Deepening poverty grips golden town

gold_barsCHIRUMANZU -- Zimbabwes second oldest town and once one of its main sources of best gold, Mvuma, has become poverty stricken. (Pictured: Gold bars Poverty stricken Mvuma used to be one of Zimbabwes main sources of gold)

Coupled with the economic dip over the past 10 years, the impoverishment is beginning to display ugly signs of increased serious crime which is endangering the lives of the small towns residents.

For decades, more than 75-thousand people living in the central region district of Chirumanzu depended on the now dilapidated town as their source of livelihood because of its district headquarters status. Unemployment is high as the town does not have any form of industry anymore.

Development of the area, 190 kilometres south-east of the capital, Harare, has been stagnant since the closure 12 years ago of Athens Mine, owned by a British international corporation, Lonrho, and a lucrative farming venture, Central Estates.

Residents of Mvuma say lack of jobs has landed them in this unbearable situation. Most of them have become self-employed; the most common form of informal employment being buying and selling goods or food vending as well as cross border trading.

Dyton Mulenga, a 45-year-old self-employed welder in the sister mining town of Lalapanzi, not wanting to condemn the increasing criminal activities says the crimes are symptoms of deepening poverty amid abundant riches:

This district is full of riches that can feed the whole of Zimbabwe, yet our people are among the poorest. Poverty is the biggest culprit here and unless it is dealt with, this wont end at any time soon.

Look at school leavers, look at workers laid off from Athens Mine, the Central Estates and other surrounding farms and mines. What about those laid off by commercial businesses that folded over the years?

All these people want to survive honestly but they cant find employment. Yet they cant also watch their children die. They will do something, even illegal.

Lifeline cut

The districts lifeline were the gold mine and Central Estates, also until 10 years ago a vibrant, outsized ranch, bordering Mhondoro District to the north, Gutu and Chikomba districts to the east and north-east, Gweru Rural westwards and Shurugwi to the south..

The British tycoon who owns the vast tract of land, Nicholas Vanhoogostraten, popularly known here as Mr Nic, gave up parts of it to the government during the volatile state-braced land seizures at the beginning of the century.

Liberation war veterans, poor peasants, civil servants, police and prison officers as well as serving and retired soldiers have occupied plots on the annexed portions of the ranch, which used to employ more than one-thousand workers.

Residents say Athens Mine closed and gave way to a local company, Duration Gold – headquartered in Bulawayo – working the ore dumps the English corporation left and Central Estates is operating on a skeleton staff.

Meanwhile, boosted by the then vibrant mine and the ranch, the commercial sector had also grown strong, with businesses like Toriro Wholesalers catering for neighbouring districts as well.

Established soon after the countrys oldest city of Masvingo 100 kilometres further south, Mvuma attracted employment seekers from all over the country, as well as neighbouring countries of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

Migrants included the late veteran politician and Vice-President, Simon Muzenda, who ran a carpentry shop in the town before he joined politics. The family of the national hero still collects rentals from low-income earners occupying rooms in his old style house in Mushayabvudzi high-density village.

Labour force

The vast labour force laid-off by the two giant firms and other traders form part of the impoverished population.

Few can afford three meals a day, as discovered during research, and even fewer can afford school fees, medication and decent accommodation. There is virtually no means of income where there used to be work for almost everyone who wanted it.

With poverty biting even harder in Mvumas rural district of Chirumanzu, both male and female youths are flocking to the town to eke out a living, sometimes illegally.

The majority of both the young men and women get involved in illicit gold panning. When business is down females mostly end up engaging in commercial sex while some young men join poaching syndicates.

Shocking reports of violence are also coming out. Muggings, housebreaking and murder have become part of life in the normally quiet urban centre and its environs.

Criminals recently attacked and severely injured a mentally disturbed old man, known as Gokwe, after they way laid with the aim to rob him at night. He later died in hospital in the Midlands regional seat of Gweru.

One Mvuma resident, who only gives his name as Dube, says his friend, Robert Matevekwa, was also nearly killed recently. Someone in a group of would-be robbers hit him with an axe on the head.

Dube says, The situation is now very bad… Robert had alighted from a lift and was going home when three people surrounded him on the road. They demanded money and when he told them he did not have any, one of them struck him with an axe on the forehead. He suffered a very deep cut.

Matevekwa, in his 20s, stays with his parents. Their government house is on the road that branches off the highway and connects to the commercial city of Bulawayo through the gold mining town. He was attacked hardly 200 metres from home.

Post published in: Economy

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