MAPUTO: Pistols, rifles, machineguns and mines that spread terror across Mozambique during years of civil war have been transformed from agents of death and destruction into art, winning hearts at home and abroad.

People have been encouraged to hand over weapons in exchange for sewing machines, agricultural tools, construction materials or bicycles. After the weapons had been put out of action, some of the pieces were used to make strikingly original sculptures.

“We decided to collect (the guns) so they cannot be used in crime or other violent incidents,” said Anglican Bishop Dinis Sengulane.

Sengulane is president of Mozambique’s Christian Council, which started the ‘Transforming Arms into Tools’ project in 1995. Since then, it says it has collected around 60,000 guns from former combatants in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Mozambique’s civil war ended in 1992, but left a deadly legacy. During the years of violence, guns flooded into the former Portuguese colony — Christian Aid estimates there are some seven million guns hidden in the country.

“There were many guns in the hands of people and a gun is a very bad adviser,” said Sengulane.

One of the most famous works created from the collected arms is the ‘Throne of Weapons’, a chair made from Portuguese rifles and Russian AK-47 assault rifles in the style of the traditional African throne for elders.

The throne was displayed in the British Museum in London this year along with the three-metre ‘Tree of Life’, also made from chopped-up weapons.

Mozambique’s bloody history has provided plenty of raw materials. After it won independence from Portugal after years of conflict in 1975, civil war broke out and only ended in 1992 with a pact between the Frelimo government and rebel Renamo movement, now the biggest opposition party.

“We could use other materials but guns give more meaning because we talk about peace by destroying its opposite,” said Cristovao Canhavato, who created the ‘Throne of Weapons’.

Canhavato — who works under the name Kester and is a member of Nucleo de Arte, the oldest collective of artists in Mozambique — started making sculptures from decommissioned weapons in 1997.—Reuters

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