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Boafesta: cattle are hope

Boafesta talks about the many health issues in his area. Nurses do not stay long at the medical post, the nearest hospital is in Mabalane and pregnant women, who have to walk there, sometimes give birth on the way. Disease is rife. He emphasises the link between ill-health and poverty: “When disease comes there is no way out but to… sell one of the cows.”

Their remote location means that most pupils have to walk to a school several kilometres away. River flooding in the rainy season and wild animals on the road are further hazards for those trying to reach markets and medical services.

Boafesta says: “From the time I was born until now, I have lived on produce from the field…” but drought is now putting that under threat. Now the war is over the community is keen to build up the cattle business again: “what gives us hope is cattle”, but this is threatened by cattle-rustling.

The problem here in our region is that we suffer from diseases; and we suffer from diseases because we do not have a hospital nearby. But there is a building that was constructed to be a health post. The government built it… but there is no nurse to attend to the patients…

When children get sick we have to go up to Mabalane town… When women get pregnant and the day comes for delivery, there is no maternity hospital here. She must run – where to? Mabalane. During the long walk, sometimes it happens that the woman gives birth. Can you imagine what it is to give birth along the way? When she arrives at the maternity hospital, the child is dirty with sand…

Another problem lies with the fact that during the months of December and January, the river will rise to a torrent. When the river is high it is even more difficult [to get across]. We cross the river in canoes, but [sometimes] it happens that when the delivery hour comes, the woman will give birth along the road, watched by wild animals. All this is because of the lack of a maternity hospital.

The building exists that could serve us as a maternity hospital, but the problem is that there is no nurse there, and this is a problem that upsets us. The government can send us a nurse, but this nurse will only stay a few days and [then] he vanishes from the post.
You see, what happens is that the nurses never stay [because] they do not want to live in suffering [in rural areas]… this is what we think is happening, because any nurse who is sent here stays just a month and then goes away.

Ill health “creates poverty”

Ndpswa (‘the burning disease’ – a form of herpes) is the disease that afflicts most people… There is one elderly man in our area who knows how to cure it, using traditional medicine, and I have seen many people who were helped in this way, but so far, this disease is still around. Even now as I speak – you see that house where there is that mafurra Tree (Cape mahagony), there is one mãe (literally ‘mother’; term of respect for older woman) who cannot manage even to get to the toilet because her feet have been attacked by the disease… her feet burn.

So this is the disease that afflicts us most in this place, and malaria as well… Here at home we do not have any means of getting mosquito nets to protect ourselves, because when we go to the hospital they tell us that mosquito nets can only be sold to pregnant women…

There is yet another problem. When we need to go to the hospital in Mabalane in the middle of the night, the hippos chase us down at the river, but we have to it… I myself, who am speaking, I have a son who frequently suffers from malaria… I have often had to go to Mabalane at night because of this son….

When you get sick you cannot work… thus it creates poverty… Because when disease comes, there is no way out but to go to the kraal (walled enclosure for cattle) and sell one of the cows. If you do not have a cow you have to go to the kraal and sell one goat, and if you do not have a goat, try and find a chicken to sell so that you can go to the hospital. That way, after I have sold that cow or that chicken, it is poverty that is developing, but this happens because there are no jobs… We only wake up and wait – to do what? Just to go to the field.

Hindrances to education

We do not have a teacher, but we get the help of a teacher who comes from Nhumbayinwe B to help teach Grade 1 (primary) pupils… The older children who are attending Grade 2 and higher can’t have classes here; they have to… endure the walk to Nhumbayinwe B in this intense heat. The distance is very great. The day it rains the… water rises in some ditches and the children cannot cross them to get to school, and so they stay behind.

A second point is that we build the schools with local materials, which are [things like] reeds, but it becomes difficult because mães (mothers) must go every week and plaster the classrooms with mud, and what happens is the mud falls off. The mud used for the floor dries up and gets dirty, meaning that illness spreads among the children in the school… The school should be built with bricks; then the children would study well because it would be plastered with cement, not mud, and it would not create hard work for the mothers.  Another problem is that the school does not have zinc roofing sheets; we only use reeds. And every time there is a strong wind [the building] gets spoiled, always requiring repair. All of this is due to the state of poverty in which we live.

About that school, when we built it, it was because we sat down and discussed… what we could do so that the children could have good classes, without suffering as a result of walking a long distance to school. Then [we decided] what could help us would be to build a school, then the government would send us a teacher – because we had been asking for a teacher for a long time. [But] they told us that they could not give us a teacher until we had built a school… We informed them when it was complete [and] they made it possible for us to have a teacher.

Also there are children here who do not go to school. Why? For lack of money to study. Yes, this problem gives us headaches. There are many children – and even some grown ups like me – who are doing nothing. Able young people are not going to school, they have no means of studying, so this problem is a very difficult one.

