Maputo must have more tree lined avenues than most cities in Africa. It’s known as the City of Acacias.
At one time of year the flame trees burst into a mass of red flowers, at another moment the frangipani bloom and shed their fragrant blossom, while the acacias spread out their eternal branches and keep the pavements cool. Much business and social life takes place under the shade of Maputo’s trees.
I had a shock one night when walking home from a restaurant. Piles of leafy branches were piled up on the ground between the trees, and there were bald stumps on trees where glorious foliage had grown before. I looked further and saw that more and more trees had been ‘cut back’, some reduced to stumps and some removed altogether. Some people were busily collecting firewood..
With my environment conscious conditioning, l suddenly felt indignant about what looked like a tree massacre. What was this for? Was someone getting some cheap logs? The next day I saw even more of the same. The African Games are about to take place in Maputo, and the city should look attractive for the masses of visitors, now it will look ugly around Avenida 24 Julho, one of the main arteries.
I ask Maputans what’s going on, and learn that this is just a regular occurrence, every five years or so. Urban trees have to be managed, especially in a tropical climate. Trees have a lifespan that comes to an end eventually, when they have to be cut down. Traffic lights have to be installed on some street corners. More car parking is needed…. urban stuff….
Quite a few trees become informal pissoirs, especially those located close to beer bars, and eventually (it is explained to me) the quantity of men’s urine over many years kills the tree, or hastens its ‘drying out’ ….. hmmm, interesting logic.
OK, but the ‘tree surgery’ looks more like hatchet work as men with machetes dangle in trees and set to with gay abandon. The piles of foliage are left to dry on the pavement for a few weeks, where they become trash traps. Finally the branches are loaded on to trucks and driven away.
I just live in fear that some of the more spectacular trees will fall to the hatchet… one never knows who wields the power when it comes to this kind of decision.
But I was reassured – they do grow back.
And some Mozambican trees live for ever immortal, like the one below now in the British Museum, made out of random ordnance collected from the civil war.
This will be my last blog posting from Maputo. I have just moved to the small town of Chimoio in Manica Province, close to Zimbabwe. I’m working in a local non-governmental organisation that’s involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It’s quite a change from the throbbing life of the capital. More anon.