In memory of Mozambican media legend

Carlos Cardoso took some knocks in his journalistic career, but he always came back to fight another day—until he was dealt a blow he could not survive, his assassination 10 years ago while exposing massive fraud at Mozambique’s largest bank.

The passionate young Wits student was deported by the apartheid government in 1975 because of his vocal support for the Liberation Front of Mozambique (Frelimo) after it took power from the Portuguese.

Instead of continuing his studies, Cardoso went into journalism, distinguishing himself at Mozambique’s Tempo magazine. Even when he was briefly demoted to Radio Mozambique’s cultural desk in 1979 after a fall-out with the ministry of information, he threw himself into producing radio drama and listeners still occasionally hear his voice on the airwaves when old plays are broadcast.

Cardoso had found his way back into political reporting by the time I met him in 1980 while covering the Zimbabwean independence elections. With his insight into regional politics, he was one of the few journalists to predict Robert Mugabe’s landslide victory. This led to his appointment as head of the Mozambican news agency, AIM.

Cardoso survived his arrest in 1982 for annoying Frelimo with his comparison of the significance of the Mozambican National Resistance party (Renamo) with Angola’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), returning from six days in jail to his post at AIM.

He went on to direct coverage of the major news events of the decade, from the 1986 plane crash, which killed then-president Samora Machel, to the biggest battle in Southern African history, the 1988 Cuban-supported Angolan army victory over the South African Defence Force at Cuito Cuanavale.

Cardoso’s demoralisation set in after the harassment he and other AIM journalists endured at Frelimo’s fifth congress in 1989 and got worse with the suppression of his opinion pieces critiquing Frelimo’s abandonment of its socialist founding principles.

Thus, in spite of his years of lobbying for media freedom, by the time these rights were formally incorporated in the country’s new constitution in 1991, Cardoso had taken a sabbatical from journalism. This was prompted not only by burn-out, but also by a new focus on his family: Norwegian development lawyer Nina Berg and their son, named after the Mozambican island of Ibo (and later their daughter, Milena).

The ‘unique’ artist
Cardoso returned to Southern Africa from Scandinavia in 1992 while Nina stayed on to work and phoned from Johannesburg to ask if he could come and stay with our family in Durban. Our young children watched in amazement as he walked around our house bare-chested for several weeks, eating only cereal (because of his ulcer) and painting in his own unique style, baking his canvases in our oven.

Cardoso went on to hold a few exhibitions of his paintings. Swedish novelist Henning Mankell has one in his home. Mankell is the author of the bestselling Wallander detective series and has been visiting and working in Mozambique since 1986. He wrote a play for a Maputo theatre group about Cardoso and the need for investigative journalists in a democracy.

“I think Carlos always debated with himself about whether he wanted to work in the arts rather than in journalism,” Mankell said after the 10th-anniversary commemoration of the assassination of “my closest friend in Maputo”, held at the exact time and in the same street where his car (actually Mankell’s, on loan to Cardoso) was ambushed. “But, I think that, in the end, Carlos was a journalist at heart and, if he was alive today, his courage and will to expose the dark corners of society would ­continue to dominate.”

Cardoso’s fellow journalists exhorted him to return to the media after the press laws were liberalised and in 1992 he launched the country’s first independent newspaper (delivered by fax), Mediafax. Five years later he founded Metical, delivered by email.

The seeds of the process that led to Cardoso’s assassination were sown with Frelimo’s privatisation, under World Bank and International Monetary Fund pressure, of the state-owned banks. Metical responded with exposés of corrupt deals within well-connected elites.

While a nationally televised trial convicted those who actually shot Cardoso, Joseph Hanlon of the UK’s Open University’s International Development Centre recently wrote: “Those who looted the banks and orchestrated the murders remain untouched.” And who does Hanlon see as the role models for the Frelimo elite who have made their country “a donors’ darling”? None other than “the wealthy of Cape Town and Washington and the highly paid donors and consultants who flood Maputo”.

Further parallels with South Africa include rising popular anger spurred by poverty and unemployment as basic living costs soared. Food riots in Maputo killed seven in September, with organisers’ SMSes playing a similar role to those in recent unrest in other parts of Africa: Ethiopia in 2005, Kenya in 2008 and Madagascar in 2009.

The Mozambican government responded by temporarily shutting down the cellphone networks and promising subsidies widely seen as unfundable.

Power and privilege
Canadian political economist John Saul, who has studied Frelimo since he met Machel in Tanzania in 1972, does not believe change will come from within, “given how corrupted by power and privilege that party has become.

Certainly, an alternative and independent left-of-centre party seems unambiguously necessary in Mozambique,” Saul told me, “as Carlos himself indicated in 1998 when he took an active role with the ‘Together for the City’ municipal party in Maputo.”

Fernando Goncalves, the editor of leading independent weekly Savana, also believes change must come from outside Frelimo. “Virtually everyone in Frelimo today is a business person, so there is no critical ideological thinking—apart from seeking better ways of becoming richer.”

A former colleague of Cardoso’s at Metical, Marcelo Mosse, now heads Mozambique’s anti-corruption non-governmental organisation, the Centre for Public Integrity.

In a recent interview in Savana Mosse argued that although Mozambique still faces some of the same problems that Cardoso wrote about, tactics had changed from raiding the banks and the treasury, for which regulations have since been tightened, to mining concessions and the manipulation of procurement.

“We miss Cardoso,” said Mosse. “The media remains the main opposition to Frelimo, but nothing has replaced his persistent voice and his incorruptible voluntarism that knew no boundaries.”

Julie Frederikse is a Durban-based writer and filmmaker who worked as a journalist with Carlos Cardosa

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