by the Soviet Union and China, including:
- Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifles
- SKS / AK-47 automatic rifles
- PPSH-41 sub-machine guns
- Degtyarev light machine guns
- DShK heavy machine gun
- SG-43 Goryunov medium machine gun
- Recoilless rifles
- RPG-2s and RPG-7s
- Anti-aircraft weapons (such as the ZPU-4)
- 9K32 Strela-2 surface-to-air missile systems
Portugal used weapons such as:
- Heckler & Koch G3 select-fire battle rifles
- FN FAL battle rifles
- AR-10 battle rifles
- MG42 general-purpose machine guns
- HK21 general-purpose machine guns
- AML-60 armoured fighting vehicles
- Panhard EBR armoured fighting vehicles
- Fox armoured cars
- Bravia Chaimite armoured vehicles
FRELIMO abandoned their attempts at peaceful negotiations on September 25th, 1964. They began to launch guerrilla attacks on Northern Mozambique from their base in Tanzania. FRELIMO utilised guerrilla tactics such as ambushing patrols, sabotaging communication and railroad lines, hit-and-run attacks against Portuguese outposts, and maximising the harsh weather conditions such as the monsoon season – an important tactic due to Portugal’s superior aerial equipment.
FRELIMO began gaining a significant advantage by November of 1964 due to increasing support from the local populace and a lack of Portuguese forces. FRELIMO’s forces kept growing and with this their small, scattered attack groups of 10 – 15 people grew too, often including up to 100 people.
With more support gained and more land reclaimed, resources were stretched thin however, and Mondlane began requesting more international aid.
Mondlane was assassinated on the 3rd of February, 1969, after explosives were smuggled into his Dar es Salaam office.
From 1970 – 1974, FRELIMO’s guerrilla operations intensified, including the use of urban terrorism and landmines (both anti-personnel and anti-tank). These included the use of:
- The PMN (Black Widow) – a Soviet Union anti-personnel mine
- The TM-46 – a Soviet Union anti-tank mine (utilising a fuze or tilt-rod)
- The POMZ – a Soviet Union stake mounted anti-personnel fragmentation mine
- The PMD amphibious anti-vehicle mines
The use of landmines and guerrilla warfare tactics severely damaged the morale of Portuguese forces, leading to a major counter-offensive in June of 1970. They targeted large, permanent insurgent camps and major routes across the Tanzania-Mozambique border. However, this effort coincided with the monsoon season.
Portuguese soldiers were insufficiently equipped and lacked coordination, which, combined with the monsoons, led to Portuguese casualties far outweighing FRELIMO casualties.
Following Portugal’s attacks on villages accused of harbouring FRELIMO guerrillas, FRELIMO began to mine civilian towns and villages too, undermining civilian confidence in Portuguese forces. Machel, FRELIMO’s new leader, had a new strategy – to cause panic, demoralisation, abandonment, and a sense of futility for colonisers in Mozambique.
Dissatisfaction began to rise in Portugal, particularly due to the fact that 44% of the national budget was being utilised to fight colonial wars. A significant amount of Portugal’s population began to draft dodge, and thousands of Portuguese citizens began to leave Mozambique.
On September the 7th, 1974, a peace agreement was signed. The Lusaka Accord handed over complete power from Portugal to FRELIMO. Independence was formally introduced on June the 25th, 1975, the 13th anniversary of the founding of FRELIMO.
Within a year, most of the 370,000 Portuguese nationals living in Mozambique left, with many of them being expelled by the government.
2.2 – Mozambican Civil War (1976 – 1992)
The Mozambican Civil War was fought between the ruling, Marxist FRELIMO and anti-communist insurgent forces such as the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), the Revolutionary Party of Mozambique (PRM), the Mozambican National Union (UNAMO), the Mozambique Revolutionary Committee (COREMO), the Union of the Peoples of Mozambique (UNIPOMO), and the Mozambique Democratic United Front (FUMO).
