Last week we marched to deliver a declaration to our Southern African heads of state who met in Maputo for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) conference. We demanded that the SADC be reclaimed for the people of the region, for people-centred development, but as I sat in my office to read the weekly local news, I feel overwhelmed by sadness but also utter puzzlement.
Do our leaders really give a thought as to the real needs of the people?
In the same week, we witnessed a shocking contradiction of news. Macauweb reported that the government had approved two more forestry concessions for a British company, Obtala Resources group, covering an area of 117,618 hectares, to be located in Cabo Delgado and Nampula provinces. From these concessions, the group expects to extract 8994 cubic meters of wood with a high retail value. The concessions even include very valuable species such as African Blackwood.
At the same time, Verdade newspaper reported that local carpenters in Maputo are struggling to survive with some workshops closing down and workers losing their jobs and livelihoods. Why? It is because they are facing more and more difficulties in purchasing wood without which their profession is impossible.
While Mozambique is exporting shiploads of wood, to the extent that we are one of the biggest suppliers of wood to the European and Asian markets, the carpenters of Mozambique can’t even etch out a decent, hard-working livelihood anymore. “The wood that is not ours anymore,” they lament.
This contradiction is what is known in Mozambique as “development”! Yet this contradiction is not new to us, however sad and shameful it seems, as we have been listening for many years to the woes of the local artisans increasingly facing a lack of wood. However, whenever communities raise their voices or when they lose hope and act to demand justice and their right to a decent life, they are treated as criminals, and their voices are shut down by threats, as happened in Cateme last January where people were protesting mistreatment in Vale’s coal-mining efforts.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as we are hurtling towards becoming the poster-child for the “resource curse”, while at the same time we are touting how great our development numbers are.
The Marikana platinum miners who were shot dead by South African police last week were just demanding better wages in an industry that mints billions of US dollars every year. Similarly, the Mozambican carpenters are just asking for the chance to continue their trade and livelihood. People are not asking for hand-outs. They are asking for a chance for survival. They are asking the government to take their side for once and enforce policies that support the struggling masses.