The ‘Promised Land’ in Mozambique

Sadira Joaquim works on her family’s farmland. Instead of the initially promised two hectares of productive farmland, families were given only one hectare of unproductive farmland—hardly enough to support a family, let alone sell produce on the far away markets. Sadira is only 20 years old and has no other possibilities to work, unlike in Moatize.
Sadira Joaquim works on her family’s farmland. Instead of the initially promised two hectares of productive farmland, families were given only one hectare of unproductive farmland—hardly enough to support a family, let alone sell produce on the far away markets. Sadira is only 20 years old and has no other possibilities to work, unlike in Moatize.

Promised Land is the title of the German photographer Gregor Zielke’s feature about the relocation of 700 families in Mozambique’s Tete province to make space for the Brazilian company Vale’s construction of the Southern Hemisphere’s second largest coalmine. The New York Times recently covered the plight of the people in Cateme following relocation. Gregor Zielke’s photos capture the company’s broken promises—unproductive farmland and poorly constructed settlements—but also the communities’ resilience. Gregor Zielke is part of a cooperative of photographers that have been working in Mozambique for some time and seek to advance dialogue and better understanding between Germany and Mozambique by producing media reports and developing educational projects.

Why did you call your photo feature “Promised Land”? 

“Promised Land” refers to the fact that people lose their land, the land they had inhabited for generations, to a company which promised better living conditions and farmland for self-sustainment through resettlement—and the people there are very tied to their land. But looking at the conditions now you recognize that it is a promise that has not been fulfilled. For example, people were promised two hectares of productive farmland but only received one hectare of unproductive farmland hours away from their houses, which isn’t even enough to feed their own families. Houses are built cheaply and show cracks after only one or two years. Of course, at first glance they seem better than mud huts, but they’re just not suited for the area and the families. The communities’ infrastructure is completely gone, at least so far away that they simply cannot afford going there on a regular basis. The land is unbelievably hot and dry, even for Tete Province where life has always been hard anyways. Obviously, “Promised Land” also plays with the biblical term and how much of an odyssey the whole resettlement process is that people go through.

This is a typical street in Cateme, wide and dusty. Walks to the wells are far, especially when carrying 20 liters of water. The whole area is more or less deserted, ground water has to be pumped by electrical pumps because it's so deep, so when the electricity goes down there is also no water.
This is a typical street in Cateme, wide and dusty. Walks to the wells are far, especially when carrying 20 liters of water. The whole area is more or less deserted, ground water has to be pumped by electrical pumps because it’s so deep, so when the electricity goes down there is also no water.

What sparked your interest in Mozambique, and in Cateme in particular?

I think that Mozambique is a good example of how the local population doesn’t benefit from the current resource boom in Africa, similar things are happening in many other countries too. Kind of like the return of the colonial era. I think it’s an important issue to talk about and raise international awareness, on the other hand it’s just as important to inform the displaced communities about their rights and raise resistance so that there at least can be better consultation with the local communities in the future. You can’t really blame the government for exploring the resources; but they should be used to generate sustainable development on a local and national level. That’s just not happening. Living conditions worsened.

How did you prepare for the trip?

I worked with the Mozambican NGO Justiça Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique (JA!) that made it possible to work in the resettlement. They have very good contacts and work in the region in the field of human rights and environmental issues. Without them, the work simply wouldn’t have been possible. There’s a lot of red tape, and getting permission from the local administration and local leaders to work in Cateme was uncertain until the last minute. In fact, we spent quite a bit of time of the two weeks we were there getting permission before we could even start working in the area. JA! also opened the doors to the families in Cateme; of course there is a lot of distrust and also fear. The families in Cateme needed to understand what we were about to do, what side we were on. They were suspicious of what we were going to report from Cateme, afraid we could make it look beneficial for the people, favorable for Vale and the government. Some even thought that we had been hired by Vale. But after initial concern they were very giving and open.

This man works in a brick manufacture near Moatize. Along with his colleagues, he was resettled to Cateme and went back to Moatize because otherwise he is simply unable to support his family. They stay in the mud pit five days a week and only return to their families on the weekends because their workplace now is 40 kilometers from their homes. They sleep in the mud pit or by the ovens. They have no choice. This illustrates quite clearly how little care is being taken in the whole resettlement process.
This man works in a brick manufacture near Moatize. Along with his colleagues, he was resettled to Cateme and went back to Moatize because otherwise he is simply unable to support his family. They stay in the mud pit five days a week and only return to their families on the weekends because their workplace now is 40 kilometers from their homes. They sleep in the mud pit or by the ovens. They have no choice. This illustrates quite clearly how little care is being taken in the whole resettlement process.

What did you plan on capturing with your photos?