Similar to other late twentieth century African conflicts, the conflict was aggravated by Cold War politics in addition to local dynamics. FRELIMO wished to establish a socialist one-party state, but this was greatly opposed by RENAMO and the anti-communist governments in Rhodesia and South Africa.
RENAMO was essentially used as a proxy for Rhodesia and South Africa, both of which were concerned with Mozambique’s ability to support other national liberation movements.
Beginning in 1975, Rhodesian troops began entering Mozambique to coordinate operations against the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army that had bases in Mozambican territory. Rhodesia also aimed to destabilise the FRELIMO government, encouraging actions such as the bombing of Beira Port in 1979 and the occupation of Mapai in 1977.
Rhodesian troops also freed a FRELIMO ex-official named André Matsangaissa who later became the leader of RENAMO, which was formed by the Rhodesian secret service.
RENAMO’s first attack was against Vila Paiva, a major regional centre. This attack was unsuccessful and resulted in the death of Matsangaissa, who was then replaced by Afonso Dhlakama. Dhlakama rapidly gained support from South Africa and formed a guerrilla army.
RENAMO’s guerrilla tactics were similar to FRELIMO’s during the Mozambican Civil War, forcing FRELIMO to defend hundreds of locations across the country. RENAMO forced civilians into joining their forces, and it is estimated that half of their forces were made up of child soldiers.
RENAMO employed a system called “Gandira” which forced rural populations to produce food for RENAMO and transport goods and ammunition. RENAMO also lacked a political program or ideology that would replace FRELIMO’s proposed socialist one-party state.
Both FRELIMO and RENAMO heavily used landmines during this conflict. FRELIMO used them to defend key sites, whereas RENAMO used them to instil fear in the local population, stall the economy, and destroy roads, schools, and health centres.
Many rural citizens were transferred to FRELIMO’s fortified communal villages. Infrastructure usage was minimised by creating three main corridors (made up of roads, railways, and powerlines) which were heavily guarded and heavily mined. These corridors were still frequently attacked, and trains / railways were often bombed – making it difficult for FRELIMO to provide food and services to the local populace.
FRELIMO received support from a number of countries such as the Soviet Union, East Germany, France, the UK, the U.S., and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s direct intervention helped protect the corridors and take down many RENAMO strongholds. North Korea, the German Democratic Republic, and the Soviet Union armed and trained FRELIMO soldiers, and North Korea eventually established a Military Mission in Mozambique in the early 1980s.
Some RENAMO bases were located in Malawi. Despite initial reluctance, Malawi eventually expelled 12,000 RENAMO insurgents from the country. In 1987, the Malawian government then deployed troops to Mozambique to defend a rail line. This led to multiple fights between RENAMO and the Malawian Defence Force.
South Africa became RENAMO’s main supporter, and Mozambique was becoming economically devastated by the ongoing conflict. President Machel of the FRELIMO government hoped to end the war as soon as possible so that Mozambique could continue to develop economically. Machel eventually signed a non-aggression pact with South Africa, despite his initial reluctance to do so. This agreement was the “Nkotami Accord” and it was signed in the South African town of Komatipoort.
Even with support from the socialist bloc, Mozambique’s economy could not recover, and Machel was forced to scale back some of his ambitious socialist policies.
Machel signed economic and military agreements with Portugal, France, and the United Kingdom. South Africa’s support for RENAMO seemingly diminished after signing the Nkotami Accord. However, in August of 1985, it was revealed that the South African Army had continued to provide extensive logistical, communication and military support for RENAMO.
Towards the end of the 1980s, there was a military stalemate, and RENAMO was unable to capture or secure any large cities – yet it continued to terrorise smaller settlements. FRELIMO controlled major cities, urban areas, and their corridors, but was unable to protect the countryside or take down RENAMO.
On the 19th of October 1986, President Machel died when his aircraft crashed near South Africa’s border under mysterious circumstances. He was replaced by his successor, Joaquim Alberto Chissano, who continued Machel’s policies of expanding Mozambique’s international ties.
