Mozambique - a first time visit and impression
Tofu near Inhambane
It is always dangerous to form an opinion about a country on a first and then also short visit. At the same time even a brief encounter elicits strong impressions and feelings. After a stint teaching at the African Christian College in Swaziland, the opportunity arose for a weeklong trip to Inhambane in south/central Mozambique. Some time ago I wrote a short story that took some people on a journey into this country and so I was interested to visit it to see how accurate my descriptions were, taken from my limited knowledge and imagination. (The Smiling Mask)
The venue was the coastal village of Tofu near Inhambane, a popular holiday resort. Inhambane is interesting in itself, as it is reputed to be the oldest town in Southern Africa. Unfortunately due to lack of time, we were not able to explore this town except for a brief visit to the port, but it certainly calls out for another visit.
During my stay in Swaziland I had access to a selection of African Journals and had read many scholarly articles on African countries including Mozambique. This had given me considerable insight into the political, social and economic facts about this country. A further look at Wikipedia updated my knowledge, so let me now share with you my first impressions of this large African Country taken from those three sources; my visit, the journals and the encyclopedia.
At 801,537 km square, Mozambique is a huge country (similar in size to Turkey) sharing boundaries with several other African countries viz; South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe,Zambia Malawi and Tanzania. Situated on the Southeast Coast of Africa it has a coast line of 4,571 km and lies both in the tropics and sub tropics.
The people of Mozambique speak Portuguese, which is the only official language, and their native language which is either Swahili, Makuwa or Sena. Basic education during the Portuguese Colonial period was limited to fourth grade and even today many children do not complete primary school as they are needed to work on the subsistence farming that is labour intensive and provides 80% of the population with jobs. At the same time it is interesting to note that in 2012, 90% of Mozambique’s arable land was and still is, uncultivated.
In recent times under the reforms by the Government in 1996, the economy has been showing positive growth of around about 6-8% per annum with industry and tourism leading the way. The recent discovery of large gas deposits in the north is providing the country with the opportunity for previously unknown economic prosperity.
Like in all African Countries, corruption is a serious problem and the government has been trying to meet this problem through new legislation. As in most other countries this is a difficult problem to solve because often it is government at local and national level that is, in fact, leading the way. Greed of officials leads to bribery and mismanagement of funds, leaving the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Two serious problems have left their mark on the country. The extended and extensive civil war that followed independence in 1976 has been a serious setback to life in this country. The serious flooding that has racked the country in recent times has also hindered economic growth. All in all the 24 million people face many problems as most continue to live in poverty, eking out a precarious existence to survive from year to year. Yet as we met the locals in Tofu they remained optimistic, friendly and resourceful.
Two examples will illustrate this fact. The “Guardia” who takes care of the house in which we stayed in, in Tofu is a young man named Timotie. He has a house in the nearby Coconut City where his wife and 5 children stay. He looks after the holiday house in Tofu with great pride and dedication. He makes a fire for the evening “braai”, washes dishes and sweeps the yard on a regular basis. He seems to have a reasonably high status in the local community and takes his job of guarding the property and any vehicles parked there very seriously.
In an area where jobs are very scarce he earns enough to feed his family and supplement their subsistence farming efforts. When visitors arrive, as we did for our week’s stay, he becomes part of the family, sharing his local knowledge and being helpful in general. His big smile and friendly attitude makes one feel at home and we know that out water pump that supplies water from a bore hole will not be stolen overnight because Timotie is there.
Franco is a fisherman who also lives in Coconut City and also has a wife and children who depend on him for support; again to supplement their farming efforts. They grow Cassava (a root plant) and keep a few chickens and pigs. Every morning at 6.00, he and his friend Jacque, arrive at the beach to get their flat bottomed boat ready for the morning’s fishing. They have bait that they have acquired from the estuary or rocks at low tide, or kept over from the previous days fishing. Two fishing rods with large reels are balanced on the front of the boat. They store water bottles and baited hooks in the hatch under their seats. When everything is ready they push their boat into the surf and row off to the nearby reefs. At about 12h00 they return with their catch which will be sold at the nearby market either to locals, holiday makers or chefs from the local resorts.
As a visitor you are offered Coconut buns, loaves of bread, prawns, fish and a large selection of curios and clothing by vendors at the local market or who walk from house to house or along the beach to sell their products. So, in an African country life goes on, sometimes precariously balanced it must be said; but judging by the friendly smiles it does not seem too bad. One thing we noticed while in Mozambique is that we saw no obese people like we do in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.
Where then is Mozambique in our world today? It all depends how you look at it. From a western perspective it is a place to spend a holiday and experience a different culture. To swim in the turquoise ocean and walk on the miles of white beaches. Dive to the reefs off shore and catch a few game fish, if that is your thing.From an African perspective it is just another country finding its own way back from colonization and the civil war that still lingers just under the surface.While the politicians struggle to get into power the ordinary people struggle to eek out an existence. No better off or worse off than the millions in Africa in many other African countries who live way below the so called "bread line".
Read "Mozambique Mysteries" by Lisa St Aubin de Teran for a wonderful insight of life in the Northern Province of Nampula that is guaranteed to inspire you.