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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Land-Ocean Interactions
 in the Coastal Zone


Strategies for the improvement of the quality of life in Ponta do Ouro, southern Mozambique

Report of the Unesco project on
Wise Practices in Sustainable Coastal Development

Patricia Cuamba and Mark Jury
Universities of Edwardo Mondlane and Zululand

July 2005



1. Introduction and Objectives

Ponta do Ouro is a small town in the district of Matutuine, close to the border of South Africa. The Portuguese gave the name Ponta do Ouro, meaning 'point of gold'. According to historical records, the Portuguese traded gold for slaves from the southern coastal region of Mozambique to entrepreneurs in South Africa. The slaves rendered a number of services, mainly to the mines in Kimberly and Johannesburg.

During the civil war, the town was largely deserted. Gradually tourism has recovered and with it, the town. People flock to the beaches for relaxation, to dive the coral reefs and experience the local culture (Bjerner & Johansson, 2001). The tourism activity brings economic benefits and may contribute to degradation of the marine environment (Motta, 2004, TVM). There is a need to preserve the coral reef ecosystem because its regeneration time is very long (Pereira et al, 2001).

Our main objective is to recommend ways to improve the chances for sustainable development in the coastal town of Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique. To this end visitations were conducted in April 2004 and May-June 2005. Interviews with community leaders, business managers and the local population were carried out. A literature review followed, to support data gathered in the field. A qualitative interpretation of the results was then done.

2. Physical and biological factors

Ponta do Ouro is located at 26º 51' S 32º 58' E, and sits on low sand dunes with a magnificent view of the beautiful Indian Ocean. The area of the town is 10 km2, located 117 km south of Maputo (Bjerner & Johansson, 2001). The town is characterised by a warm sub-tropical climate. The warm currents from the Agulhas determine the temperature, the composition of the seawater and, indirectly, the north-south orientation of the coastline (Dardis & Grindley, in Bjerner & Johansson, 2001).

The region is covered with two types of sandy soils, the inland region is covered by the first, being light brown in colour from hydromorphic deposits. Topographic gradients are 1% inland from the coastal dunes. These soils have high drainage rates and low surface organic matter (0-5%); the salinity is (0-2%) with low traces of sodium (0-3%) found.

The soils that comprise the coastal dunes are greyish-brown in colour and have much steeper topographic gradients - up to 35%. Similarly, there is low organic content (< 1%) and rapid drainage.

According to 1998 WFP, the classification corresponds to Fluvial Soils. According to the 1998 WFP (FAO), the vegetation is of sub-humid savannah type. The vegetation is comprised of dry coastal forests and prairie grasslands, with a sharp transition about 500 m inland. There is a limited (agricultural and zoological) carrying capacity caused by low soil nutrients.

The main consumption crops are maize, peanuts, beans, manioc, sweet potatoes, millet, rice and watermelon. These crops are grown with the help of traditional techniques, green fertilisers, manure and bush fires.

Because of the poor sandy soils and high evaporation losses, agriculture yields are low and most food is imported from Manguzi, South Africa. However, customs duties make this route expensive. Some people also import food from Maputo over 100 km on a terrible road. This originates from the Lubombo district about 40 km inland, which has considerably better soils. Fruit trees are the most important ones for the local family farms: banana, coconut, mango, etc (idem, 1997). Crops like sweet potatoes, manioc, beans, and others are grown at the homestead scale (Bjnerer, Martin & Johansson, 2001).

Most of the natural landscape is intact, i.e. there is little change or substitution of native vegetation, except around the wetlands, which are used during drought for cropping. There is pressure exerted by alien invaders, and deforestation caused by fuel-wood collection (Faria, M et Sitoi, Almeda, 1996). Some wild game animals are caught for food. The 2nd author observed a buck carcass being brought to the baraccas for slaughter in June 2005.

There are neither rivers nor estuaries in Ponta do Ouro. There are a few small lakes nearby a few kilometres inland. The most important Lake is Zilonto, the traditional water supply for the town, whose distribution system is largely derelict. Between May and September, the town feels a huge scarcity of water (ACNUR/PNUD, district profile, 1997). Most water is drawn from open wells and is of reasonable quality (Marwa 2004). Near the more urbanised well points such as the baraccas, the water is polluted by lechate from about 50 m3 of garbage. Two deaths (of children) were reported in May 2005, and attributed to drinking the contaminated well water. Clearly water supplies are vulnerable to weak environmental management.