By 1990, the Cold War had reached its conclusion, and support for RENAMO in South Africa diminished. FRELIMO and RENAMO met in July of 1989 to have their first direct talks – ones that would create a new multiparty system and constitution which was adopted in 1990.
3.0 – ERW and landmines in Mozambique – what is the current situation?
Mozambique is a resource-rich country with a large potential for renewable energy production. There exists 23,000GW of potential solar energy, 19GW of hydro energy, 5GW of wind energy, 2GW of biomass energy, and 0.1GW of geothermal energy.
There is also an abundance of natural resources in Mozambique include iron ore, tantalite, gold, graphite, marble, bentonite, titanium, and limestone.
One of the nation’s largest economic strengths is its subsistence agriculture industry which employs the vast majority of its workforce.
In other words, Mozambique is a land of significant opportunity. However, the unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines which were heavily utilised during the Mozambique War of Independence and the Mozambique Civil War are still an impediment to advancing this opportunity. This has limited Mozambique’s economic growth which was already severely limited by the two wars.
Fortunately, years of demining and battle area clearance (BAC) have allowed Mozambique to become a safer country – and the efforts are now allowing Mozambique’s potential to be tapped. Investment projects, particularly in renewable energy, are now becoming more prevalent. However, investors should still be aware of the remaining explosive threats in Mozambique, particularly when planning any intrusive works.
Explosive threats that are a barrier to safe development must be fully understood, planned for and mitigated against.
Mozambique has been declared anti-personnel mine free in all known minefields, but other items of explosive ordnance (EO) still represent a risk. These include the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) utilised by insurgents as well as UXO such as mortars, grenades and rockets.
Much of the historic ordnance that remains is not designed to detonate due to pressure, unlike landmines, but is instead able to lie dormant for decades. However, it can become increasingly unstable due to degradation and erosion. Such explosive items can be unwittingly detonated when exposed to heat, vibrations, or shock.
4.0 – SafeLane Global and its commitment to Mozambique
SafeLane Global (formerly BACTEC) Mozambique Lda. has been working in Mozambique, demining and mitigating the risks of all explosive threats since 2004. It has a permanent office in country to facilitate the rapid deployment of specialist equipment and skilled operatives to support explosive ordnance survey and clearance efforts, both on land and in water.
SafeLane clears paths through unsafe environments for clients, including oil, gas, mining, renewable energy and construction companies, and large supranational organisations. Country-specific experience includes supporting the reclamation of land in coastal northern Mozambique – a project which included up to 500 members of staff during the peak of the project. Additionally, we have helped clear 300km of seismic lines, 71 hectares for 2 onshore drilling sites, and 2,100ha for a construction site (including clearing access ways, roads, boreholes and CPT sites, seismic lines, resettlement areas, camps and construction zones).
SafeLane has also cleared areas between Mucojo and Quissanga to enable geotechnical investigations for a coastal road. In Temane, Inhassorro SafeLane conducted battle area clearance on 5600 Lkm of 2D/3D seismic lines for a petroleum company using Ebinger large loops UPEX 740 M, CIEA metal detectors MIL-D1 and Schonstedt magnetometers GA-52Cx. The project saw the clearance of a huge amount of ERW despite very difficult terrain.
When SafeLane Global operates in Mozambique, Mozambican nationals make up 95% of our staff (on average). We are committed to providing excellent service and are proud to offer bespoke solutions based on individual requirements, delivering agile and responsive approaches to unique problems, and efficient services that meet the strictest deadlines.
Our Mozambique office address is: Bairro do Triunfo, 1ª Avenida Rua da Massala Nº 4514, casa nº 290 Maputo.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there still landmines in Mozambique?
In 2015, Mozambique stated that all known mine fields were clear of anti-personnel mines. However, other explosive threats still exist – and landmines which have been displaced from known mine fields by flooding or interference are still being unearthed.
