|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
lose homes to wildlife park as aid funds miss their target
By Toby Harnden in Makandezulu
Down by the river, Solomon Maluleke points to the majestic sandal tree where his ancestors are buried. At its base there is an ancient clay pot, weathered elephant tusks and spearheads laid decades ago as offerings to the spirits.
"This is where the village worships," he says. "This place is what we are. The soil is part of us and it is all we know. But now we are told we must leave."
A village elder, he does not know his age - just that his people have lived in Makandezulu, a remote Mozambique settlement on the banks of the Shingwedzi, for generations. Remote, but the heart of a multi-million dollar wildlife reserve funded by the World Bank and German government in a showcase project for a country held up at the G8 conference last week as a model for African development through aid.
Yet the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which covers nearly 40,000 square miles and stretches into neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe, is an object lesson for overseas donors of how aid is not necessarily the universal panacea, however well-meant.
The park is attracting increasing criticism from aid workers because of the way 26,000 Mozambicans living there have been treated: the failure to consult them or allow them to share the huge profits that will be generated.
"There are a lot of white South Africans involved in running the park," says Michael Schneider, a German biologist who helped draw up the park plan but is now disgusted by what is happening.
"During the apartheid era, you'd just go down there, burn people's houses, kick their arses and put them in the truck. They've almost something similar in mind here."
The dispute goes to the heart of the international debate about aid and how it is monitored. "The point is that the donors are not holding Mozambique's government to account," says Mr Schneider.
Even though the park was set up in 2001 there is no evidence that poor Mozambicans are being taught the skills needed to reap the benefits of tourism. As a result, the aid agencies fear that tourists will spend their holidays having no contact with locals, and that what is the centrepiece of a national "poverty reduction plan" risks making the poor even poorer.
If the locals are unlikely to encounter tourists, they are already encountering predators - lured by the zebras, giraffes and impala introduced to the park for the benefit of the tourists.
South Africa's Kruger park has been opened so that lions can migrate into Mozambique. Unfamiliar with the terrain and the people, they have disturbed the delicate equilibrium of life. It means that one day soon, Solomon Maluleke and some 6,000 others from seven villages will have to abandon their mud huts and traditional way of life, in which an old sewing machine, transported around by bicycle, is the height of modernity.
An additional 20,000 people living along the Limpopo river will lose their land rights and, they believe, be unable to hunt or farm.
"The main plan seems to be to drive the people out by making it impossible for them to stay," says Diamantino Nhampossa, of Mozambique's National Farmers' Union.
"The elephants trample our maize, cow peas and pumpkins," explains Sebastiano Maluleke, 44, Solomon's grandson and the village chief. "Before, we could kill elephants or lions so they knew to stay away.
"Now, we will be fined, beaten by park rangers or thrown into jail if we do this and the animals will return. We don't know where we will go. They say we will be able to come back to worship and hold ceremonies but those brought in to manage the park won't care about such minor things."
Under national park rules, inhabitants cannot cut down or burn trees to make charcoal, cultivate the land or hunt.
When The Sunday Telegraph visited Xicumbame, just outside the park, almost the whole village gathered in a clearing beneath a panga panga tree to air their concern that they will be joined on their parched, meagre land by the inhabitants of Makandezulu.
"Since the flood of 2000, our fields are sandy and there is barely enough for us," says Mario Mbenzane. Last month, they said, a lion from the park spent two weeks terrorising the village, killing a dozen cattle. With a piece of rope and two sticks, the villagers acted out how they used a carcass to lure the animal into a wire noose. As it struggled to break free, the noose gradually tightened until its throat was slit and it bled to death.
Back in Makandezulu outside the Maluleke family huts, Mozambique's flag, faded by the African sun, hangs from a pole. Reflecting the country's martial history, it depicts an AK47, complete with fixed bayonet, crossed with a hoe.
Many weapons left over from the civil war, which ended in 1992, are still secreted in the villages and used for hunting, which is banned by park rules. There are dark murmurings that they could be used in anger.
"Villagers told me that they would carry out sabotage if necessary," says one Western aid worker who asked not to be identified. "They fought for the ruling party in the civil war but they are ready to turn against them.
"We have already seen them killing elephants and buffalo, which they very rarely did before. It is a kind of protest. Stones have been laid across the road to stop the rangers to make them answer questions about what is happening."
The farmers' union, known by its Portuguese acronym UNAC, recommends that the boundary of the park is moved several miles beyond the Limpopo so that the 20,000 locals can carry on their activities outside it. Park officials say that this is not possible because the animals need the river when the land is dry.
In the meantime, UNAC, with the support of the British charity, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), is advising villagers of their rights and helping organise them so that they can lobby their government and have their voices heard.
About half of Mozambique's population lives in poverty. One in three has no access to sanitation. Aids and malaria are rife. Although the annual growth rate is eight per cent, one of the highest in Africa, the average income is still less than 60p a day.
"A lot of work could be done on pro-poor tourism," said Sam Bickerseth, the deputy head of the UK's Department for International Development office in the capital, Maputo. "If aid is badly directed it only benefits the elite."
Gilberto Vicente, the director of the Limpopo park, insists that no one will be forced to leave, although "the conflict's going to increase because the number of game is going up".
Moving would also offer better access to schools, roads and clinics, he adds. "We say resettlement is an opportunity for development … I call it a model of life we'd like to give people."
Yet Alisawa Manganyi, Solomon Maluleke's neighbour, says he doubts he will survive elsewhere. "Life is very hard here but we know every piece of the land and how to make it work for us. How can we do that anywhere else?"