Tete: a city on the frontier

Tete, Mozambique has the real feel of a frontier town, not unlike that of a typical resource development and extraction community in Canada. Of course, it is more than that, but the frontier has been part of its history since first being established by the Portuguese in 1531. It provided access to the Munhumutapa Kingdom and its gold mines. By the time it became a chartered Portuguese town in 1761, it was at the center of the ivory and gold trade.

The town became the hub of activity around the early 20thcentury construction of the Cahorra Bassa hydro-electric project. This project was built with the cooperation of the Portuguese and South African governments essentially to provide power to South Africa. Thirty percent of the power still goes to South Africa with the rest sold to various power companies in Mozambique who deliver the power to local customers. Only those in areas where there is a concentration of possible customers are able to access electricity, so a great many villages have power lines though them but not serving them.

Tete, Mozambique is experiencing a resource boom from coal mining.

Tete continues to dominate the centre-west part of the country and region, and is the largest city on the Zambezi. Tete is a word for “reed”. In recent years the city as seen a huge influx of people from all corners of the world as the city prepares itself to become the coal capital of the world. About 4 billion tonnes of coal resources have been identified and more is being discovered every day.

The surface is being stripped throughout the region for coal production. In Tete itself, whole neighbourhoods of poor people are being moved away to allow access to the coal. The airport is even being moved to get at the coal found there as well.

Luxury hotels and services are being built to service the mining industry from around the world as they take advantage of the massive wealth of this region.

Whether I travelled 10 kms from Tete or four hours away, I witnessed people who were not experiencing any portion of this frontier town prosperity Fortunately there are agencies like Canadian Lutheran World relief and its partners to bring hope to those who need hope the most.

I invite you to include in your Lenten journey time to compare and contrast the realities of the Tete region with the Canadian experience.

Tom Brook

Director, Community Relations

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