As I suspected, after publishing the book new stories about the Mozambique Hell Run have emerged. Bertie Smit, who has just finished reading the book, told me of one this week.
Around 1985-86, there wasn’t any military protection on the Namaacha-Maputo road. There were, however, soldiers at the checkpoints on either side of this transport corridor. Until that boom, you’d normally have nothing to worry about. Also, within the towns, you had reason to feel safe, well ‘safer’, even if it was a false sense of security.
My friend was slowing down for the checkpoint under a row of eucalyptus trees, just outside Namaacha, expecting to be waved down by Frelimo soldiers. This was where you’d usually get hustled for cigarettes and bread before entering the ‘corridor of death’; a warn-torn road where burning vehicles, especially trucks, were the order of the day. But something felt different, nobody stopped him.
“They were all dead. They had all been killed!” He went on, grimacing.
“How many?” I asked.
“I didn’t count. I was so horrified, so petrified at seeing dead bodies spread out across the road, the grass. There were at least four bodies near the boom; some looked as if they’d been stripped to their shorts.”
One question I didn’t answer in the book is why we did this crazy, death run, and it’s not something I asked him, but he added, “You know, my trucking business was in trouble those days. I was heavily in debt, and trips to Maputo were paying three times what they paid for the same distance in South Africa.”
Sounds about right, but some of us did it for more complex reasons.
My friend Ronald told me of an incident that differed from anything you’d expect to happen on those war-torn roads. His cousin, also Portuguese, driving on the Zimbabwe-Beira route in 1992 was stopped by an AK wielding Matsangaissa, a common Mozambican name for a Renamo soldier. You would have expected an attack at this stage.
Being here, near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border, he was told that he was ‘going the wrong way’ and that that he, this bandit, would show him where to go. Riding with them in the back seat they bounced on the badly potholed road for a few kilometers until he said ‘stop here’. Out of the bush came a whole horde of armed bandits, this was, after all, Renamo held territory. He was let go, it turns out all this Matsangaissa wanted was a lift, and to rejoin his group.