Rafael: “…in our times it was difficult to find a person who had been to school... But now it is different. Every parent wants a school near home... so that their children have access to it…”
Rafael is a camponês and an artisan. His marriage broke down when he was regularly working in South Africa. His wife started “operating as a business-woman” selling maize meal and rice, then moved into the cattle business and was away for months at a time. Now she has not been in contact for 18 months. “For her I am worth nothing…” he says regretfully.
He talks about health problems including HIV and AIDS, from which his brother and sister-in-law recently died. He says that people ignore health warnings, citing a cholera outbreak when they received information about prevention: “But certain families would not change… and thus many lives were lost.”
Like several narrators he is concerned that nurses never stay long at the village health post, suggesting that they are reluctant to live with “people who only live by means of the hoe”. This means that if cholera returns, “we will not know how to save people.”
My daily work is handicrafts. I make grinding sticks for cooking, and baskets, and I weave grass for use in roofing houses. But I am [also] a camponês, because I spend most of my time in the field…
I used to work in South Africa. I was married and I had five children. Of my children, three have passed away. I was left with two daughters, who are now married and living with their husbands in their own homes…
“For her I am worth nothing”
I lived with my wife for many years and because of the heavy burden of life, my wife started doing business. Because I was working far away it was not easy to control the situation of my household… After she started operating as a businesswoman, she started travelling to many places, such as Chokwe and Maputo…
What led her to start doing business was that I had left in 1991 for South Africa, and it was the dry season. There was a severe famine and it was also during the war… She started buying bags of maize meal and rice. She would sell [them] and so managed to survive the famine.
Things were going well… I encouraged her to continue doing business because nothing else could save us from hunger except grabbing this and that. And when the rain came, she stopped selling maize meal and rice and started selling clothes, and so here at home we did not experience a shortage of soap or other such things.
But things started going awry when she started the cattle business. It was this that made her stay in Chokwe for four months… leaving me here at home… She explained that she was still selling. But I could not believe her in full, because it is impossible for a woman with a husband and children to go away and stay at a place where she is not working for a company, but [just] doing her own business. I even started thinking many things about her, such as adultery, but…[I did not hear] any stories [to confirm] what I was thinking and was afraid of…
I tried to get some information from her relatives, thinking that maybe they would know where she was, and the answer I received was that she said she was going to Massingir… She has not come back for a year and a half…
In my opinion, I think that since she has been in that kind of business, she feels that she has money. When she looks at me, she no longer sees any benefit if she compares me with the money she has, because she will never need any favour from me in terms of money. And thus, for her I am worth nothing, and she will scorn me…
HIV and AIDS
[My brother] was a person who would give himself no time to rest and would always be working. He started getting thin but because he had recently lost his wife, who also was ill for a long time, we thought it was because he was thinking of her. But he was also ill… [although] he would pretend that nothing was wrong with him. When we discovered that he was suffering from tuberculosis, it was already too late…
During the illness, they had similar symptoms. Many people would talk about AIDS, because they say that AIDS has those symptoms, and when one person gets ill and fails to control him or herself, the disease will be transmitted to the other partner and from there the entire family will die. I was left with the feeling that it could only be this disease called AIDS, because there was not a long time between the deaths of both of them. She died in 2002, he in 2004.
The way the government spreads information about this disease… to us is particularly through the community radio, at 17.00 hours. They have been broadcasting conversations on air about this disease… we take the opportunity to learn about it and learn that the best way of being safe is to carry a condom in your pocket. And if you find that this will hinder you, the best thing is to avoid sex outside marriage – and this [advice] has to be followed because so far no cure has been discovered for this disease…
Ignoring health warnings
Some will follow the recommendations, but others will continue ignoring what is said about the disease… This was seen when our district was hit by cholera. People would always talk in meetings, in the media [and] in our villages about this being a dangerous disease caused by the consumption of untreated water and not using improved latrines. They [would say] that, so as not to catch this disease, we should keep our houses clean, build improved latrines and avoid defecating in the open. We must [also] boil our water for consumption. But certain families would not change, even after all these warnings and thus many lives were lost.
The same is happening with AIDS. There are many people opposed to [safe sex], who try to persuade those who believe in the use of a condom to stop using one, alleging that it contains the HIV virus and advising them to pour water inside the condom to prove the existence of the virus.
But there are also some people of bad faith who, when they discover they have the HIV virus, will do all in their power to spread the disease. We have an example here in the village of a traditional healer who was diagnosed with AIDS and who, because he had money, would involve himself with young girls, taking advantage of his wealth to spread the disease… But within a short time he died. And as a result [of his behaviour] there were at least six women, who were lovers of that man, found to be ill.
[I have been tested for HIV] at the rural hospital in Chokwe. It happened when I was sick, and I started thinking many things, and went immediately to have the test. The result was negative, and what made me sick was alcohol – but even now I still drink.
“Nurses do not stay for long”
We do have a hospital, but we do not have a nurse. For us to find a nurse we have to go to Mabalane, which is very far, and we have to cross the river. And when the river is high, it is only possible with a boat. In previous years we used to have a nurse who came from a northern province. He worked very well with us. He lived here in the village but then he was transferred, and those who come [now] do not stay with us for long, and they don’t want to live here… They come and go.
But there are [serious] diseases such as cholera, and the day it appears again we will not know how to save people. The most dangerous thing is that this disease has always appeared during the rainy season, and it is then that the river is in spate and boats cannot cross.
I can’t explain very well the reason why [nurses] don’t want to stay here. Either they are afraid of living in a village, with people who only live by means of the hoe – I don’t know – or maybe it is because we are living in the bush… And the Mabalane Health Directorate itself never showed any concern about this case. I say this because since we filed our complaint, we have never had any answer…
Changed attitudes to education
I have heard that the case is now with the administrative authorities and it is thought that a solution would be to take a person who is a resident, or maybe one of our young people for training as a nurse… The idea is that after that course, the person would come and work here.
I think that it would be difficult to do things of that nature, because in our times it was difficult to find a person who had been to school, particularly here, in the rural areas. Our parents’ main concern was to see us in the pastures [with livestock], or cultivating the fields. But now it is different. Every parent wants a school near home… so that their children have access to it, and to ensure the best future for them and for the parents – because the parents are unemployed, and they take care of the cattle and the fields while the children are at school.
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.