In 1960 there were 5 500 species of animals recorded in southern Mozambique, of which 216 were mammals, elephants, lions, impalas, zebras, buffaloes, hippopotamus, crocodiles, antelopes, leopards, hyenas and wolves. Marine animals are becoming less abundant, especially fish, crayfish, crocodiles and lobsters (Faria, M et Sitoi, Almeida, 1996). Since 1980 the biodiversity was significantly reduced by civil war. Our project has completed preliminary studies on the botanical and zoological biodiversity, described in earlier Unesco reports (Rubuluza 2004).

The custom of cattle grazing was also reduced greatly by civil war and subsequently to financial insecurity and the limited carrying capacity of the land (Ponta do Ouro Town Secretary, 2004). However, the replacement of cattle is suggested to give back the animal breed habit to the population in order to promote and stimulate the practice of agriculture since cattle can help in the cultivation and post sowing stages.

3. Socio-Economic Features

The public administration of the district of Matutuine has five posts, namely: Catembe, Catuane, Machangulo, Zitundo and Bela Vista, the capital of the district, and has twelve villages.

The district directorates of Agriculture and Fisheries, Industry and Trade, Tourism, Education, Housing and Public Works, Health, Culture, Youth and the Ministry represent the governmental framework for the Co-ordination of Social Action. There are other district services such as the Mail, Civil Notary, Judicial Tribunal, Public Politic and Intelligence services, public companies, i.e. the railway company Caminhos de Ferro (ACNUR et PNUD, 1997). However most of these services are located far from Ponta do Ouro and necessitate lengthy trips for even the simplest of municipal authorisations.

The town has 1600 inhabitants of which 90% live in shacks (Ponta do Ouro Town Secretary, 2004). Most of the people residing in this area come from Maputo and other parts of southern Mozambique. The local population emigrated during the armed conflict and about 600 have returned. The community displays a multi-ethnic reality with Shangaan dominant over Zulu.

Close to 90% of the population work in part-time or periodic jobs. These comprise tourism services, including sea boating and tour guiding. Many work as helpers in the maintenance of places where the tourists stay (idem, 2004). Without a local bank, not much is saved or invested by workers. Yet, many workers are upgrading their homes from thatch to concrete. Unfortunately the informal sector of the town has no layout plan, and with the construction of roads and water pipelines in future, this could present significant problems.

Although tourism is the mainstay of the economy and generates an estimated $ 3 M turnover, unemployment forces many to seek employment in South Africa. They become an important source of income for the households. Apart from tourism income, a few people sell traditional alcoholic drinks (ACNUR/PNUD, 1997). The informal retail sector is growing, but market concessions are not formally granted, and thus little investment is generated. There is only one school, Escola Primaria Completa da Ponta do Ouro. Two secondary schools that existed were destroyed during the civil war that lasted 16 years (ACNUR/PNUD, 1997). The existing school has five classrooms and students come in three shifts, namely, 7 am, noon and 18 pm; a long day for teachers. There were 506 students in 2004, being 235 females. In 2005 the number increased to 600. Nine teachers (12 in 2005) cater for the lot. The dean of the school was concerned with the lack of classrooms. There is also a lack of books for upper grades. In February 2004 the school was connected to electricity. Water supply is through a borehole (dug in 2004) with a manual pump. Plastic containers are used for distribution.

There is a small clinic in town where there is a full time nurse and servant. The doctor posted to the district lives in Bela Vista, the administrative headquarters of the district, which is 40 km away. The doctor visits Ponta once a month unless transport problems occur (Ponta do Ouro Town secretary, 2004).

The health centre functions in a destroyed building, including its equipment like beds, secretaries, weighing scales for babies, etc. everything is obsolete. There is no laboratory for simple malaria analysis; therefore, only checking the symptoms of the patient for diagnosis.

In case of a serious illness, the patient is transferred to the neighbouring hospital of Manguze (South Africa) for it is much closer than the one in Bela Vista. Such action is made easy due to the good will and relations that exist between the two countries. Recently visas have been done away with. The health centre does not have a car for the patients. The patients are carried by cars belonging to local residents or other people.

The health centre receives an average of 30 patients per day, the majority being residents of the town. Few national or foreigner tourists use the centre.

There is an informal marketplace in the centre of town, which needs reform so that they may have an acceptable image and thus increase the flux of visitors. It is considered to be in need of rehabilitation by our UNESCO project. Local authorities have been contacted to obtain authorisation for work on the baraccas.

In April 2004 it was observed that most of the food items were very expensive. For instance, three tomatoes cost 50 cents (US) and an equal number of onions cost 30 cents; a cup of rice cost 25 cents; same for a loaf of bread. Apples from South Africa were 50 cents each. All this suggests hardship for people earning the equivalent of $100 per month. Either consumption foods should be locally produced or salaries should double.

