Bringing the film to the resettled villages

In September 2016, with the support of the NGO Justiça Ambiental, I presented this film in Mozambique.  We held 3 screenings in the resettled villages in the district of Massinger, one for Limpopo National Park staff, and one for civil society in Maputo.


Residents were amused watching themselves on the big screen for the first time. Many residents had been actively involved in making the film.

Residents were amused watching themselves on the big screen for the first time. Many residents had been actively involved in making the film.

Screening of an early version of ORPHANS OF THE LAND in the resettled village of Macavene.

Screening of an early version of ORPHANS OF THE LAND in the resettled village of Macavene.

In silence, all eyes were on the screen, laughter bubbled over with the scenes of familiar children playing, and exclamations of surprise were heard when they saw their own leader and elders talk, oversized, on the wall. “Thank you for this film,” said the first man, one who features in the film, after the screening, “but, we are much worse now than we were before. Corruption eats the money that is supposed to be spent to fix our water pump—it will never be fixed because it is not in their interest because then the money would stop flowing. Others are even selling us water now—they bring it on trucks from Massingir.” A woman from the host village said, “It is true that they are like orphans with no father and no mother. We try to provide for them but they are not our children.” 

After a screening in the first resettled village, a man said, “Thank you for this gift, thank you for bringing this because now our children who don ́t remember what our home was like can learn about where we came from. You have scratched open a wound that was just closing up. This tells our story, and we are still struggling—there have been so many promises made and not fulfilled.” A woman from the village that had been resettled only recently said, “We could tell you about all the things that we are still waiting to receive. We still don’t have fields, we still don’t have water. There is electricity but they want us to pay for it to be connected to each house—how are we supposed to do this?”  With these comments fresh in our memories, we went to present the film to the Limpopo National Park staff. 


We arrived slightly early to the Limpopo National Park offices, but our meeting had been forgotten and nothing was organized. Quickly the park administrator sent his secretary to gather all the audience he could find—the bookkeeper, the assistant tourism manager, park rangers, but only one administrative staff from the resettlement sub-section was able to be present. Regardless, tension could be palpated in the room as the particularly conflictive parts of the film revealed confronting words of discontent expressed to the camera.

Screening ORPHANS OF THE LAND at the Limpopo National Park headquarters in Massingir. 

Screening ORPHANS OF THE LAND at the Limpopo National Park headquarters in Massingir. 

“Resettlement is a process,” they said afterward. “Most of these issues have been ultrapassado, surpassed; this film was shot a long time ago and it is no longer relevant here, now.” This statement was a stark contrast to what we saw in the resettled villages where tales of frustration were told. We expressed that in our experience, the villagers had told us that they were not better, but worse than when the film had been shot. A LNP staff member responded that people are suffering because of the drought and that if they were still inside the park they would also be hungry. When I explained that in my research I investigated how the residents deal with the chronic cyclical drought of Massingir and that in the new location they do not have the resources that allow them to employ these practices, they replied that in the new location they will have irrigated plots and will no longer have to rely on rain for their food. For more on the issue of irrigated agriculture as a replacement for extensive, rainfed agriculture, click here.

“Yes, there are problems still, but we are working on them,” said the park administrator. There is an explanation for each delay in the process, a reason to justify the repeated failures. But, staying in the resettled village for the week, the day to day problem of water became very obvious. The river is 8 kilometres away from their houses, and the return home is uphill. It takes an hour to walk there and an hour to walk back and the source of water is from under the dry riverbed—it is necessary to dig a hole in the sand to access the water. Each woman can only carry one 25 litre jug of water at a time on her head, but 25 litres is literally a drop in the bucket for a large family for washing, cooking and drinking. While the problems with the pump get fixed and the weeks and months go by, not a day passes that hours and hours are spent fetching water. This is where the rhythms of immediate needs as basic as water clash with the rhythms of problem resolution in a politically complex climate where those responsible for fixing the pump live in houses where water flows from the tap freely, hot and cold. 

One of the most concerning aspects of the experience was the general feeling in the LNP headquarters that the resettlement is being done well, and the belief that they are actually doing people a favor to resettle them. It is true that some people benefit from the resettlement. Amelia, the voice in the film that expresses content and appreciation for the resettlement, talks about the job that she had when she first arrived to the resettlement location. Now, however, she no longer has any work because the NGO has no funds and no other work is available.

The conversation with the park staff continued, “We think that it is not appropriate that you stop your work at this-- you need to continue and make a second part of the film that shows what we have done since then.” But when I asked the park administrator to explain which of these issues raised in the film have been resolved, he described the situation clearly: “Inside the park there are many more animals then ever and the villages that remain are constantly suffering from elephants in their fields. Life is more difficult for them than ever—they are far from the hospitals, far from any opportunity for development.” The situation inside the park may be worse than it was before, but this does not make the resettlement better.

The argument that resettlement brings development continues to be at the core of the discourse. Is development a nice house at the cost of losing autonomy and food sovereignty? It was very telling that in each of the villages where we showed the film, it was not possible to start until we received either the presence or the approval of the leader of the host village. Something as simple as the screening of a film, a piece of work co-created with the residents of the village, could not take place in their village without the knowledge and approval of another leader.

Or is it actually the case that development is the pretty carpet that covers the truth? Is the truth of the story that no one really cares about the wellbeing of these villages? Either way, the villages still inside the park vote on the issue with their actions. They are still resisting the resettlement, preferring to stay where they are rather than be resettled, despite worsened conditions and heightened human-animal inside the park. 



Civil society in Maputo responded to the film in a completely different way. The discussions were inevitably more abstract and theoretical, but rich just the same. The film clearly addresses a timely, important topic for the country. Mozambique is facing a wave of resettlements due to a range of different development projects. The audience represented NGOs supporting the rights of resettled people, resettlement practitioners, consultants and students. Debates centered around the key issues to be taken into consideration in resettlement, the complex politics of resettlement, details of the situation in the LNP, and questioning models of development. One key sentiment that emerged is that for Mozambique to confront resettlement in a way that speaks for the rights of people, it is crucial for civil society to work together as a united front. It is difficult to grapple with the intense complexity of resettlement, but the sooner citizens understand these complex processes and the nuances of the counter arguments presented by government and agents of ‘development’, the better equipped we will be to support people in their struggles to hold on to their livelihoods and cultures. 

Jessica Milgroom