My aim was to document people’s struggle in daily life and how they deal with these difficult circumstances—I was amazed at how people still make the best of their situation and try to cope with it. The problems these communities face are on so many different levels and not always very obvious—they’re basically sent to the desert without adequate housing, health care and—most importantly—no possibilities for self-sustainment. Most of them are farmers, they live off their land and sell their produce on the markets, now the markets are more than 40 kilometers away and people don’t have any surplus produce to sell due to the unproductive farmland they were given. They depend on their land. That really robs them of their existence.

What impressed you most about how the people dealt with their worsened living conditions? 

The most amazing moment for me was to see people dancing on a Sunday afternoon a few kilometers from Cateme in Mwaladzi, a community resettled by the British mining company Rio Tinto. There is no electricity and no water supply and people have to rely on a water truck that comes once a week. Two boys had put up some kind of karaoke machine blasting music, powered by a solar panel they got somewhere. Adults and children alike were dancing and enjoying themselves inviting me to join them.

Students hang around after school at Armando Guebuza School in Cateme. The school is a so-called "white elephant": theoretically it brings education and infrastructure to the resettlement, but in reality not many families can afford the high school and examination turning the school into a de facto boarding school for students from other communities. Only approximately 10 percent of students come from Cateme resettlement.
Students hang around after school at Armando Guebuza School in Cateme. The school is a so-called “white elephant”: theoretically it brings education and infrastructure to the resettlement, but in reality not many families can afford the high school and examination turning the school into a de facto boarding school for students from other communities. Only approximately 10 percent of students come from Cateme resettlement.

How do you aspire to influence political debates with your work? 

My aim is simply to put faces to the displaced communities, to show that the big companies are not moving around figures and a nameless “population.” They have names, they are mothers, fathers, grandparents and kids, all they want is to raise their families. That’s not asking much, is it?

You also conducted a project on the urbanization process of villages in eastern China. Do you see any parallels between the transformation processes in Mozambique and those you observed in eastern China? 

The process of resettlement in China is very different to Mozambique, the reasons and circumstances are very different. However, any kind of imposed resettlement usually means a drastic change in the living conditions. In China as well as in Mozambique people have to adapt to the changes and eventually find new ways of self-sustainment. You see many people in China’s rapidly growing cities still fishing in rivers and canals and using other natural resources they find by the roadside, mostly because they just do the things they’re used to and might have difficulties adapting to a new lifestyle. In Mozambique such things may even be a matter of survival.

The Joaquim family enjoys a little cooling down after sunset. Houses are not built to people's needs and are of poor quality. The tin clad roofs heat up the houses to temperatures of over 60°C inside and show cracks after only one or two years. Though the area is very dry, occasional rains leak in the houses, leaving inhabitants to seek shelter in the school.
The Joaquim family enjoys a little cooling down after sunset. Houses are not built to people’s needs and are of poor quality. The tin clad roofs heat up the houses to temperatures of over 60°C inside and show cracks after only one or two years. Though the area is very dry, occasional rains leak in the houses, leaving inhabitants to seek shelter in the school.

* All photo captions written by the photographer.

Comments

comments

Corinna Jentzsch

Corinna Jentzsch is a researcher of peace and conflict in Southern Africa and teaches international politics at Leiden University, The Netherlands.

53 Comments
  1. The 700 families must simply return to their land. They need to blockade that monstrosity of a mine and forcibly reclaim their land. No more tolerance of corrupt and greedy politicians and capitalist pigs in Africa!

  2. I love Africa, and I am dying to go to Mozambique. I have a dear friend who lived there for awhile doing some work for a non-profit, and she told me about the more sad side. I think you did a beautiful job capturing daily struggle among the people there. Moving work.

  3. I think it’s kind of ironic that Africa’s having a “resource boom.” I mean, hello, the resources were ALWAYS there! The problem is that the African companies are either non-existant or don’t have the money/power to control them so as a result foreign companies that have no soul or ties to the land come in and start bulldozing away. I hope the people get their land–or at least justice–back.

  4. History repeats itself. Someone should get inside information from the Native American society because they have plenty experience with being dealt the short end of the stick. Promises, even signed treaties were reneged on.

  5. **You said@”My aim is simply to put faces to the displaced communities, to show that the big companies are not moving around figures and a nameless “population.” They have names, they are mothers, fathers, grandparents and kids, all they want is to raise their families. That’s not asking much, is it?”

    >No, that isn’t asking for too much at all..I’m glad I took the time to read you..Very glad you took the time to show & tell this..I’ll be back often for sure. Kudos! Stay UPlifted & blessed & thank you.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. It’s very moving. I was privileged to meet some of the Ogoni people from Nigeria who were fighting for their homeland against Shell oil. Sadly, the Nigerian government, with no objections from Shell, executed the leaders and destroyed their land. It is hard to see how this will change – there is no moral compass for these companies; they care only for profits. Education is so important! That’s why I appreciate your post and the fact that it was FP – congrats!