Fishing is a declining activity due the often stormy sea, overfishing and scuba diving activites. Conventional boats with engines are needed and few traditional (paddled) vessels are launched to sea. The fishing activity is largely recreational and limited to tourists sports fishing (Ponta do Ouro Town secretary, 2004).

There are five main boreholes in town; one in the school, the other at the Baptist church, one near the wetland, one near the baraccas, and one in the health centre (dry in 2005). The population walks long distances to fetch water. This results in the use of inappropriate drinking water that is obtained from boreholes and wells dug in the village.

The EDM - Electicidade de Moçambique - an energy supply company, is one of the few services operating in the town. There was over 500 clients in 2005 (375 in 2004), both domestic and commercial consumers. In April 2004 there was an ongoing programme to stimulate the rational use of power (Rebeca, Eng/EDM, 2004).

The district of Matutuine has a high potential for the development of tourism activities, which in their implementation, will result in a growing level of prosperity for the local community, but with potential spin-off of unplanned (and improper) land use and pollution. Although tourists are usually environmentally aware, the services they require need to be underpinned by locally contracted agencies for garbage collection, water supply and recycling, road and landscape maintenance, etc (Motta, 2004, TVM).

There is a variety of ecosystems in Ponta do Ouro, a high level of bio-diversity ( ) and a scenic landscape. Its preservation is needed to retain the potential for tourism. The beaches have warm clear waters, and the diversity of fish that occur in the offshore coral reefs attract divers and tourists (Faria, et Sitoi, 1996 in MICOA, 1996), although this is declining. The peak months for tourist activity are from November to April.

There has been a growing development of beach tourism in Ponta do Ouro since 1968. This movement was affected several times by civil strife: in 1975 all Portugese persons were ejected, and again in 1986 when Renamo (with SA support) used the area as a base for attacks northward. Some local tourists came to the town and its beaches, off and on. The avalanche of tourists resumed in 1995 soon after the Peace Accord of 1992 and the installation of the ANC (democratic) government in South Africa (Bjerner & Johansson, 2001).

Since the armed conflict subsided, tourism resorts have proliferated along the Mozambican coast. In the south, the dunes are characterised by low elevations and sweeping rocky headlands: Malongane, Tanguele, Mimoli. Some of the resorts are only marginally legalised by the district government. Hence there is a need for a land use management service within the local government authority, to control growth and blend it with ecological requirements.

Most visitors are South Africans; during peak SA holiday periods up to 98% according to Bjerner & Johansson, (2001:11). Some domestic tourists visit the town during Mozambican holidays and on weekends and generally spend longer periods of time there.

There is a (Tourism Ministry) plan for the construction of a golf course. It is hoped that the project will promote the need for a water supply and recycling system, and also help to preserve the wetlands. Apart from bringing in direct economic benefits to the local community and Mozambique, it may equally bring about negative impacts such as incremental pollution.

Most of the upmarket houses near the beach belong to salaried workers who visit from Maputo. They use them for relaxation and pleasure, and often rent them out during summer holidays to nationals and South Africans. There are some houses in ruin, some being rehabilitated and others newly completed. The local residents of the town live in small conventional houses and precarious thatch dwellings across the inland periphery of the town (see photos). According to the secretary, 80% of the tenants that live in the town are migrant workers.

There is one main access to town that splits into two further inland, leading to Maputo (north) and Manguzi (south). The road is in very poor condition and the use of 4 x 4 vehicles is essential (Bjerner & Johansson, 2001). Occasionally the road is graded in a few places by earth-moving equipment provided by local building contractors. There is a small landing field for light aircraft that is seldom used.

4. Intervention by Unesco project in 2005

Ponta do Ouro is growing rapidly since the civil war. Many former inhabitants have returned and are joined by twice as many migrant workers (nationals from Maputo etc). The town is short of infrastructure and basic public services to support a growing tourism industry. Changes are therefore needed. With this in mind project leader and 2nd author, Mark Jury spent most of May and June 2005 in Ponta do Ouro, promoting sustainable development and a plan for local services.

His report:

I occupied a small hut on the main beach on 3 May 2005. My first goal was to present a plan for a municipal services department to key stakeholders. I met with traditional leaders, members of the business forum, potential contractors of services, government officials, legal experts, etc. In each case I sketched out a local government executive management system (as shown below): starting with a town plan that controls growth landscape use and architectural codes. Devolving from this are leasehold contracts and property taxes, retained for distribution to the private contractors providing water supplies, garbage collection and road maintenance. Some effort was needed to improve the clinic and school. Community development projects were expected to piggy-back onto private tourism enterprises.