What types of mines were used in the Mozambique War of Independence?
The PMN (Black Widow) – a Soviet Union anti-personnel mine The TM-46 – a Soviet Union anti-tank mine (utilising a fuze or tilt-rod) The POMZ – a Soviet Union stake mounted anti-personnel fragmentation mine The PMD amphibious anti-vehicle mines
What was the Mozambique civil war?
The Mozambique Civil War was a conflict which lasted from 1976 – 1992. It resulted in over 1,000,000 deaths and the heavy usage of land mines. It was fought between the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) due to FRELIMO’s attempt at a socialist one-party state after Mozambique’s independence.
What weapons were used in the Mozambique wars?
Weapons used in the Mozambique Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifles, SKS / AK-47 automatic rifles, PPSH-41 sub-machine guns, Degtyarev light machine guns, DShK heavy machine gun, SG-43 Goryunov medium machine guns, recoilless rifles, RPG-2s and RPG-7s, anti-aircraft weapons (such as the ZPU-4), 9K32 Strela-2 surface-to-air missile systems, MANPADs, Heckler & Koch G3 select-fire battle rifles, FN FAL battle rifles, AR-10 battle rifles, MG42 general-purpose machine guns, HK21 general-purpose machine guns, AML-60 armoured fighting vehicles, Panhard EBR armoured fighting vehicles, Fox armoured cars, Bravia Chaimite armoured vehicles.
Reclamation of land in Mozambique
SafeLane Global was awarded a contract for the reclamation of land, and for battle area clearance work on the Afungi LNG construction site in Mozambique.Read more
Area clearance for geotechnical investigation Mozambique
SafeLane Global undertook clearance between Mucojo and Quissanga.Read more
Demining in Mozambique for a petroleum company
SafeLane Global provided bush clearing and demining services for the petroleum production agreement infill and delineation wells project.Read more
Staff that go above and beyond at a construction site in the UK
Morgan Sindall Group
“In our monthly Workforce Engagement meeting one of your site team has been nominated for our Project Incentive Scheme. He was nominated by MS Construction Manager for always being helpful & explaining how SafeLane Global works - especially when challenged on a point of safety. This is a reflection of all your site team’s efforts and is much appreciated. We are all quick to focus on the negatives and ignore any positive feedback so I would like to thank all your Ops on site for their pro-active attitude so far, let’s keep up the good work.”
Morgan Sindall Project Manager, Barrow in Furness.
Safe working practices for a geo-intelligence and asset integrity solutions business
“The SafeLane Global team consistently demonstrated behaviours that encouraged a positive safety and team-oriented work environment.”
Fugro, the world's leading provider of geo-intelligence and asset integrity solutions.
Positive attitude towards safety in Mozambique
"Thank you for the professional manner in which [SafeLane Global] completed this project on time. Your positive attitude towards safety as well as the proactive manner in which issues were resolved on site are noted and appreciated."
BAC in Mozambique for Gefoizyka Torun S.A.
Michael Klos - Country Manager - Gefoizyka Torun S.A.
On behalf of Geofizyka Torun S.A. Branch Office in Mozambique, I am pleased to confirm that SafeLane Global Mozambique Lda. successfully completed demining works for our 2021 Seismic Campaign in the Inhambane Province, Southern Mozambique.
The scope of work, executed in May-November 2021, included subsurface battle area clearance for seismic profiles and covered a total of nearly 14 million square meters. Field operations have been conducted in accordance with International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) and National Mine Action Standards (NMAS) in a timeline manner and without any safety incidents.
Taking the opportunity, I would like to thank all demining teams for their outstanding performance and would recommend SafeLane Global Mozambique Lda. for similar works in the future.
Whilst Mozambique is proud to be landmine free in all known mine fields, other explosive remnants of war exist remain. If you are planning a project in Mozambique, do not put your project, personnel or professional reputation at risk. Contact us today for a no-obligation initial consultation.Contact Us