Assassination of a Journalist Hero (2000)

Assasination of a Journalist

John Barker 13.12.2000

Mozambique loses a truth-teller

Carlos Cardoso, an exceptional investigative journalist, a Mozambiquan patriot with a white skin, was murdered in the Palana district of Maputo on the 22nd November. He was 48 years old and an innovator in techniques of news dissemination in Africa. The killing-ten or so shots to the head from AK 47s-was organized, two cars ambushing his own. Years earlier in 1986 he had warned Samora Machel leader of the national liberation movement Frelimio and then President of the country of an assassination plot directed from South Africa. A journalist can only do so much, Carlos was not in charge of the President’s security. After Machel’s death in a planned aircrash Carlos investigated involvement from forces within Mozambique.

At that time he was director of the government press agency AIM, independent enough to have been jailed in 1982, ironically on the probable instructions of Machel himself. The President however was big and enough to understand that the supportive but critical honesty of a journalist like Carlos was essential to the ideals of the Frelimo government uncomfortable though that might be, and he was re-instated. The death of Machel in the middle of a vicious civil war levered by the de-stabilsation project organized by apartheid South Africa was an especially hard blow. Cardoso understood that the de-stabilisation project had as its aim not just the impoverishment of the country-he talked of it being turned back to the Stone Age and how the real achievments of its health service had been destroyed-but the brutalization and corruption of the Frelimo government itself in a protracted war. Until 1989 he travelled the country reporting the atrocities of the South African backed Renamo while understanding that Renamo did have a base of support because of regional inequalities.

Such an honest and sophisticated understanding of the situation, let alone the difficulties of working with frequent and prolonged power cuts caused by sabotage, did not make his work easy. In 1989 he retired just as the unscrupulous faction in Frelimo launched a policy of ‘Africanization’. The peace deal between Frelimo and Renamo and the free elections that followed is one of the few success stories of the United Nations. It allowed some space for honest journalism and Carlos faced with production and supply problems set up what was probably the first faxed daily newspaper in the world, Media Fax. It’s accurate reporting especially of economic stories made it a success. By this time Frelimo had swung to free-market policies. Carlos did not oppose them from a set-in-stone position but attacked them when they engendered more corruption or weakened the national economy.


In 1997 he set up another faxed newspaper Metical which combined accurate reporting with campaigning journalism like that against the World Bank’s enforced closure of Mozambique’s cashew-nut industry. More recently he articulated as ‘the gangster faction’ in Frelimo those forces he had always opposed whatever their nominal ideology. This year his campaign against it focussed on the fraud associated with losses of $124m at the Commercial Bank of Mozambique, this after his earlier demand for arrests to be made in the case of a previous (pre-privatisation) fraud at the same bank).

The most pertinent tributes to Carlos Cardoso have come from two great writers, Mia Couto of Mozambique and the Portuguese Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago. Both have emphasized that the killing was not accidental and in this way tried to put pressure on the government for a serious investigation. In his funeral oration Mia Couto said of him that he had tried to show “that transparency and honesty were not simply ethical values but were also the most efficient ways of governing.” He went on to say that after so many lies and betrayals many in the country had given up hope of change, ” but that is what those who killed Cardoso and are killing our country want.”

One can only admire the remaining journalists of Metical who in the edition immediately after their editor’s murder lead with an investigation of the deaths of 83 people (mostly supporters of the opposition Renamo party) in a jail cell holding 4 people per square metre. Mia Couto’s leading article linked the two horrors, the brutalization of government and society which, in recent years, has been held up as African ‘good guys’ by the West.

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