It took most of the first month to do this, as many key stakeholders were involved with their own businesses, and coming and going to South Africa and Maputo. The main problem with this plan is that property taxes from Ponta are currently 'eaten' by the district capital: Bella Vista, and the Mozambican centralized political system. All stakeholders agreed that the current system inhibits development, but most were unwilling to seek consensus on the need for local services. Some business leaders felt that better services, such as clean water, would attract migrant workers and contribute to problems. The pace of development needs to be slow to accommodate the gradual rise in demand for tourism services, from both KZN visitors and weekenders from Maputo.

Other goals within the Unesco project in 2005 were to provide environmental lectures to the senior natural science class at Ponta's school and to start a compost heap to improve their vegetable garden. The environmental lectures focused on the landscape cover around the well points and its relation to water quality (see photos), whilst the compost heap was a small contribution to an existing school farm project. Both were successful in some way.

Whilst in Ponta the tourism industry was investigated from the vantage point of my beach hut. The diving operators provide a highly personalized service, often providing interesting entertainment and spiritual awareness workshops when ocean conditions are too rough. The leasehold system doesn't stimulate property investment, so conditions remain primitive. The dive camps consist of temporary reed shelters where sand floors are overlain with reed mats, a light bulb and mosquito net hang from the ceiling, sandy walkways connect rooms to toilets and kitchen, rats scurry around the premises. The beach vegetation is quite dense and helps block the wind. The rooms are totally open to the elements, however crime is still rare. Most Mozambican people respect another persons' private space. So it was possible to have a restful time without worrying about crime (unlike South Africa).

5. Conclusions and Recommendations

Many local people eek out a minimal existence on a few hundred rand a month, and spend most of it on imported food. The population has a low level of education due to the lack of school infrastructure and the opportunity of short-term jobs serving the tourists during peak times. It is recommended that a school-completion certificate be required to qualify for employment in the tourism industry, to alleviate this problem.

Tourism brings in about R 20 M per annum in Ponta, but less than 10% finds its way into the local economy. Tourism can increase stress on coastal marine life, if unregulated and unsupported by adequate infrastructure. It suggested that the local population be more involved in decision making so that tourism benefits reach local households.

For this to occur, the decentralisation of power from district to town level is needed, such that financial resources are available to support tourism services, (eg. water supply, road grading, garbage collection, etc) as set out in the flow chart below. The public places and market in the town need improvement. If local authorities defined leasehold contracts for commercial activities that required workers to be local residents, then migration could be controlled to the level of the services and carrying capacity. The town plan could have codes stipulating:

In parallel to the above items, it would be the responsibility of local authorities to create conditions for:

The Unesco project will visit Ponta once a year to monitor progress in coastal management and tourism development, and to maintain an interactive approach with all sectors of the community.

ACNUR e PNUD - Perfís de Desenvolvimento Distritais, 1997
Bjerner, Martin & Johansson, Jens, 2001 - Economic and Environmental Impacts of Nature based tourism: A case Study in Ponta d, Ouro, Mozambique
Faria, M. Telma et Sitói, Almeida, 1996 - Plano de Desenvolvimento e Gestão dos Recursos Naturais do Distrito de Matutíne
INIA/ Dept. de Terra e Água - Carta nacional de solos, comunicação n. 73, Maputo, 1995
MICOA, 1996 - Plano de uso de Terra no distrito de Matutuíne: Estudos parciais, estratos de Faria, M. Telma et Sitói, Almeida
Rubuluza, P, 2004, Insect biodiversity in southern Mozambique as an indicator for sustainable coastal management, BSc thesis, Geogr. Dept., Univ. Zululand.
Marwa, B, 2004, A water supply for Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique, BSc thesis, Geogr. Dept., Univ. Zululand.

Interviews and key informants
Dino, Administrador of the Campsite complex of Tandje - 2004
Nhancale, J. Ferrão- proprietário de barraca, 2004
Maundze, Semeão- Secretário do Bairro Ponta do Ouro, 2004
Director da Escola Primária Completa Ponta do ouro, 2004
Servente do Posto de saúde Ponta do Ouro, 2004
Chefes locais

Other sources
Motta, Hellena, Maputo, 2004 - Programa Recursos e Vida (diálogo na TVM) Eng. Isaías Rabeca/ EDM, Ponta do Ouro, 2004 - Conversa Casual


Flow chart for sustainable local services in Mozambique

Budget set according to rates collected, divided according to executive management committee, in consultation with key stakeholders


Top to bottom, left / north to right / south: panoramic view of Ponta


Top to bottom: School lectures given to relate environmental conditions to water quality.


Top to bottom: teachers carrying water to school, local house, garbage next to community market


See other articles related to the UNESCO pilot project on 'Development-conservation strategies for integrated coastal management in Maputaland (South Africa, Mozambique)'


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