Mozambique: Arms into Art (2002)


Mozambique: Arms into Art

Two years after the war of independence ended, in 1977, the Mozambican Civil War broke out between the ruling left-wing Frelimo and the guerilla-organisation Renamo, supported by the Apartheid regime in South Africa., After 15 years, in 1992, with the end of the cold war and the breakdown of apartheid in South Africa, the Rome General Peace Accords were signed and fighting came to an end.

Nowadays (in 2002), the country is a more or less functioning democracy. But it is still plagued by traces from its wars. The government estimates that some 6 million guns remain outside of its control. Bandits have easy acces to arms and personal conflicts easily get out of hand by the use of weapons.
In 1995, church leaders initiated the project, “Guns into Ploughshares”, to collect these arms. With small-scale aid from foreign embassies and other sources, they offered ploughs, hoes, bicycles, sewing machines, building materials and even sometimes wheelchairs in exchange for weapons. By 2002, some 200.000 guns had been handed in on a “no questions asked” basis. In several places in the country, the organisation has containers with cutting-machines, where the AK447’s, pistols and grenade-launchers are destroyed.

In Maputo, the remains, still very recognizeable as gun parts, are then passed over to a group of about ten artists for the project Arms into Art. These young men have a workshop called Nucleo de Arte, in which they build small and big statues from the barrels, handles and magazines. For the artists themselves, this process can play a mayor role in transforming their own bad war experiences into something they can feel good about and proud of. For other Mozambicans, the first reaction is sometimes shock: the statues remind them of the war. But according to one of the artists, Goncalo Mabunda, “if the weapons can be destroyed, people understand that life can change for the better.”