Tales from the riverbank

“…at last he came to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees…”  (The Elephant’s Child, Rudyard Kipling)

Mozambique is a land of great rivers, twenty-five of them in fact. Zambezi, Licungo, Pungwe, Ruvuma, Limpopo…these life-giving arteries snake past peak, plain and plantation on their journey to the Indian Ocean. Nearby farms and villages are sustained by the river while distant cities prosper from hydro-electric power captured from its powerful torrent. People gather at the riverbank to bathe, wash clothes, fish for food, collect water or simply to splash around and cool off.

In the final months of 2015 I had the opportunity to spend time in some of the more rural parts of central Mozambique. In both villages I visited the river was central to local livelihoods. The first was a farming community eking out a living on the sloping hills of Sussundenga. BMS World Mission and the Baptist Convention are supporting a project here to enable farmers to benefit more from the fertile soil through the use of cattle and improved agricultural techniques (See “Farming God’s way in Mozambique”). As our small team roamed the slopes conversing with local smallholders it became apparent that the river was the only source of water for growing crops. It was also my introduction to the darker side of life on the riverbank as one farmer narrated tales of neighbours who had met a grisly end at the water’s edge. Apparently a mass of crocodiles also call the river home.

Two weeks later, on a visit to Gorongosa National Park, a park ranger took me on an excursion to Vinho community, Nhamantanda to show how the success of the National Park had seen ensuing growth in the neighbouring villages. To reach Vinho, we had to be ferried across the river Pungwe. Men sat conferring on the riverbank while boys frolicked in the shallower waters. On the far side of the shore a prominently positioned sign displayed a large picture of a crocodile above a warning written in the local dialect. When I asked about the sign my guide, Montinho, told of how many people had been dragged into the river by crocodiles. What he said next surprised me, “to them it is murder…when two people have had a fight one pays the witch doctor, and the witch doctor sends the crocodile to kill the other person”.

In Rudyard Kipling’s fable quoted above, the eponymous elephant’s child learns that the river is a place of danger as he comes face to face with the crocodile. The experience leaves him forever changed. As the crocodile attempts to drag him by the nose into the great Limpopo River his nose extends, creating the familiar trunk of the African elephant. Likewise, communities who live by the river find their lives altered by its threats and adapt as a result. Vinho community was helped to install a well and water pump, and as such people do not need to risk their lives collecting water from the river’s edge. Health and education programmes are also helping the community to develop.

Recent devastating floods on the Licungo River in Zambezia have once again demonstrated the dangers of life on the riverbank. The Baptist church here is mobilising resources to provide help to people displaced by the floods. As BMS and the Baptist Convention respond to needs in Sussundenga and Zambezia please pray that circumstances will change so that those who live along Mozambique’s vital waterways can adapt and enjoy its rewards risk-free and without fear.

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