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November 15, 2012

In Mozambique, transforming guns into art

(Continued)

MAPUTO, Mozambique —

Tensions are also growing between political factions. Late last month, a former rebel leader, Afonso Dhlakama, returned to his forest hideout, along with 800 armed guerrillas. According to news reports, he has accused the government of not meeting his demands, which include integrating more of his former fighters into the nation's military and sharing control of Mozambique's newfound wealth.

"These days, any politician can say, 'If you don't give me what I want, I will go back to war.' And there are people willing to join him," said Boaventura Zita, the national coordinator for the Christian Council's project to gather weapons. "That's why we have to keep a dialogue of peace and reconciliation going."

Since its inception, the project has taken tens of thousands of weapons out of circulation. This year, the project has gathered 600 weapons, mostly Kalashnikov rifles, said Luis. In exchange for the weapons, the council hands out bicycles, ploughs and other farming tools and sewing machines.

The weapons are then brought to Maputo, the capital, and given to sculptors like Mabunda, who turn them into artistic symbols of peace. They work in workshops or in their houses. Mabunda's sculptures have been the most prominent.

His work is post-modern, even Cubist, reminiscent of Picasso. He has created ghoulish faceless masks that depict the horrors of war, and thrones made of weapons to symbolize how some African leaders manipulate politics and use violence to cling to power.

But Mabunda said the most important part of his work is its power to transform instruments of the death into tools of peace.

"This is important not only for Mozambique, but for the whole world," he said. "You can use the same weapons to make something useful — and not to kill."

The project, Luis said, will continue on as long as there is funding. Today, a Japanese non-governmental agency provides much of the financing, along with a few American church groups.

"Nobody knows how many guns were imported into Mozambique during the war," Luis said. "We know there's still a lot to do. Our dream one day is to say there are zero weapons in Mozambique."

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