22/11/2012 Mozambicans get on with their daily business in Maputo this week. Picture: Mogomotsi Magome

Maputo - Driving into Mozambique through the Lebombo and Ressano Garcia border post, you can’t help noticing the number of incomplete structures between the border and the capital, Maputo.

In fact, Maputo itself is riddled with such structures but apparently for completely different reasons.

Though Mozambique is widely known as an attractive destination which people from all over the world visit to enjoy tropical splendour, it is almost impossible to avoid the temptation of wondering about how the people are generally doing.

In fact, it would be a betrayal of Mozambicans and their history to ignore the societal challenges that many of them face, or at least not to wonder about them.

Typically characterised in many ways by the gap between the rich and the poor, like so many of its SADC counterparts, the country still has a long way to go in eradicating poverty and improving the living conditions of its people.

This is also true in many other SADC countries, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Zambia.

It is important to remember that we are talking here about a country that is still trying to recover from a long civil war and severe floods and drought that all but destroyed its property, its economy and a significant number of its people.

It is never easy for any country to recover from war as its effects linger for many years, despite any developments or progress that might be happening in some parts of the country.

This is the case also with the psychological impact that people might have suffered, regardless of which side of any catastrophe they found themselves on.

But back to the country’s incomplete structures.

When I asked a South African business executive on my trip there this week about the incomplete structures abundant on the outskirts before reaching Maputo, his was an optimistic response.

“This shows that there is a lot of development in the country and things are starting to pick up,” he said.

“You can see that most of the structures are actually business premises, so this can only mean more jobs.

“The interesting thing is that every time you come to Mozambique, things appear to be better than before. If your perception is that things are rundown, just know that a year or eight months earlier things were worse.

“There are many challenges but things are changing and development continues to come into Mozambique.”

Indeed, there appears to be a lot of development taking place, with many South African businesses, such as banks and mobile service providers, evidently thriving.

Other talk on the streets is that the county is benefiting from the financial crisis in Europe, as many younger professionals and business people are returning home, which sounds positive for the economy.

You can see this by the size of the mansions in the affluent part of Maputo near the harbour, which is characterised by some amazing architecture.

Businesses like Southern Sun Hotels and others in the travel and tourism sector appear to be doing well, while traffic jams in the inner city continue to increase due to the rise in purchases of vehicles, mostly by the younger generation.

This, according to the executive, shows that the middle class in Mozambique will grow and the wealth gap is likely to be reduced.

But another tale of the incomplete structures speaks of people struggling to complete the buildings they are constructing because of financial hardships.

A local tells me that many people enjoying prosperity are those close to government officials, and that they are building mansions with the proceeds of corruption.

Ironically, he says, most of this corruption goes unreported by the media, which is scared to offend the powers that be.

The irony is that Mozambique was the home of renowned journalist Carlos Cardoso, who was killed in 2000 for investigating corruption allegations against politicians and their cronies.

“Cardoso was killed for doing exactly what the people want, which is to expose corruption in the country, and that is what you expect the media to do. I guess they are scared they may suffer the same fate as him,” says a local woman.

“There are some occasional reports that you will get about corruption, but not on the scale of what Cardoso used to publish.

“But when there is such news, eventually you will see it unravelling. You will see the developments being spoken of actually going up and those people benefiting. The sentiment is that many politicians have lost touch with the people. There might be development, but there is also corruption that is stealing people’s money.”

The first local also laments the small size of the middle class in Mozambique, which he says is an indication of the wide wealth gap: you are either rich or poor.

Some of the corruption allegations that continue to linger touch highly connected individuals who are members of the ruling Frelimo party, including wealthy businessman and Frelimo member Mohammed Suleiman Bashir, who was in 2010 named by US President Barack Obama as heading a large drug syndicate in Mozambique.

Despite the suspicions and the depressing social realities of many people who are struggling to make ends meet, it appears Mozambicans are not giving up hope of a better future filled with prosperity.

It is hard not be inspired by a host of young people who, despite the tough conditions, wake up every day to make a living for themselves without stealing from others.

Whether it is by going to the beach to catch fish to sell to tourists or to feed the blossoming fish market in Maputo, they are still putting food on the table.

Some are embracing English as a language to be learned and maybe make them more employable, whether in Mozambique or elsewhere.

It is this kind of market that LM Radio owner Chris Turner believes his radio station is serving, and which will most likely grow in the coming years.

“Despite everything, there is a great deal of optimism, and being a music station, we identify with that kind of spirit. You can tell with the kind of bulletins that we run, which generally inform people about developments taking place in the country, and some feel-good music that we often play. We have been embraced by the many people since we came on air in 2009.

“Our listenership continues to grow and that means people are identifying with that kind of spirit,” said Turner.

An account of an outsider who made a brief visit to a country is unlikely to be a complete and concise reflection, if such a thing even exists beyond just theory.

But one thing that’s for certain is that Mozambique is still recovering from its painful past and that with time, the fate of those incomplete structures might tell the bigger story about this land of Cardoso and Samora Machel. - Pretoria News

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