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The following is a complete transcript from the HOPES ON THE HORIZON Mozambique story:

NARR: Across the African continent, women farmers in Mozambique won new rights for of all the country’s citizens, while helping their nation survive a deadly war.

This singer from Wassolo wants to talk to you. When I say war is very bad, I am thinking of the wars in Mozambique.

NARR: In 1980, civil war raged between Mozambique’s ruling party, Frelimo, and a rebel movement, Renamo. That year, a group of women peasant farmers created the Union of General Cooperatives, or UGC. By joining together, they hoped to maximize limited resources.

ROSITA LHAMINE – Founding Member, UGC
We had no pumps, watering cans, hoses, or sprinklers. So we created the General Union to support our co-operatives and obtain these things. Those were the benefits.

In 1980 when the movement was founded, women were still marginalized in Mozambican society. The main objectives of the women were to obtain power and rights over the land, and feel equal to men.

NARR: Nearby in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, residents without land grew desperate as drought gripped large parts of the country and the civil war escalated.

LAURA MANHIQUE – Founding Member, UGC
1981 was a difficult period. People would leave their homes and stand in line for hours. There were times when they left those lines to go home without a single grain of rice.

NARR: The war had begun in 1977, shortly after Mozambique won independence from Portugal. White settlers fled, leaving the Frelimo government to deal with a shattered economy and a black population that under official policy had been kept unskilled and mostly illiterate.

Frelimo leader Samora Machel hoped to move the country forward by building a socialist state. The government took over all major aspects of the economy, including agriculture. Peasant farmers were encouraged to form collectives on former Portuguese land, which was now government-owned.

But the rebel movement, Renamo, had become a powerful opposition force. Created and funded by white minority regimes in nearby Rhodesia and South Africa and by right wing groups in the U.S. and Europe, Renamo was intent on destroying Mozambique’s economy. A key target was agriculture.

It was hard. We had to look around to see if Renamo fighters were coming. We continued cultivating, but by afternoon we couldn’t farm. We would cook and eat a little to have energy to run.

Even now my heart hurts from the anger and fear of dying. I see dead people because when we ran, those who were caught we had to bury later, their whole bodies, the way they were beaten until they died.

JOÃO FERREIRA – Frelimo Minister of Agriculture
It was a difficult situation all over the country, with hunger everywhere. There was no food in the cities. We had to solve the problem. We had no money to buy tractors and other machinery. We had to depend on the labor of the people.

NARR: Women of the UGC stepped in, increasing production and building distribution networks. They became heroes by feeding not only their own members but also the residents of nearby Maputo.

The movement grew quickly to 12,000 members, and expanded services to include day care and education.

The consensus of the members was to focus not only on where we had been working, but also to include new people who had suffered because of the war. That is how we expanded. Fortunately, we received help from foreign non-governmental organizations.

NARR: But efforts to expand further were hampered by the ongoing war, and the government insistence on price controls.

While we said a kilogram of kale cost “X,” they used to say we had to sell it for a price lower than the cost.

MARCELINO DOS SANTOS – Frelimo Central Committee
We always used to harmonize the prices with the salaries. So we couldn’t afford to accept everybody to [gestures upward].

I personally was accused of being the grand smuggler of Maputo because I was selling pork at a high price. My only defense was that it was true that the government had fixed the price of pork, but our piglets were not price controlled.

NARR: In 1986, tragedy forced the issue of price controls. The plane carrying Frelimo leader Samora Machel was sabotaged by agents of South Africa.

Machel’s successor, President Joaquim Chissano, faced a collapsing economy and the waning support of big cooperatives like the UGC. He turned to the International Monetary Fund for help, and as a condition of financial support agreed to make structural changes to the economy. The government would stop subsidizing education and other services. It would privatize state-owned industries. And it would no longer control the value of currency or the price of goods.

The moment had come when we could no longer remain the way we were. We had to introduce the market economy with all its consequences.


NARR: Members of the UGC celebrated the part they had played in ending price controls, not anticipating the cost of opening Mozambique to the global marketplace.

The problem with structural adjustment is that one part was helpful and the other was detrimental. There are many clothes and a lot of food in the stores. The problem is the prices. There is only one price. There is no price for the poor, for the one who earns the minimum wage. When one buys a television set or a freezer, one buys death in the household. Basically it’s suicide.

The main thing we lost, we had free education; that is finished now. Health, we lost; we don’t have it anymore. So, unemployment, we never put anybody out of his job without recycling him. But with privatization, if somebody buys the enterprise, and the enterprise has 200, he can say, “No, I need only 120, and the others, boom! It is not my problem.”

NARR: Under the market economy, the UGC soon faced financial crisis. The cost of supplies was rising, while the value of Mozambique’s currency was dropping. Their main commodity, pigs, took a year to raise, and were therefore a risky venture.

We felt like we were in a race when you cannot stop and look back, or others will pass you by. During this period, we all felt a great emptiness.

NARR: The women shifted production to chickens, which mature in six weeks. The UGC was soon the largest supplier of chickens to Maputo and the nation’s most successful cooperative.

Then, in 1992, peace talks ended the war between Frelimo and Renamo. For twelve years, the women of the UGC had been feeding a war-torn nation by farming land the government owned. They had enjoyed economic and political freedoms unusual for peasant women, and were able to offer their members education, health services, and employment.

Now, as millions of those exiled by the war returned, the UGC faced a new threat. Thousands were hoping to resettle on government-owned land and there was also pressure to privatize land and make it available for sale. UGC members pushed for legal titles that would allow them to continue farming.

In our organization we always struggled. There were people who tried to seize our land.

We already knew for sure that without titles we would lose our land.

NARR: To lobby the government on behalf of all peasants, members of the UGC joined forces with another land rights organization, ORAM.

LORENA MANGANE – Land Rights Organizer, ORAM
The most important thing that ORAM fought for in the new land rights was the right to land titles for women because women were the ones working the land.

We also wanted to make sure that if a person is living in the same place for more than 10 years and has oral testimonies, they should have the right to that land.

NARR: In an unprecedented development, both civil organizations worked closely with ministers to draft a new land law. But when the law was officially presented to Parliament most of their recommendations were omitted. Members of ORAM took to the streets in protest.

We saw that the demonstration had an impact. We were able to change the political thinking of the legislators in Parliament.


NARR: In July 1997, a national land law was finally passed, containing most of UGC and ORAM’s demands. Peasant farmers, women as well as men, would be granted titles to use and occupy government-owned land.

I feel very happy because I have my own title, something that did not exist in the colonial era. I did not have the rights to anything, but now, I feel secure because I have things that belong to me.

We widened democracy so that civil society can have a vote and a voice inside government.

NARR: Working together the women of UGC had changed not only their own lives but their nation. The cooperative continues to expand economic and social opportunities on behalf of its members and other peasant farmers.

Yet the challenges remain daunting. Massive flooding, in February 2000, destroyed much of Mozambique’s farmland. UGC lost livestock and materials worth over two million dollars, setting back development by at least three years.

We must survive. I believe that any other co-op member would say the same, that we must win this struggle.

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