  7. Reblogged this on thewordpressghost and commented:
    Finally, something worth reading off of Freshly Pressed!

    I know some of my readers will find that arrogant. But, if you read FP as often as I do, you know you need to do search fro profanity before you read.

    Nothing personal, but I am a little old fashioned. Porn is not a ‘right’ it is a profit center. And it profits off of people just like this corporation Corrina interviewed Gregor about.

    Why do so many greedy industrialists get away with their greed? I do not know.

    But, Corrina and Gregor show us the dirty underside of coal mining in Africa. How people are just moved out of the way without any rights to their own land.

    Just to make way for another resource grab from the people.

    I had thought that the ‘American Century’ had brought us too much of that. But, I am stunned to read about how badly things go for the average African during this new century.

    I honestly thank God I was born in the USA when we still had true opportunity.

    How about you? What does Globalization make you feel like?

    Ghost.

  8. Very informative post, and great pictures! It’s crazy what unscrupulous companies will do for a profit. It’s like they actually enjoy messing with people’s lives, I mean how much could it costs to provide these people with basic living conditions equal to what they were experiencing before. Surely the costs would infinitesimal compared to the profits they will acquire thanks to the mine!

    Needless cruelty. Thanks for posting!

    Rohan.

  9. Thanks Corinna – Remarkable and well told. I see the expanding ‘mining boom’ as a rebound from the global financial crisis (as another commented – it’s not a boom – the resource has always been there). National governments are ready to pay or offset their deficits by paving the way for another wave of imperialism through mining companies. Of course companies find relatively remote areas, preferably with a small number of people who will not be strongly represented politically – and they make a case that these people can sacrifice their history, their land, their way of living for everyone else (in this case bloated CEOs & shareholders who have somehow accrued more ‘rights’ than anyone else on the planet.) The fact these companies outstrip the total GDP of many nations is frightening. The fact that it is also happening everywhere in rural and remote parts of the world warrants international law intervention.

  10. Amazing post. We are currently working on a project in the UK with sustainable building and living and are working with organisations and a local school. Which can be replicated around the world for unfortunate people such as those in Mozambique and how it can bring about change in poverty. Would appreciate very much if anybody could spare some time to see our blog and spread the word.
    http://precision6.wordpress.com/

  11. Reblogged this on Precision ATs and commented:
    Some of the problems people face around the world. With our current project we hope that our sustainable approach to building can be replicated around the world for those less fortunate than most.

  12. Thank you for your in-depth considerations on what “progress” from outside, self-serving companies do to small, underprivileged communities in developing nations. Well written and well documented! -If you stop by, I have some photos from developing nations as well. -Best, Renee

  13. Reblogged this on Sam373's Blog and commented:
    This does sound familiar.
    Look, can you see the once strong and united building a tower to heaven so one man could confront our creator? Following the wrong person leaves us too often alone struggling as isolated vestiges of “One”.

  14. I used to live and work in Mozambique a few years ago. The photography is beautiful, albeit the sad message of the post. I love this country, and truly hope that positive change will come for everybody; not just a selected few.

  15. Thank you for such an informative post. We need more photography like this and less of the voyeuristic variety that is so often seen. What can a person with zero experience in development work and not much money do to help out?

  16. The title of your blog first caught my eye – of course, Africa is a country. Heard that so much growing up (and Mandela is the President). Lived many years in Mozambique and despite the hardships there is joy. They are resilient people! Another photographer who lives in Mozambique with her family on a farm blogs and shares her excellent photos (particularly of people) at http://africafarandwide.wordpress.com .

  17. Fascinating, I am glad you are taking upon yourself the responsibility to help ensure companies are held accountable for their actions overseas. The world needs more like you.

  18. Thank you for this post , I don’t think many people realized how important International awareness is needed as well as important local issues that need to be solve in order to help those in need

  19. Acredito que melhor caminho para casas boas,baratas e fácil construção e ainda ecologicamente corretas é o tijolo ecológico de solo-cimento já usado na africa em alguns projetos. muitos governos estão abrindo os olhos para esta tecnologia com a vantagem das casas ficarem com paredes termo-acústicas. vejam em: http://www.vimaqprensas.com.br/

    I believe that the best path to good homes, cheap and easy to build and even eco-friendly is the ecological brick soil-cement already used in some projects in Africa. many governments are opening their eyes to this technology with the advantage of staying home with thermo-acoustic walls. look at: http://www.vimaqprensas.com.br/

  20. Very informative post and very well worth reading through right to the end. Being able to see the images helps me a lot to visualise the issues. I find the issue of globalisation as a new form of colonisation appalling. At the same time I want to hear the Mozambiquan voices and not just join a group of internationally concerned but impotent European heads.

  21. A sorry state indeed. Is this not another trace or form of colonilism. What a shame! Man’s inhumanity to fellow man. Thanks my brother for this wonderful work. Peace be with you.

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