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Transforming Arms into Tools

The civil war in Mozambique between 1976 and 1992 was a bloody conflict that led to economic collapse, famine, nearly one million war-related casualties and the displacement of several million civilians. Mozambique had been used as a pawn in the Cold War, and the armed struggle for independence from colonial rule of Portugal had cost the country greatly. Millions of weapons streamed into its borders, none of them made in Africa. When the General Peace Agreement was signed in Rome in 1992, it was time for the people to rebuild their lives and their communities.

In 1995 a project was set up to help ‘disarm the hands and minds’. Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane initiated the 'Transforming Arms into Tools' (TAE) project. The first step in the healing process was to remove the AK47s, bullets and grenades from the communities. Many of them had been buried or hidden in bushes. The Bishop hoped his project would encourage the people to trade in their weapons for equipment they could use to enhance their personal wore-torn lives and contribute to their local communities. In exchange for the weapons the people received ploughs, bicycles, sewing machines, seeds, animals with which they could farm and when one village gave in all their weapons collectively, they received a tractor.

It is believed that six hundred thousand weapons had been handed in by the end of 2013 and slowly the process of reconciliation unfolded. The weapons were rendered unusable so they would never take a life of injure anyone again. Artists in the capital city of Maputo were then commissioned to create works of art using the weapons. Their only brief was to ensure that the civil war was never forgotten. They were to avoid violent themes and create works that would aid the peace process.

Graca Machel, wife to the late Mozambique president, Samora Machel, as well as wife to the late Nelson Mandela, was appointed the project’s Patron and has been the high profile figure needed to raise the awareness of the project and share the message of forgiveness with the people of Mozambique.

There are two very important works of art created using these weapons. The Throne, was created by Cristavao Canhavato to encourage discussion and debate. In the African culture a throne is a symbol of power and prestige and used as a platform for problem solving.

The Tree of Life was created by Adelino Serafim Mate, Fiel dos Santos, Hilario Nhatugueja and Cristavao Canhavato and represents the idea of a new life for the people of Mozambique.

“These materials used to kill people – each bullet [used in my art] saves one life” (Gonçalo Mabunda). The project is supported by Christian Aid, in collaboration with the British Museum and the Christian Council of Mozambique to bring peace and hope to a country whose people are doing what they can to forgive, but not ever to forget.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Dawn Denton. All rights reserved.
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