Amélia is a farmer – “our custom is agriculture,” she says. But now there is “a serious drought” and she has had to diversify her income. “We only survive from the production of charcoal,” she says.
She mentions the importance of animals as security for difficult times, like when someone needs to go to hospital. She also describes a tradition of mutual help: “it is difficult to let somebody suffer, while the community is there.”
The community now has clean water. “We used to suffer when we drank water from the lagoons. We would suffer from abdominal pains and diarrhoea… But now that GEOMOC has come and opened wells, no impurity will enter, because the well has got a lid.”
What makes her happiest is how life has changed for the better for women: “…the status of women is now higher, and we are emancipated. We are leaders… the country has grown because of women.”
Early in the morning we go… and fell firewood to produce charcoal. That is how we live here, because the drought is severe. That is our daily life, to produce charcoal. After that I sweep my house, I prepare water for my husband’s bath [and] I wash my children. If I have to go to the field that day, I go to the field.
“A serious drought”
There is very little crop production, because what we harvest is not enough to fill our psiklati (granary) with maize. We are going through a serious drought… the area we cultivate should be enough for us to harvest something, but there are wild animals that invade our fields: they will destroy and eat everything they find. That is why we harvest very little, because they will eat all the maize.
We only survive from the production of charcoal from cutting down branches. Charcoal we sell in bags, to get some money to buy food. We have nothing else…
Charcoal is sold in Maputo. There are those who come here to buy charcoal; it is not us who go to sell it there. They come from Maputo and buy it and they take it back to Maputo… whether they give me 50,000 meticais or 500 meticais, I can go and buy something in Chokwe to support my family. But that is not enough to properly support my family. No!
“Wild animals… eat everything”
In the past we lived well, because we would cultivate our fields and there was rainfall. We had a lot of maize. We would harvest and fill our granaries. That is why I say that we have nothing, because even if we cultivate, there are wild animals that come and eat everything. So we remain as if we were under drought.
Our only weapon is to inform the district authorities that there are animals here that molest us. We did not see any solution as yet. Those animals frighten us. Even their footprints will frighten us…
It happens that our custom is agriculture. That thing of charcoal, we only do it because of drought. Our habit is to work in the fields.
War scatters families
Some of my relatives are living in Leiza; one of my brothers is living in South Africa. We are scattered. We are many, and because of the confusão (the war) we are scattered.
I am married. But… after some time my first husband died. But after that I married again… With my first husband we went out, we liked each other and then I went to his place. Then I had the first son with him, then another; then another who died, and I had a girl, who also died… But I happened to love another after the death of my first husband. I had two children, both boys; they are both still alive…
“Even aged mothers must study”
Those from my household, I have only one who… is still continuing [in school], the youngest. The other one is no longer studying… He just got despondent. Even if we would tell him to go to school he would just not go, even if we would beat him he would not go to school…
We did not think about it then, but now we are thinking about the issue, because it is painful that he drops out of school – because he is still very young… Because now, even aged mothers like me must study. Here there is even a school for adult people. When children end their [school] day, then the adults come. Those who are intelligent will have some results. Those who do not have a fresh mind will remain just like me…
The need for health facilities
The water is pure; it is totally clean. It has got no impurities, nothing. It is very good. We used to suffer when we drank water from the lagoons. We would suffer from abdominal pains and diarrhoea, not knowing why that happened. But now that GEOMOC (state drilling company; now privatised) has come and opened wells, no impurity will enter, because the well has got a lid. When we draw water we close the lid afterwards, so that impurities do not enter. Now we drink water at our will. We no longer hear people complaining of any [water-borne] diseases…
Cattle will drink at the dam. There is a lagoon here. But there are times when this lagoon will dry up, and then they go to the river, up there in Mabalane. The animals we raise here in the village are cows, goats, and chickens… It does help us, in that when somebody gets sick I can sacrifice some of the animals to have money to go to the hospital.
This is the road… it is good. Only in some places will you find some bumps… [But] there are no vehicles going from here. We walk to Mabalane. There is no public transport to take us. We carry our luggage and walk. We go there and return on foot. When one needs to go to the hospital it is the same, just walking.
It is a long time since we have… wanted a hospital. Diseases are serious, and some are sudden, and to rush to from here to Mabalane is a problem. If the illness is too serious, it is impossible to get there before the person dies! So, we are struggling to have a hospital [nearby] where we can get some pills to help us improve quickly… A shop we also need; there is not one. The school is there. But we have only one teacher…
“Radio Limpopo educates us”
If nobody goes to Mabalane [town] to bring back information… we switch on our radios. Radios will tell us [the news], like Radio Limpopo in our Mabalane district. Even if nobody will come here to tell us about something… when I switch on my radio, I will learn about what is happening in Mozambique… If anyone dies, people will announce it there… I will know if any relative of mine has passed away.
