Orphans of the Land

by Jessica Milgroom, Cultivate! | 19 Nov 2018

A great documentary film about resettlement of communities in Mozambique who had to make way for the Limpopo National Park.

People facing resettlement are filled with hope for a better life. Although some  families find prosperity after resettlement, as orphans of the land, villages lose autonomy to make decisions about the natural resources on which their livelihoods and social cohesion depend.  Based on four years research, this film puts names and faces to the people who are being displaced from their land to make room for a national park:

Watch the film with English or Portuguese subtitles.

Residents took photos of their own resettlement experience and through these pictures, told their story and reflect on the paradox of ‘development’. View the photobook. Also available in Shangana.

Reflections on the complexities of resettlement and on researching resettlement can be read in the Blog.

Academic articles can be read here.


In 2001 the government of Mozambique declared a new park, the Limpopo National Park, as a stepping stone to the creation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA). This transfrontier conservation area also encompasses Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and the space in between. The LNP, in Mozambique, was home to about 27,000 people, approximately 20,000 of whom still reside along the eastern and southern borders of the LNP. The remaining 7,000 inhabitants were living in eight villages in the center of the park, an area that was deemed to offer the best possibilities for sustaining viable wildlife populations as well as tourism development. After the decision was made to create the national park, and government ordered wildlife to be brought in on trucks, conservation officials announced to the residents of this area that they would have to leave their land and their homes to make room for the elephants.

Almost a decade passed between the time that residents of the first villages were informed they were to be resettled and the physical move. Reluctant to leave their land, but resigned to the inevitability of it, residents were living in limbo without fixing up their houses or investing in their fields, unsure of when they would have to leave. During this time, park staff were working to develop the first resettlement action plans according to the World Bank Operational Policy on Involuntary Resettlement (OP 4.12), even though the resettlement was, in theory, voluntary. Overseen by the World Bank and funded by the German Development Bank (KfW Group) the resettlement process was fraught with obstacles, corruption, and clashes in political culture around the practice of participation and negotiation of resettlement conditions with the resettling people.

When the first villages were finally resettled, they were moved before the rainy season but their fields were not prepared and most families suffered from food scarcity and hardship in the first year, despite compensation money, that was spent, in many cases, on other things. More devastating than the temporary conditions was the difficulty that resettling people had, and still have, to access the resources that they needed for their livelihoods. Living like exiles in the land of others, residents struggle to recreate a system of autonomous control over their resources, ending in the rupture of authority structures and social disarticulation.

Resettled people have been left without sufficient land, autonomy to control access to the resources they need, and without other means of making a living. This points, once again, to the fact that far from safeguarding people from negative effects of development projects, the enactment of World Bank resettlement policy is a theatrical performance designed to justify dispossession. If resettlement must be carried out, resettling people should have power to decide if they agree to the proposed model of development, and to control the resettlement process and post-resettlement conditions.

There are still villages in the process of being resettled from the Limpopo National Park. From my research I have reached three recommendations for future resettlement practice. See the website for more details on these recommendations:

1) Each family needs to be provided with secure tenure to more land for cropping to ensure food sovereignty.  
2) Resettled villages must be allocated ample and adequate common land for grazing and other needs to ensure the autonomy of the villages and preserve social cohesion.
3) Resettling villages must have a high degree of control over the resettlement process and the post-resettlement conditions.

This film, Orphans of the Land transmits the lived experience of resettlement. Based on four years of research, it intends to puts names and faces to the people whose lives were altered by the creation of a conservation area. Instead of seeing resettlement as a set of numbers and costs, it tells the intimate stories of people who have adapted to their new location and of those who are still imagining what it might be like after they move. The aim of this film is increase awareness for students, citizens and activists about the issues hidden beneath the surface of co-called-development, and to inform resettlement policy and practice for the future so that the same mistakes are not committed again and again.

Jessica Milgroom, Cultivate!

Author: Jessica Milgroom, Cultivate!
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