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“And They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares“

13 September 2011 One Comment

Amy Schwartzott speaks with Dom Dinis Sengulane

Amy Schwartzott
United States/Mozambique

“In many ways eradicating the unknown number of  weapons remaining today is even more important to the preservation of peace in Mozambique than ending the war. “


The Transforming Arms into Plowshares/Transformação de Armas em Enxadas (TAE) project in Mozambique reveals the potency of transforming recycled weapons of war into art as a tool for peacebuilding, and more importantly, peacekeeping in post-conflict societies. I have investigated TAE since 2008 for my dissertation research on using recycled materials to create art.

TAE, founded in 1995 by Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane, was inspired by principles he found in the Bible:  ”…and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  TAE is part of the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM), founded in 1948 and motivated to bring peace. Bishop Sengulane’s intent was to facilitate community dialogue and civic education dealing with reconciliation, memory, healing, and forgiveness.

TAE’s transformation of destroyed weapons into art began in 1997.  Striving to glorify peace and desiring to visually memorialize this, Bishop Sengulane forged a partnership with Núcleo de Arte, a long-standing arts organisation in Maputo, challenging artists to transform weapons into symbols of peace.  Since that time, many artists have come forward to work towards building peace in Mozambique through the visual power of artworks constructed out of recycled artifacts of Mozambique’s wars.

TAE’s grassroots approach to post-conflict resolution uses art as an iconic visual reminder, a mnemonic device symbolizing the violence of war. TAE artworks are designed to evoke memories of Mozambique’s long history of war for viewers as well as serving as a potent process for the artists, many of whom lived through Mozambique’s civil war and are motivated to promote peace through their art. TAE is innovative in adding another dimension to the reconciliation process by actually preventing conflict by making weapons unusable – instead of tools for killing they become tools for peacekeeping.

Mozambique’s civil war (1977 – 1992) directly followed the nation’s battle for independence from Portuguese colonial rule (1962 – 1975). The civil war, fought between the ruling party, FRELIMO or Front for Liberation of Mozambique, and RENAMO, the Mozambique Resistance Movement, precipitated economic collapse, famine, nearly one million casualties, and the displacement of several million civilians.

TAE’s original plan consisted of collecting weapons, making them non-usable, and giving an instrument of production (incentive) in exchange for collected weapons. Bishop Sengulane stresses that incentives were never made in terms of money, because TAE never wanted to give the impression that they were buying the guns. Weapons exchanged from demobilized soldiers, individuals, and eventually entire communities followed similar frameworks, exchanging weapons for products or services.

Makolwa's "Looking Forward Towards Peace by Remembering the Past."

Focused on building confidence and honest livings for those who turn in weapons, TAE offers such diverse incentives today as seeds, cement, zinc roofs, and tickets to home villages. TAE policy stresses anonymity and lack of involvement of the army or police when weapons are handed over, never recording any names.

I have been speaking with people who exchange weapons to TAE, all of whom have very different stories. I believe the story I retell here illustrates the importance and success of TAE. In many ways eradicating the unknown number of weapons remaining today is even more important to the preservation of peace in Mozambique than ending the war.

Mario explained to me: “I fight like a criminal in the street. I can show (a gun) and that is bad. I give it (to TAE) without questioning. It (is) good for me. I receive things that can help my life (incentives) and I (am) helping to save lives…my mind gives me peace.”

I travelled to Matola to see the cement blockhouse he built using supplies given as incentives and I viewed the effectiveness of TAE in such buildings constructed by informants that I refer to as “houses of peace.”

TAE artists display unique sensibilities in the way they invoke memories of war to move forward in peace through remembrance. These artists include Fiel, whose brother was kidnapped into service as a child soldier during the war, who relates that he is “working here (at TAE) for my soul”; Sitoe, who himself was a child soldier creates innovative non-welded pieces because he says, “we don’t even have money to buy bread – how are we buying supplies, machines to weld?”; and Makolwa, whose mother sent him out of Mozambique to survive the war.

Makolwa’s piece represents families destroyed by war.  A mother and her young son struggle to move forward, while the baby looks behind at Mozambique’s past.  Makolwa hopes that “showing people guns used during the war will remind them of the destruction. By remembering, I hope to show through the power of peace what will never happen again.”

The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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One Comments to ““And They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares“”
  1. MAKOLWA says:

    sou Makolwa,trabalho com o TAE ja 11 anos,estou feliz porque muitos pessoas vam conhecer o projecto TAE(TRANSFORMACAO DE ARMAS EM ENXADAS).


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