All the Mabalane narrators express their frustration with the wildlife that “invades” their communities from the bordering Limpopo National Park. This park now forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a transnational conservation area spanning the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Mozambique’s wildlife population was all but destroyed during the 14 years of civil war, and the country’s parks have been battling to restore their game reserves ever since. However, local people now find that the animals, especially hippos and elephants, consume their crops, leaving nothing for their families. This has become even more of an issue since drought has reduced yields, leaving narrators even more dependant on the little that they manage to grow.
The community feels let down by the government, believing it has made wildlife conservation more of a priority than their own livelihoods: “…now animals are ruling here where we live,” comments Boafesta.
Raquelina says that although the government provides some food aid in times of drought, it fails to give practical help by putting up a fence to keep the animals out. “We live in a time of suffering,” she says. Boafesta’s experience illustrates the seriousness of the situation: “The hippos ate everything, there is nothing left, not even the leaves to make some soup to give to the children…”
Maria points out that the problem is not just “the animals that invade the fields at night, destroying everything”, but also that they are “forbidden to cut firewood or burn charcoal… or kill any animal” in the park area. “We have respected that,” she points out, but the park authorities “don’t give us any help, and stop us using the natural things we had been using for years.” She is unequivocal about the impact: “This makes us poor.”
Boafesta adds that “the Park no longer allows us to find building material like trees…” He is sceptical of the authorities’ promises to help: “Promises! You can only trust something that you have seen with your own eyes…”