Given the multiple crises that Mozambique is experiencing, the struggle to survive in Maputo was already difficult, and perseverance has become essential for those who are “not afraid to wake up early” and are trying to make a go of it.
Suffocating in the heat and the dirt of the Xiquelene market and facing a disinterested crowd, the cries of Paciência Matavel advertise something that “everyone has at home”: water.
“A glass costs MT5 and a bottle is MT10. But nobody buys anymore”, she complains to Lusa. It’s a business that “cannot do much, but until recently still managed to bring in a few coins”.
The cost of living has skyrocketed as a result of currency devaluation, rising inflation, natural disasters, unpaid hidden debts, cutbacks in foreign aid and a military conflict that has scared off investment.
Matavel’s strategy since they “disappeared”, has been to “run after the customers” with a small cooler box in hand, chasing the few remaining loyal “chapa” drivers, in a “run” that requires skill to escape the main enemy of the informal vendors, the municipal police.
“When they arrive, they do not ask. They take everything”, she says. Had it not been for the survival of her children, she says, would have given up this “humiliating routine” long ago. Still, with the “little money” her husband earns as a tailor on the outskirts of Xiquelene, “there are those who live in worse conditions” in this “year to forget”.
“We are having a hard time,” 64-year-old shoemaker João Casa says, constantly rewriting the survival manual of a disabled man with five children in Manhiça district.
With clientele in Maputo drying up, and with the help of his wife, the cobbler became a farmer, despite the challenge of hoeing his 30-square-meter plot in Manhiça from a wheelchair.
Despite his efforts, even nature rebelled and the drought afflicting the country destroyed half his crop, worsening the situation of his family and the other 1.4million people experiencing food insecurity in the country.
Although the government has said there will be no cuts in the social sectors, Luís Chilaule, a teacher at the Popular Forces of Mozambique Primary School says that the crisis is beginning to affect education and overtime pay.
“I myself have cut lunch”, he says, adding that he has been forced to open a small food stall in his house, which “pays almost nothing” but at least covers the school transport costs of his two children.
Chilaule notes that families’ difficulties are also beginning to become apparent in the classroom, with children sometimes asking the “poor teacher” for help. He is already seeing learning falling off in the classroom, he says.
In the market stalls of the Museu, downtown Maputo, 64-year-old tailor Belarmino Fernandes faces the same challenges as his colleagues.
He tells Lusa he has lowered prices by 50%, but the strategy is not working and his losses are piling up.
“My clients all say the same thing: ‘There is no money!’, so I was forced to adopt this strategy”, he says. But with inflation hitting 30% by the end of the year, he is thinking about closing the stall, because “it is not working”.
Belarmino has been at the Museu for eight years and has never seen “such bad times as these”. Times that look like bequeathing on of Maputo’s best-known markets “to the flies”.
“Business is not moving, but we must not be afraid to get up early. You have to fight”, the tailor says.
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