Gomes lives off intermittent casual work in South Africa and livestock farming in Mabalane. He is gradually building up his animal stock again after the catastrophic loss of all his goats and most of his cattle. His community is “rich in the breeding of livestock” but negotiating a fair price with buyers can be difficult and complicated.
He also does voluntary work with young people, training a football team and organizing matches with other villages. “When I’m in South Africa,” he says, “I always send back equipment for my football team…”
Gomes complains that the Limpopo National Park allows wild animals to stray into the fields and wreck crops. Children who walk to school in another village sometimes “have to sleep there because the way back is obstructed by roaming animals”.
Mine was a family that had possessions, it had livestock; we had a sustainable life. It wasn’t a rich life but it was a good life. My uncle was working in South Africa as a miner and so was my brother. I too work in South Africa but I haven’t yet managed to get work in the mines… it’s been a year since I [last] went to South Africa. I had to build houses and grain stores here, as you can see. You wouldn’t believe that I’m new in this village. But early next year I have to go and work in South Africa…
I moved house because of the disappearance of my family – that is, the death of my parents, my uncle and my older brother. I began not getting any good results from my livestock… I lost all of my goats, and of the 27 head of cattle I once had only nine survived. But now there are some improvements with my cattle and the number has increased from nine to 13.
These and [some] other facts that I can’t talk about made me change village… our neighbours didn’t like us. At the start there was hatred, and then feitiçari (witchcraft). Our family didn’t suffer from hunger and so there was the problem of envy. Then my father died, and later my mother. After the death of my parents, my uncle went looking for the house of the curandeiros (traditional healer) and because of what he found there, he clashed with the neighbours. Not six months later he too fell ill and died. For me this was very frightening and so I decided to leave the area…
Since I arrived [in Chimangue] I’ve never experienced difficulties. The breeze that blows here makes me happy, makes me forget the suffering I went through in the past. And something else too – when I see my livestock, I see that it’s increasing. This makes me think that the welcome I received from the population of Chimangue as soon as I arrived really did come from their hearts…
We live well here, but what causes problems in our fields is the Limpopo National Park. Because here in our area, they still haven’t put up the fence. They promised to, but so far they haven’t done it. The animals, mainly the elephants, are ruining our fields. They’re wrecking our crops.
We have other difficulties, to do with education and health. We have a school but no teachers. It’s the same thing with health – we have a health clinic but no nurses. The teacher we have isn’t ours. He’s from another village and only comes here to teach Grade 1 (primary). For Grade 2, the children are obliged to walk 4 kilometres to school in Nhanganhanga. Some days the children have to sleep there because the way back is obstructed by roaming animals. Also the children are too young to walk these distances.
The health problem causes great concern, because the nurses who come here don’t stay for very long. We had a nurse, but one day we went there and we found the doors closed. We tried to find out why but there was no explanation… I can’t explain why the nurses don’t want to stay here in our clinic. [Maybe] it’s the problem that we’re in the bush, as many people say.
Diseases and treatment
The diseases that occur here are diarrhoea, cholera [and] malaria – but all is still calm with this one because the lack of rain means there aren’t any mosquitoes yet. The other is ndpswa (‘the burning disease’- a form of herpes)… This disease can only be cured with the use of traditional medicines. I doubt that hospitals can cure it, because I’ve seen many people with this disease cured by traditional doctors – whereas diarrhoea can only be treated in the hospital.
I remember a year when diarrhoea killed many people here in these villages because the hospital is a long way away, in Mabalane. Here in our village nobody has a car. The most they have is a bicycle, and if there’s an emergency nothing can be done. In that year Mabalane hospital was very full of patients. It had to be extended with tents to accommodate all the people…
If someone falls ill, he doesn’t wait; he experiments with both [traditional and modern medicine]. We also know that there are diseases the hospital can’t cure. So if we have a situation where the disease doesn’t need hospital treatment we go straight to the traditional doctors…
Trade, barter and price control
Since we are rich in the breeding of livestock, when the buyer comes looking, we the sellers depend on [knowing about] earlier sales – that is, the ox of so-and-so was bought for so much – and thus we manage to stipulate the price. And if the client buys the animal, I am obliged to go to the village chief to get a document to certify that he purchased it. This law is used in order to better control the animal trade. There are problems with stock theft, and under this law, if someone is found with an animal, he’s required to show this document regarding its purchase …
Thursdays have now been selected for the trade in maize. It’s on this day that the traders come by train, and our women take a tin or two of maize to sell so that they can buy soap. They also accept bartering in goods; for example, soap for maize and other products.
It’s we who fix the price for maize. We all go to a meeting where we agree on the same price… With the sale of animals it becomes difficult, because we don’t all sell them, and it’s rare to find two or three people selling cattle at the same time, so the price is negotiable between us and the buyer. We make concessions so that the price doesn’t disadvantage either side. This isn’t the only difficulty in the sale of animals. There are differences between them; there are small animals like chickens, goats and pigs. So it’s not easy to meet together to fix prices for every kind of animal [every time].
The thing I found most important recently was my election to work with young people. I am happy because I like sport a lot, particularly football, for which I’m now the trainer. After working in the mornings, in the afternoons I’m always on the football field, training with the adolescents. And on Saturdays and Sundays we hold matches between the villages and administrative offices.
It’s true that it’s very difficult to deal with adolescents, but I already have experience in working with them. The first thing is to assess the group; you enthuse the group through games, choosing the games they like most. And you don’t forget to include jokes, so that they become livelier. With me they behave well. They see me as a father.
I work with two young people, and when I’m in South Africa they continue my work. When I’m there, I always send back equipment for my football team – shirts and balls. And other young people who also work in South Africa, also help with buying these things.
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.