I was riding my motorbike, crossing Changara district and heading to Songo town, where I wanted to photograph a local witchdoctor. I stopped for a short break in Mufa village and just got off the bike to buy water when I saw a crowd on the other side of the road. I went there to check what was going on. It was a round wooden summerhouse, surrounded by dozens of people. I squeezed trough and saw two squatted down men without t-shirts. Their arms were tided back. I took my camera and did a couple of shots.
– Don’t shoot, don’t shoot – screamed one man, who was also inside the summerhouse. – If you want to photograph – you have to pay us money!
I explained that I’m a photojournalist, and just curious what is going on. He pointed on two tided men and said:
– We caught them an hour ago. They are robbers. They stole two bulls from another village. We were chasing them and found when they already sold the bulls and received money. Fortunately they managed to spend only 200 meticals (about 5 dollars). We are waiting for the cattle owner to come and tell us if we should kill them or not.
I was very shocked with his last words and asked why they didn’t call the police.
– Police will put them to prison, after some time they will be released and will steal again.
He gave a command to the robbers to stand up and go out to the road. – Follow us, – he said to me.
“The boss” took the men to an open place and asked to take their pictures. I released the shutter a couple of times and saw trough the viewfinder that the man started to pose for me, lean his fist against face of one of the robbers. People behind started kicking the tied men and I understood that they doing it because of my camera. I stopped to photograph and ask “the boss” to call the police.
– Police knows about this issue, – he said, – but they are not going to do anything. The owner of the cattle is a very respectable person in our area and the destiny of these bastards depends on him.
“The boss” punched one robber and turned back to me saying:
– Now you should leave. We don’t like when “azungu” (white people) poke their nose into our business.
They went back to the summerhouse and I tried to stay and see what would happen after. “The boss” shouted at me and kids started throwing stones to my side.
I returned to my bike, where I found the owner of a local shop.
– Are they really going to kill those men? – I asked.
– Could be… Especially if they prove that the robbers were involved in other cattle stealing. If not – probably the crowd will just beat them and than send them to prison. And the good thing for the robbers that they didn’t spend all the money. They would have been killed already.
I left the Mufa village and spend some hours in Songo. On a way back I stopped there again. The summerhouse was empty, many shops on the road were closed. On the stairs of one shop a drunk man sat with a half empty plastic bottle of gin. I inquired him if he knew what had happened to the robbers.
– They are gone, – said the man.
– To where? – I asked.
-To nowhere! – he took a sip of gin and laid down on the ground.
I never found out how this story ended for the robbers. I hope they are still alive.
When it opened its doors in the 1950’s, the Grande Hotel was billed as the “Pride of Africa”. Set in the lush Mozambican port of Beira, it was the largest, most modern hotel on the continent filled with parquet, marble, and glass, surrounded by sweeping views of the Indian ocean. But in the late 70’s, civil war broke out in Mozambique, and the hotel became a refugee camp for decade and a half. When the war ended, many people stayed on, unable to return home, and thousands of other landless, unemployed Mozambicans arrived. The Grande Hotel is now the biggest squat in the world, with about six thousand squatters living inside its crumbling walls.
(Text by Annie Murphy)