I like listening to issues related to young people, women and men, and about xikaukauka (HIV and AIDS), about the prevention of this disease. Because this disease is not only for adults, or youths and men only… this disease has been killing many people here in Mozambique. We are now scared… Radio Limpopo educates us to be on the safe side: men, women and young people. That is the teaching that we learn.
[Other families] have radios also. The ones who don’t, they listen with their neighbours. The neighbour will say: listen here to my radio set, and what you will hear will help you and myself.
The impact of drought
The land where we cultivate our field is reasonable. If you would go that way, through that path, you would see the fields; they are big enough. If it would rain and we would plant – except for the wild animals that we were talking about – we would be successful, and we would have food that would last us until next year. Soils are very good. As you can see, cashew trees are producing, mango trees are producing.
The cashew tree is just in my area. It produces very well. Since PROMUGE (Promoçao da Mulher e Género; organisation working to promote women and gender issues, and raise awareness of HIV and AIDS) told us to plant cashew trees, we have done. But the soil was not that good because of the drought. But if you would go there to the chief’s muklato (land belonging to a chief), and you enter the house of that pai (literally ‘father’; term of respect) over there, you’ll see many cashew trees. They have even started producing cashew nuts…
The soil is good; the only problem is drought, because sometimes it goes on for years, and so the soil is dry, and even though one will plant, there are no good results. But when it rains! Even sugar cane will grow… The drought is very severe. As you can see, we are now in December, and nobody is planting. Usually, by this season we will have maize and beans that will help us fight against hunger.
“People in need are numerous”
Poverty is extreme here in this area! There is nothing we can use to help ourselves. The food shortage is serious. We just suffer. Each person must use his or her brains. We have poor living conditions; life is not progressing… There is nothing to lift us out of this situation.
It seems that now we are living in poverty, but it has not started today, it is from long ago. Some people’s poverty is extreme. Those are the people who have nobody to help them… absolutely nobody… Those elderly people who have no relatives; here in this village, there is always somebody who cares for them. Nobody has the courage to see an aged person alone, under the shadow of a tree, and not help him. No! Because it is difficult to let somebody suffer, while the community is there…
I have my own aged parents, who are now unable to do anything. My brother is in John (Johannesburg) so I have to take food to them where they are. Even today I have come from there. They are no longer capable of helping themselves…
There is poverty in the country, and until today we are poor because there is no rainfall…
I brought up my children alone, until I met my new husband who protected me. I don’t know if he will go away one day and leave me alone again. People in need are numerous. All I can say is that I was brought up in poverty… because even my mother lost her first husband, and was left in poverty…
Migration to cities
These children of ours, when they go away, they never remember that they have a mother and a father. They say nothing. They forget that they have a mother… I had one, who was the first-born, who went to John…
All of this will increase poverty, because those who go for a job and do not come back, that is painful. It is poverty that a son will go away and stay far from his parents, leaving them in suffering.
[There are traditional healers] who deal with issues in the area and with managing it by, for example, performing kuphahla (invoking the ancestors’ spirits)… They are there at Mudjinge. When something happens, be it the lack of rain or any other thing, we go to them, and they will lead the ceremonies. They will put fole (snuff, made from tobacco) on the floor and invoke the original owners of this area…
When we had these [new GEOMOC] wells, the curandeiros (traditional healers) came to lead the ceremonies of kuphahla. After kuphahla, there was nobody who did not have water. They led the traditional ceremony before the formal opening of the well, and after that… the people from GEOMOC came. GEOMOC officially opened the wells, and so far we have been drawing water. We say that they are following the right ceremonies because, as we requested, we have water. We used to draw water from the river and bring it here. Now we have rested [from that task].
We go to the curandeiros for timhamba (spirit appeasing ceremonies). After we learn what kind of ceremony we must perform, they will inform us that we must gather this or that, contribute some money, maize, and other products that families have. Then, we go for kuphahla, using some home-made brews. We go to kuphahla invoking the spirits of our ancestors and asking for rain.
When there is any problem within families… the case starts here and is taken to the area’s chief in Madla-Timbuti. If they are unable to solve it, it is channelled to Tsembele (the village headquarters), over there, and if they cannot solve it either, we take it to Mabalane, to the police station. After the police, then it is taken to the court, particularly cases of bodily assault and similar cases…
Women’s raised status
What makes me happiest is that the status of women is now higher, and we are emancipated. We are leaders. Because we suffered, and we were not valued – but today, women have an acceptable status, and the country has grown because of women.
This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.