Mozambique's father of press freedom killed

Carlos Cardoso, Mozambique’s foremost investigative journalist, was assassinated on Wednesday night Christina Horte and Justin Arenstein

Mozambique lost one of its bravest anti-corruption campaigners on Wednesday night when outspoken independent editor Carlos Cardoso died in a hail of bullets.

Police and eyewitnesses report that the murder was a well-planned assassination involving at least two vehicles and an unspecified number of gunmen.

Cardoso (48) was hit at least five times in the crossfire from his attackers’ AK-47 assault rifles and died instantly. His driver, Carlos Fabiao, was critically injured and is in intensive care in Maputo’s Central hospital.

Weeping staff told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that Cardoso was cornered just 500m from the offices of his investigative fax publication, Metical, in Maputo’s plush suburb of Polana.

“Two vehicles forced his car to a halt. Then two men jumped out and fired at least 10 shots. Carlos died instantly. We are stunned. It was a blatant assassination. It’s so crazy,” said Metical circulation manager and friend Olivia Chiconela.

Cardoso is considered the father of press freedom in Mozambique and has been hailed internationally as the country’s leading investigative writer.

Last week he publicly criticised militant hardliners in Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo and opposition Renamo parties for helping instigate nationwide riots that left 41 dead and more than 200 injured. He has also in recent months continued Metical’s series of exposs into the plunder of the former state-owned bank, BCM, by corrupt officials.

Cardoso’s other major recent investigative features have included revelations of the country’s growing drug smuggling syndicates, massive corruption involving politicians and a scathing editorial in his last edition of Metical criticising Maputo’s city council for squandering tax funds instead of maintaining refuse and other basic services.

The state-owned Mozambique TV (TVM) broadcast shocking images of his bullet-riddled body being pulled from his vehicle on Wednesday evening, sparking a national outcry that has included condemnation from Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi, all major political party leaders, and civic and community leaders.

“I am deeply shocked by Carlos Cardoso’s tragic death, which can only have been perpetrated by the enemies of the truth,” said Mocumbi before pledging a high-level police investigation into the murder.

“The criminals must be quickly identified and brought to justice,” said Frelimo general secretary Manuel Tome.

“The country has lost one of its courageous and critical voices,” agreed Renamo’s opposition parliamentary coalition representative, Maximo Dias.

Cardoso cut his teeth as a junior reporter on the weekly Tempo newspaper in 1975, before moving to Radio Mozambique in 1978 and winning the directorship of Mozambique’s government news agency, AIM, in 1980. He remained with AIM through the toughest years of the country’s 16-year civil war before being dismissed in 1989.

Already an outspoken campaigner against social injustice, regardless of which political camp the perpetrators belonged to, Cardoso spent the following two years freelancing and concentrating on his second passion painting.

He also contributed significantly to the drafting of Mozambique’s media freedom laws and in 1992 co-founded a cooperative of independent journalists called MediaCoop, and launched Mozambique’s first independent publication, MediaFax.

MediaFax, which is distributed to individual subscribers by fax, quickly established itself as Mozambique’s only credible and accurate investigative journal. Cardoso edited MediaFax until 1997, when he left MediaCoop to launch Metical as a more economic-oriented investigative fax publication.

Both Metical and Mediafax remain as training grounds for the country’s new breed of investigative journalists.

Cardoso was recently appointed a member of a leading international media organisation, the United States-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, in recognition of his decades-long work to expose social injustice in the face of death threats and harassment.

His most important writings remain his articles detailing the apartheid South African regime’s destabilisation of Mozambique by funding and arming rebel forces in the 1990s.

He has also provided Southern Africa with some of its most coherent arguments against World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment policies for development nations.

The policies have devastated regional economies, including Mozambique’s cashew nut industry, by stripping protective trade barriers and liberalising tariffs and subsidies.

Not content to just write, Cardoso co-founded the independent citizen movement Together for the City and was elected to the city council. He used the platform to speak out against illegal land distribution favouring the rich or ruling classes, slammed the council’s environmental record and campaigned for better basic services.

Mozambican journalists on Thursday warned that they would pursue Cardoso’s killers, with the editor of Maputo’s independent weekly Savana, Salomao Moiana, contending that Cardoso was the victim of a “sophisticated crime. Cardoso was victim of the enemies of freedom of expression, but they will not silence everybody,” he said.

Mozambique’s Journalist Union general secretary Hilario Matusse described the assassination as “an attempt to silence all of us”, while the country’s Supreme Media Council chair, Julieta Langa, warned that only the enemies of freedom of expression stood to gain from the assassination.

“The Mozambican people have lost a voice that spoke out for them,” said Langa.

Police promised a massive manhunt on Thursday but still had no clue on possible motives or suspects. Cardoso is survived by his wife and two children.

“What we’ll probably miss most is his warmth, his laughter, the youthful twinkle in his eyes and his ability to mix and speak to anyone regardless of social station. His vigorous, no-nonsense but objective approach will leave a hole in Mozambican journalism,” said Chiconela.

Meanwhile, in a separate attack late on Wednesday, a gang stopped Radio Mozambique journalist Custodio Rafael on his way home from work. The attackers told him: “You talk a lot,” before beating him and cutting his tongue with a knife.

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