In the early years of Ucilina’s marriage her husband drank heavily: “Thus, my first three children, I had them amidst great suffering, because my husband wasn’t participating…” She vividly remembers the “hell” of the war when they fled their village and for three months slept in bushes or “in the lake, in the water”.
Life now is slightly easier. “What has been helping us” she says, “is that we are living from agriculture.” But farmers have many problems, “like drought, too much rain, cyclones, lack of machinery to help us in the fieldwork, lack of assistance to purchase inputs…”
Buyers in the market try to beat down the price of her sweet potatoes. She and other camponeses have therefore formed a cooperative so it can be “us fixing the prices”. UNAC has “been supporting us in terms of oxen for animal traction, and cattle re-stocking”. The church has helped her too, not least by persuading her husband to give up alcohol.
My biography goes like this: I got married at the age of 25. I went to my household. I bore children. I have eight children: four boys and four girls. I have 10 grandchildren – six girls and four boys.
What has been helping us is that we are living from agriculture. In the morning, we carry our hoes, myself and my husband, and we go off to the field, and we grow sweet potatoes, cassava for our own consumption and part of it for marketing, so that we may buy some kerosene, salt and other such things…
I manage [to send my grandchildren to school] by selling my field produce, and also their parents have been helping me sometimes.
We have various [problems], like drought, too much rain, cyclones, lack of machinery to help us in the fieldwork, lack of assistance to purchase inputs, and many other difficulties. [Now there is] drought… there is no water in the ditches to irrigate the crops, there is only mud in the ditches, and that is the reason I don’t see any profit – because of the drought. It is not easy to find seeds [either], because they are expensive.
Hiding from the war
When there was civil war between RENAMO and Frelimo, I went through hell. We would sleep in the bushes; we went to sleep in the lake, in the water. My grandchild, whom I was carrying on my lap, was left with a swollen face because of mosquitoes. We spent three months living this kind of life, sleeping in the lake water.
One day we woke up [and decided] to go home the next morning. Night came and we went to sleep, then we heard that there were people who were after us… They came and killed people. So we left and went to stay on the coast… I was with my grandchild and my husband.
We [eventually] managed to escape because my sons went to Maputo and found a plot of land where we could hide from the war. They came to fetch us and we went to live there at Benfica suburb. That house is still there at Benfica; that house was built because of the war.
[RENAMO] destroyed a lot! They even took cattle, even chickens were taken… [There was] even that thing of killing people and putting them in a row on the roads after killing them, yes!
Lack of markets and bargaining power
The market is the most difficult thing that the camponeses face, because we do not have an agricultural market [of our own]. For instance, if you harvest a bag of sweet potatoes, because I am old, I can take two days carrying these potatoes home a little at a time, to fill up a bag.
But when I get to the market, I find the buyers, and when I tell them that a bag of sweet potatoes costs 100,000 meticais they will complain, saying “Ha!… this is expensive…!” I tell them: “My daughters, what I am doing is just to be able to buy some salt and kerosene.” In the end they buy a bag of sweet potatoes for 70,000 meticais, because if I refuse they will just leave it and buy from someone else.
The market where we sell our products is very far from where we live. We have to go by public transport to get to Bobole market or sometimes to the market in the district capital. It is for that reason that we are groups of camponeses, organised into cooperatives, and we are planning to open an agricultural market, which would help us a lot, because then it would be us fixing the prices. Despite many difficulties we are sticking to this plan…
[Our cooperative] was created through the Frelimo government’s awareness campaign after independence… In this cooperative we have a collective area and plots for individual use.
Unemployment breeds crime
When someone is trying to do something to help his own life, like setting up a small stall to sell something to support himself and his family, that stall will be attacked within a few days. That is why we are not leading a good life… We are suffering.
[The leaders] know about it, because when this happens they are informed, but they never take action to punish these criminals. They will just rush to the place to see. They find there has been theft, but they say, “We do not know the thieves”…
It is people from this area who are doing this, but they hide away. So it is difficult to know who they are, unless you catch [someone] red-handed. I don’t know if it is because of poverty or unemployment, because most of them are not even working or studying… Here in our neighbourhood, we only have school up to Grade 7, and children who complete this level just get involved in drugs, theft and other crimes.
Decline in traditional medicine
We have only one health post. The hospital – we find one only when we go to Fonte Santa, in Marracuene town. The community post is only for emergency cases; the nurses receive the patients in a very good manner…
In the old days, children would not go to hospital because of a simple fever – we would find that natural, because when a child is growing he or she will frequently have some kind of fever, and we would say that the child has got kombo (bad luck). If the disease got worse, we would give the child some herbs and roots, and the fever would go away…
But now, when the child gets sick, we take him to hospital, because the roots and other traditional medicines are no longer there, and those that still exist are not used, because people do not know what they are for.
Assistance in agriculture
We have UNAC (União Nacional de Camponeses; national small farmers’ movement), which has been supporting us in terms of oxen for animal traction, and cattle re-stocking. These animals are also useful in agriculture, particularly in the rice planting areas. It is thanks to the animals we receive from UNAC that we manage to solve some problems. We have also had the support of ActionAid, which gave us cattle, with the same objective as UNAC.
Also, we received help from an organisation called APOJ (Associação Positiva Juvenil; an organisation working with young people on empowerment and HIV and AIDS prevention), which gave us seeds, including carrots, cucumber, lettuce, and gave us a motor pump for irrigation. But it does not have all the accessories, such as hosepipes, and that is why we are not yet using it, and that makes us very sad, not knowing what to do with this motor pump…
Two years ago, UNAC would provide us with some food, through the Food for Work project. They would give food such as maize, cooking oil, beans, which benefited the entire community. But now we are suffering.
The support of the church
I have been very poor [during my married life] because my husband worked – yes – but he liked liquor too much, and once he received his salary, he would not come home. He would stay in the bars, drinking and when he came home he would not have a single penny in his pocket. And how I would suffer with our children…
But what kept me patient was that even drunk as he was when he came home, he would never shout at me or beat me up. After a few years, we started attending church, and he abandoned all those vices he had, and he started respecting and take care of the family.
Thus, my first three children, I had them amidst great suffering, because my husband wasn’t participating in bringing up our children. At that time, I did not have even a single capulana (traditional wrap worn by women) or a dress bought by him – I’m not speaking of food, because at that time, we would not buy food, we would produce it ourselves in the field.
But now, I feel that life has changed a bit, because all of us are attending church. Another change is that every day we go together to the field. Our children are now grown up, and some of them are officially married. Though they are married, they do not forget us.
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.