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Maria: totally forgotten

A mother of five, Maria was abandoned by her husband when he left Mabalane to work in South Africa and took up with another woman. She sees this as the main cause of her “extreme poverty”, as well as her loneliness because “A woman without a husband has nobody with whom she can raise her concerns.”

She has no animals of her own – no oxen to plough her field, no goats, chickens or pigs – and suffers from the isolation of the village and lack of transport. “We are in poverty and totally forgotten,” she protests.

Maria explains how if someone is taken ill at night she has to wake up those neighbours who own bicycles to take the patient to the hospital. She says that AIDS has killed “one, two or three” members of her family and that people are now learning to modify their sexual behaviour in order to prevent the spread of HIV.

I started [school] very late, and I ended up dropping out in order to get married. I’ve been married for 39 years and I have five children. We separated – or rather he abandoned me to go to South Africa, where he still lives today. He married [another] when he was working in South Africa.

Since he abandoned me, I’ve been living very badly. A woman without a husband has nobody with whom she can raise her concerns. She has to do everything and work on her own to take care of the children…

Of the five children I gave birth to, one died a long time ago. The only boy is working in South Africa. He went to look for his father and found him. When he came back, he told me he didn’t like the way his father is living in South Africa, because he is being domesticated by the woman he lives with. This is because she is the one who gives the orders in this house; the house is hers…

I live in extreme poverty, because I depend on the little that my son gives me and on working my field, which is my daily routine. My son has only been working for three years in South Africa but he is striving to support me. He hasn’t married yet, and so perhaps that’s why he can be greatly concerned for me.

The boy studied up to Grade 8 (first year of secondary school), but he stopped after that because I’m poor and I didn’t have the money for him to continue. They told me they wanted all the pupils to have school uniform, including trousers, shirts and shoes, as well as study materials. Since I had nothing, my son left Mabalane town where he was studying… and returned home.

“We are in poverty”

A poor person is someone who has nothing. She has no one to share her problems with and find ways of overcoming them. I am poor because I live off my work on the field. I am poor because I don’t have any oxen that could help me plough my field. I don’t own any goats. When there’s no rain, nothing is produced in the field. But if I wasn’t poor I would have an electric [water] pump, oxen, goats, chickens, pigs and I would eat well every day…

My poverty and that of others here in the village is much greater because there’s a lack of transport when we want to go to Mabalane district capital. We have to walk for 15 kilometres just to reach Mabalane town. Even when we have something to sell there, we suffer… Pregnant women walk to Mabalane to give birth because there’s no transport… We are in poverty and totally forgotten.

“The burning disease”

There are lots of common diseases. Most people suffer from diarrhoea, and some from pains in their legs. Others suffer from serious headaches or malaria…  Another disease that concerns us is called ndpswa (‘the burning disease’ – a form of herpes).

When someone falls ill at night we wake up the neighbours who have bicycles to take us to the hospital. Previously we used to have a hospital in Nyimba Yinwe B neighbourhood, but it doesn’t operate now because there is no staff to work there. Now it just has an auxiliary who doesn’t know how to treat patients. The nurse was transferred – nobody knows where to…

Here in the village many people suffer from ndpswa when they are asleep. It’s a disease we are concerned about… so far one person in my family has been hospitalised, and another has died of ndpswa… AIDS has killed one, two or three people in my family, but the number is less than five…

The doctors tell us to protect ourselves against all diseases. As for AIDS, there are many people here in the village who went to a seminar to learn how to prevent it. They told us how you catch HIV and AIDS and we should avoid making love without condoms. They also tell us we cannot use syringes that have already been used on other patients. They recommend that whenever we go to the hospital or to a traditional healer, we should take new blades with us…

Conservation “makes us poor”

Another thing that makes us poor is that this area that surrounds us belongs to the Limpopo National Park and we are forbidden to cut firewood or burn charcoal. They came and met with us and stipulated that we don’t touch anything in the bush, that we don’t cut firewood, make charcoal or kill any animal. We have respected that but they don’t help us at all. This makes us poor, because they don’t give us any help, and stop us using the natural things we had been using for years.

The hippos and elephants invade the fields at night, destroying everything and increasing our poverty and hunger. All that’s missing is for them to reach our houses, but in the field they’ve already eaten everything.

Young people

Today there’s a lack of respect, and what greatly concerns me today is the way the girls dress. Formerly girls were forbidden from wearing short clothes that show parts of the body. It was an insult to show your navel to men or even to boys…

We are struggling to teach the children not to go on like this… Today adult men become involved with young girls, which is very shameful. Previously this happened in the big cities, but today even here in the villages there is prostitution… Proof of this is the countless children without fathers.

“A woman abandoned”

Those who have oxen and goats eat well and have improved houses. For me they are rich… It’s because they have better conditions… I’m a woman abandoned by my husband, yet I have never received any support. But I’ve heard that there is support in the country for these kinds of people. What did happen was a registration or survey of these people, but there’s never been any support… I just rely on my own strength to work the land in order to survive… If I don’t go to the field, I don’t eat anything…

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.


Maria: totally forgotten 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