Once again, our visit to the Hapala community had repercussions on the members of the community with whom we spoke. Once again, we denounce the visible discontent of these people and the systematic abuse to which they have been subjected by some Portucel employees in the Ile District, and the question remains whether they do so at the behest of someone or independently. At the time we complained to the Head of the Socone Administrative Post, we explained that the communities continue to claim their land back, as they lost everything in exchange for promises that only served to convince them to give up their land, as these have not yet been fulfilled. These communities never knew that they could refuse to give up their land. We also publicly denounced it through our article “Portucel – The long wait for the much-promised better life”, and, as soon as we left the field, we received information that at least two of the members of the community with whom we were talking had unexpected and unwanted visits to their own homes, by three (3) identified Portucel employees. According to the community members that received the visits, these Portucel employees insistently asked what JA! intended, what they talked about and why they have met with them. One of these people is the leader of the Hapala Community, with whom we had no conversation. We did a brief courtesy visit to him, and according to our last article on this subject, we immediately realised that he was apprehensive to speak to us, due to the presence of another person, which happened to be the one who secretly took a photograph of us. Either way, the Hapala leader had to justify himself to the Portucel employees, to clarify that it was indeed a courtesy visit, as if a citizen had to answer these questions in his own home. This is clearly an intimidation, and we will not let it go, we will always denounce it!
These same three (3) employees were not satisfied with the little information they were able to extract from the leader and knowing that we did have a meeting with members of the community, they then went to the house of an elderly widow who participated in our closed meeting, to pose the same questions to her in her own house. They even snatched from her hands the brochure we had shared with her, returning it only when she protested and after having taken another photo. This peasant woman was present at our closed meeting and had shared with us her frustration for having been deceived, her despair for not having enough land to produce as she did before, and her sadness because, according to her, she has lost everything that was of most valuable to her: her land, her peaceful life. This woman told us how she feels, she told us that she just wants her land back. This woman also told us that she wants respect, she repeated countless times “we are also people, we want respect”. She also told us about the abuses which company employees have been subjecting the people to, the lack of respect with which they are treated, which also includes insults, such as “Namukwaneba”, crazy in the local language.
These acts of intimidation and even threats to members of the community who protest the most, have been recurrent. In the past, these acts have been reported to the offices of Portucel Mozambique in Maputo that has denied and ignored them. The acts have even been reported to the Office of the Ombudsman and they did get some attention, but impunity remains…
The acts of intimidation and threats have worsened. Earlier, they were visited by only 1 employee, now there are 3. Some members of the community received threats that if they continue to mention the names of the employees involved, they will be judicially sued for defamation. Others have already been called upon to respond to the District Police Command for holding open meetings with the JA! team.
We do not work in secret, our meetings are held in open spaces in the community, and local structures have our credentials, and everybody knows our work. In regard to local structures, we have already sent all the information shared here to the Head of the Socone Administrative Post and we request his urgent intervention. He thanked us for the information and assured us that he will soon go to the field with his team to meet with the members of that community to investigate the situation. He even considered the possibility of including JA! in the team that will monitor the process.
We take this moment to send a message to these intimidators in reference: if they want to know what we were doing in the community, they should come and ask us directly – not in the houses, but in our office! However, they still act like cowards, they wait for us to leave and then question the elderly widow, in her own house… who do they think they are? Are they going to intimidate a community leader because he is on the side of his community? Will they pay off everyone they can to act as spies in exchange for what? Maybe just for a phone … or for those social responsibility activities that only people who remain silent are those who will receive!!! Shameful!
JA! is not the only organisation to denounce these abuses, nor to denounce that these communities are not only not better off in life, but in fact have lost the little they had.
Intimidation will not be able to silence all voices! They will not shut us up! The more intimidation, the more threats and acts of intimidation, the louder we are going to scream, the further we are going to seek justice for all these people.
Stop the impunity!