By Luis Nhachote
On Thursday, news of Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal end topped the news.
In Mozambique, many people will remember the antics of the colonel and the times he spent there. Frequently during his visits, he nonchalantly shuffled the protocols of the Frelimo government to gain favour with the public.
I remember the 2003 summit of the African Union in Maputo in 2003. He crossed the border into Namaacha, the southern-most district of Mozambique.
Unannounced, the flamboyant colonel stepped off a large bus, surrounded by his bodyguards: uniformed beauties with black hair cascading from underneath their berets, armed, gorgeous and very dangerous. The first thing he did was hand $200 to the nearest old man he saw. The elderly gentleman was resting in the sun in front of his small makeshift house.
At the time $1 was worth 25 meticais — the Mozambican currency. With that you could buy four loaves breads, or a litre of milk. It may not sound like a lot, but to the poor of Mozambique, it was a small fortune.
The scene was that of a “benevolent” Gaddafi. He continued with the lavish distribution of hundred dollar bills to every person he passed, an unheard of gesture in this poor community.
At the end of his township tour, he turned to the journalists and personally handed a hundred dollar note to each of us.
In Maputo, on a visit to a neighbourhood built after the floods of 2000, he was told that a lack of running water was a major problem for the residents. He asked the local authorities how much they would need to rectify the situation. Right there and then, he issued some orders to his staff. The next moment, they appeared with a suitcase, packed with dollar bills. He counted out $5 000 and handed the money to community leaders. He turned to the people of the community and said: “I’ve given you the money. You will have water soon.”
After this ceremony of generosity, a lively celebration followed — courtesy of the colonel.
This time, we journalists were not included.
Luis is an award-winning Mozambican journalist who is completing his fellowship at amaBhungane, the Mail & Guardian’s Centre for Investigative Journalism.