Farming is the main form of livelihood for most Mozambicans but recurrent drought and increased pressure on the land has reduced agricultural productivity for many of these narrators, and they are frustrated at the lack of other work. Some, like Palmira, are barely surviving and many rely on family and neighbours for assistance.
One man, Rafael, is an artisan, making grinding sticks for cooking, and weaving baskets and grass for roofing: “But I am [also] a camponês, because I spend most of my time in the field…” Another – Pedro – trained as a teacher but now works as an unpaid official with UNAC, feeding his family from land he inherited.
Like many villagers, Amélia makes and sells charcoal to survive but she insists that “our custom is agriculture. That thing of charcoal, we only do it because of drought. Our habit is to work in the fields.”
For some women, small-scale trading in the markets – of agricultural produce as well as goods – is a source of income. But in general, lack of work haunts these communities and their reliance on South Africa for employment is striking. All the narrators have either worked there themselves for a few years, or had sons or husbands migrate there for work.
Two of the women had sons leave for South Africa whom they never heard from again. This is clearly a source of great pain. “It is poverty that a son will go away and stay far from his parents, leaving them in suffering,” says Amélia.
There are many stories that illustrate the impact of migration. Maria’s husband set up home with another woman in South Africa and never returned. Arnaldo, a young man, says that girls now go to South Africa too: “…but when they return they are HIV-positive and since their status is not known, they end up infecting young men…”
Pedro talks of the lure of the city and the way it is taking young people away from the land, yet failing to meet their need for stable employment: once young people have some education, “here in [Marracuene], it is very difficult to find a job that measures up to the knowledge that they have…” But the reality, he says, is that they often struggle to find work elsewhere.