The conveyor belts that once hauled up tons of coal from the deep, dark shafts here are silent now. Workers mill around, awaiting their next turn to guard Mozambique's biggest coal mine against attacks by South African-backed guerrillas. The Moatize coal mine, about 12 miles from the northwestern provincial capital of Tete, has been effectively shut down, like most of the economy, by the insurgent Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo). ``We are totally paralyzed,'' says the mine's deputy director general, Herculano Gosta. But workers at the state-run company have not been laid off. Instead, they formed an armed militia to patrol the grounds.
Though Renamo has failed to destroy the Moatize mine complex, it has done the next best thing by cutting the sole railroad that once carried the coal to the Indian Ocean port of Beira. Until the line is reopened - and no one will venture to guess when that might be - the mine's estimated 20 million tons of coal will stay in the ground.
Moatize could produce 600,000 tons of coal per year, says Mr. Gosta, earning at least $24 million annually, or one-quarter of the country's total export revenue. But the mine is symbolic of the rest of the country's economy: stagnation amid great potential.
After independence in 1975, Mozambique's already very poor economy was undermined by the mass flight of Portuguese skilled workers. ``One of Mozambique's fundamental problems is a shortage of skilled people,'' says Erick de Mur, deputy representative of the United Nations Development Program in the capital, Maputo.
In addition, South Africa, which has long maintained economic clout with Maputo by providing jobs, foreign exchange, and manufactured goods, began to squeeze Mozambique's economy. Pretoria has reduced its use of Mozambique's railways and ports, and lowered the number of Mozambicans working in its mines, from more than 100,000 before 1975 to 60,000 in recent years.