The land that time, and government, forgot

Rugged, barren, dry and hungry. These adjectives spring to mind as you as you drive from Chiredzi, a town renowned for sugar cane farming, to rural Chikombedzi about 60km away.

Although the recent rains were a blessing to farmers, most schools - especially those built of mud and grass - were completely destroyed.
Although the recent rains were a blessing to farmers, most schools - especially those built of mud and grass - were completely destroyed.

Chikombedzi is a tired business centre where not much happens, and proceeding further from there, to areas like Davata, Crooks Corner and beyond, the story is the same.

But before you get there, at Chilonga, there is a spirited attempt to confront the beast of hunger through a crocodile farming project.

Villagers have harvested crocodile eggs from the nearby Runde River and are rearing the amphibian for its skin. Returns are modest however, and the project implementers are struggling to get the meat to feed the crocs.

As you leave Chilonga, mothers, some of them barely out of their teens, dart off the road as if in panic, and wave at you from a distance. The kids are scared of cars and strangers, but when you stop to greet them or ask for directions, they respond politely.

Here and there, you see a broken down car with a South African registration plates. These cars were brought into Zimbabwe long back and were never registered locally.

Chiredzi district, one of the most arid areas in Zimbabwe, hardly receives enough rains to fill the bottom of a granary.

Firstly, the roads linking Chiredzi town and Chikombedzi with other parts the Limpopo valley near the Mozambican and South Africa borders are so bad that you wonders if you is still in Zimbabwe.

Thick forests, and sparsely populated areas with no visible support services such as clinics or schools, are a common sight. The area has not been touched by any sign of development.

Thatched huts made of pole and mud are the only settlements visible. A trail of destruction left by the Cyclone Eline in the early part of this century is still visible as the government has not managed to repair the little infrastructure there was in the area.

The recent heavy rains which pounded the country added misery to locals, as the few small bridges which had remained were also washed away. Makeshift schools built by the government were not spared - leaving thousands of school children stranded.

The area is not suitable for crop farming, and animal husbandry has been hampered by a shortage of breeding stock.

Albert Taurai has been a resident of this area for 70 years and sees nothing unusual in the lack of development in the area.

“We are living comfortably but the only problem is that we do not have clinics and schools to make sure that our children go to school,” he said. “When we were young boys we used to rely on hunting and at that time we were nomads. But thank God after independence we started living a decent life but we are not happy with the way the government is treating us. If one get sick we rely on our own traditional medicine and this is the reason why most people are now dying. We feel we should have somewhere to be treated.”

Chikombedzi mission hospital is about 200km away and most villagers, who live a subsistence existence, cannot afford to travel such long distances.

Having a toilet or a borehole is the last thing that the Shangaani community here thinks about would want. Drinking water from rivers with wild animals is just normal, while bush toileting is common.

“What we need our schools and hospitals, the issue of boreholes and toilets are just a bonus to us,” said Taurai.

Eating wild fruits and tree roots is not a sign of hunger but part of daily life. Children usually go to school at the age of 10 years when they are old enough to walk long distances. Well established schools are very far away. The heavy rains which pounded most parts of the country did not leave Chikombedzi out.

Although the recent rains were a blessing to farmers, most schools - especially those built of mud and grass - were completely destroyed.

Masvingo provincial administrator Felix Chikovo feels more resources need to be channelled to such areas. “We need as government to make sure that such areas are uplifted and developed to standards that match other areas in the country,” he said.

Political analyst Robert Mushure said the lack of development here was a good illustration of why people were advocating for devolution during the constitutional reform process.

“When people talked about devolution, we thought it would divide citizens on ethnic lines but given such a situation I think devolution is the best way to resolve the extreme development imbalances that exist at the moment,” said Mushure. “We have heard of places that are highly developed, like Zvimba for example. But talk of Binga and other places like Chikombedzi and it seems you are no longer in Zimbabwe. For example they have no access to our national media at all. They cannot access any Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation signals and are relying on South African and Mozambican radio stations for entertainment and news. The community is information starved.

“We want the government to liberalize the airwaves so that several players get into the broadcasting sector,” said Malicha Njavalani (34). “We only hear of what is happening in this country through foreign radio or television stations. Most people of my age have left these villages to cross the border into South Africa,” he added. “To us South Africa is our second home and I do not think one day I will travel to Harare. I have never been there since I was born but on several occasions I have travelled to Johannesburg and Pretoria”, he said.

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