There have been no solutions to these problems… I cannot explain what is happening but what I see is that information does not reach everywhere… The radio station can reach only Mabalane, Massingir, Chgikwalakwala, and here, in Kombomune, but it does not reach Chokwe. But if it reached everywhere, I believe that the people would expose many problems, and these would be heard everywhere, which would help them.

Cattle rustling: “we were robbed”

Another problem in this region of Mabalane is that there is crime and theft – cattle rustling. Rustling happens on a big scale here…  the rustlers, now you find that they take six head of cattle, and choose only the females…

We were robbed of five head of cattle, and searched for a week without knowing where they were – we found them in Massingir, already loaded in a truck heading for Maputo. We arrived and found the cattle, but the thief escaped…

We have no means of defence when we pursue a rustler; we have only our hands, we have no other instrument for defence. The day we happen to meet him, I do not know what will happen, because he is armed. This is a problem that worries us a lot…

Lack of police support

What happens at the police station is that we report [incidents] to them but they never pursue the thieves; we the owners pursue them… We are asking for the government to provide a weapon in every village, even if it’s only one, to make sure that every time cattle are stolen we are not afraid, we will take that gun and pursue the rustlers. I started handling guns… because of the war, in 1988… So guns are not a difficult thing for me…

The law states that when something happens we should go and fetch a weapon… When we come and ask them for a weapon they say that there is no weapon… they argue that they cannot give us weapons, because when we get there, instead of arresting the person we will kill him. But [we say] that since things are like this, and we were robbed, and you do not trust us, then give us a policeman to go with us – but they refuse even that.

Maize is the lifeline

Another problem here in the region is that we do not have shops to buy foodstuffs or clothes. Now it seems a bit better, because the raging torrent of the river has dropped down, and we can go to Mabalane to shop. We have markets but we have nothing [to sell]. We just survive.

From the time I was born until now, I have lived on produce from the field. I wake up and go to the field, then we build granaries and we store maize. That maize helps us. It helps us because the government wants taxes and it is with that maize that we manage to get enough to pay taxes and quotas. But as you can see now, the rains have not yet fallen, and the [growing] season is passing, and we do not know if we will cultivate…

Improved water supplies

PROMUGE (Promoçao da Mulher e Género; organisation working to promote women and gender issues, and raise awareness of HIV and AIDS), here in our village helped us a lot, because they brought us water, so I am very thankful to them because here, where we are, it is a long way to the place where we fetch water, so now mães can find water very nearby. But what causes hardship is that there in the water hole, the machine to lift the water is often broken and when it breaks there is nothing else to do but to spend money to buy rope…

When that pump is functioning, we form a queue; everyone puts his or her container there, and gets water, one by one… But now another metal piece has broken. We tried to go to Chokwe to pay 500,000 meticais to repair it, but it was not possible and now it is not functioning…

“Animals are ruling here”

We suffer a lot because of wild animals such as hippos; they eat what we produce. There were some projects that were created for planting sweet potatoes… The hippos ate everything; there is nothing left, not even the leaves to make some soup to give to the children… now animals are ruling here where we live.

How do we set about construction [of houses]? We fell some trees and we build. But the time will come when it will not be easy to get those trees, because the [Limpopo National] Park no longer allows us to find building material like trees…

What I can say is that the Park – they say that there will be something they will do to help us. But I wouldn’t bank on that, because I have never seen anything like that. Promises! You can only trust something that you have seen with your own eyes…

War and displacement: “we want to start again”

This village was built in 1994, when we returned from fleeing the war. The war found us, scattered us… And now that the war has ended, they told us that everyone who wishes can go back. And now that we have come back to our homes where we were born, [we found] they were destroyed, and we came to build our new village here where we are now…

I used to go to South Africa, from 1991 until 1999… When I started going to South Africa, we were suffering because of the war. There were many things we needed, like pots, blankets – particularly blankets – that led me to go to South Africa; so for such things I went to work [there] and I bought them and brought them home to help my children and my father and my mother…

There are many things that we lost because of the war. And at this moment in our life what will help us – the inhabitants of this place – what gives us hope is cattle… My father had many head of cattle… but they were all stolen. And now, when you hear me speak of cattle it is because we want to start again, since the war has ended…

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.


Boafesta: cattle are hope is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Mozambique oral testimony project.


Amélia: women are leaders

Antonio: collective responsibility

Arnaldo: teachers sell marks

Boafesta: cattle are hope

Gomes: working with youth

Jorgina: the value of cooperatives

Maria: totally forgotten

Pamira: great suffering

Pedro: importance of agriculture

Raquelina: only me

Rafael: worth nothing

Ucilina: living from agriculture

Key themes


Conservation conflicts

Collective action




Collective action

Livelihood and migration

Support for development

Conservation conflicts






Women’s status


Trade and economics