JOHANNESBURG — Afonso Dhlakama, the Mozambican opposition leader who led a rebel group during the devastating civil war that ended in 1992, died on Thursday at the age of 65.
Mozambican radio reported that Dhlakama died in the Gorongosa area of central Sofala province, where he was based amid sporadic violence involving the Renamo opposition group and security forces backed by the ruling Frelimo party in recent years. However, tensions eased in the southern African country in 2017 as Dhlakama met President Filipe Nyusi in Gorongosa to discuss differences between the two sides.
Dhlakama was ill prior to his death, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported. The agency cited an unnamed official in Renamo, whose Portuguese acronym means Mozambican National Resistance.
Even though Renamo and Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front) declared peace after the civil war that killed up to 1 million people, Dhlakama's group did not fully disarm. Intermittent instability between 2013 and 2016 hurt tourism and other economic activity at a time when Mozambique, which has big reserves of coal and other energy sources, was struggling with heavy debt, a weak currency and a global fall in commodity prices.
Under Dhlakama, Renamo, which was repeatedly defeated in elections and alleged fraud, demanded a bigger role in the government and economy, as well as more autonomy in areas it dominates. Government hardliners, meanwhile, dismissed the group's militia as armed bandits and Dhlakama, recalling his guerrilla tactics, retreated to a mountainous area in Gorongosa where he believed he was safer from possible assassination attempts.
During the civil war, Renamo was backed by white minority rulers in then-Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa. Its wartime foe, Frelimo, had been a Marxist guerrilla movement that took power after independence from Portugal in 1975.
President Nyusi said Thursday on Mozambican television that he had hoped to help transfer Dhlakama out of Mozambique for medical treatment after learning that the opposition leader was ill, but it was too late. He appealed to Mozambicans to continue with reconciliation efforts.