In Makanjira, Mangochi District, we saw how Malawian communities on the Mozambican side are facing hunger and poverty. In fact, most people in the area have no land to farm. No hill. No forest. No river. No hope.
Everything is not theirs. They are just human beings dumped by the fate of nature in ‘no man’s land’.
To them, the only thing that is working is sunrise and sunset. Otherwise, the future looks bleak.
Since the border reaffirmation exercise in 2008/09, the people’s income-generating activities have ground to a halt. No one wants to take a risk to invest in ‘a foreign’ land.
As if shunning business investment is not enough, the people are facing hunger this year because most of them had their maize crop slashed by their neighbours from Che Chala in Mozambique.
Once a hub of business activity, today the villages are living on shattered dreams. Every aspect of life testifies to how dire their situations are—fear, despondency and loss of property encapsulate a life devoid of meaning.
On December 4 2017, Yusuf Hashimi of Malamia Village witnessed with horror people from Che Chala slashing maize in his three gardens of six hectares. In that frenzy, they also uprooted cassava and other legumes.
“It was like watching a horror movie. I stood helplessly with my sympathisers, following the ‘proceedings’ on the farms. After clearing the crops, they left, triumphantly,” he recalls.
From Hashimi’s garden, they rushed to those belonging to Kambunda, Msusa, Jawadu and others where the slashing spree continued. Nothing like this has ever happened before, says Hashimi.
Another man from Lukono Village called Kambunga Bonomali equally watched helplessly the neigbours uprooting cassava from his entire two-hectare garden. His children wept as they watched their effort wasted within few minutes of madness.
“On that day my wife and children cried rivers of tears. They were inconsolable. This was all what was left for us,” recounts Bonomali.
The victims went to Makanjira Police Station to complain about what had happened. No assistance came. The police could not commit to go to ‘no man’s land’.
“The police just said authorities would help us, which authorities we don’t know. Up to now, no assistance has come,” complains Bonomali.
Then Hashimi went to the district commissioner’s (DC) offices at Mangochi Boma on December 6 last year to lodge a complaint. The district council too, could not intervene unless the areas fell in its sphere of influence.
“It is only the surveyors who can comment on the border issue in Makanjira. In the meantime, we are waiting for the issues to be resolved,” says Mangochi DC Moses Chimphepo.
Not willing to surrender, Hashimi planted maize again in ‘those gardens’. But no sooner had the maize grown to knee level than his neighbours paid him another ‘courtesy call’. Callously, they slashed the maize to the ground.
“And this time I just gave up. It’s now established that I will not have maize this year,” he says.
But according to Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development spokesperson Charles Vintulla, Malawians on this area are supposed to farm on that land without hindrance.
“On [maize] gardens being on the other side of the reaffirmed boundary pillars, both countries respect the international rule that says people should continue with their daily social activities as before, regardless of the boundary line cutting through their fields,” he says.
This is the position the two countries agreed to take and respect before the start of the exercises, according to Vintulla.
“Malawi and Mozambique as well as Malawi and Zambia agreed that people should continue staying the way they have been living until such a time when these exercises are completed and these governments will discuss and agree on the way forward on these issues,” he explains.
Meanwhile, according to Ahmad Ali, young men are not doing any business as they are afraid to invest their money ‘today’ and lose it ‘tomorrow.’
“The unresolved wrangles are affecting our economic livelihoods. We are failing to invest in big businesses that involve developing land because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” he says.
Village head Balakasi says young people who have business potential are just loitering in the village, watching the sun rise and set.
“Our young people are supposed to be doing business, farming and engaging in other money-generating activities. However, they have no hope for tomorrow,” he says.
In the six villages we toured, men in their prime, are reduced to ‘loafers’ whose only treasure is life itself. Even those wishing to build houses have decided to wait.
“Some of us bought iron sheets but they are now rusting before we have used them. How can we build houses when our future is hanging in the balance?” wonders Ali. n