60 years on: BaTonga still suffer

EDITOR - In 1955 the BaTonga people of the Zambezi Valley were forcibly evicted to pave way for the construction of Kariba dam.Despite numerous protests, the project went ahead. The then white government, told them the river would follow them, the river never followed. They promised they would benefit from the electricity generated from the dam, proper schools, clinics, hospitals, etc. None of this materialised.

The Zambezi was their livelihood. The rich alluvial soils along the river banks ensured abundant food all year round. Stream bank cultivation, fishing, hunting and gathering of wild fruits was integral to their lifestyle. The white government, with gun-wielding soldiers, ruthlessly evicted them. Those who resisted were shot in public, some jumped off moving trucks, and others ran into the forest, only to be relished by wild animals, or swallowed by the rising water from the dam. The experience was traumatic and still haunts our elders today.

In Zambia, through the Gwembe Tonga Project, the affected families were compensated, as the project was funded by the International Monetary Fund. But nothing was done for the Tonga people of Zimbabwe – the silence from the Zanu(PF) government is deafening!

Binga is the poorest district in Zimbabwe today. People still walk life-threatening distances to access poorly-funded schools and clinics. Public roads are an eye-sore. Public transport is erratic and unreliable especially during the rainy season. Our language and culture has been neglected since independence. There is no form of our history taught in school or university. This created a culture of assimilation. Today, when I speak Tonga, a cocktail occurs – with traces of Shona and Ndebele.

Development in Matebeleland is a thorny issue. We in Binga want government to honour its promises. We want to benefit from the river. In partnership with government, we can form sustainable irrigation schemes, co-operatives etc. The massive revenue from the river, through tourism, electricity must be ploughed back to the rightful communities.

Public services must be decentralised so the ordinary person can easily access them. For instance, fishing licences are a hassle in Binga and take years to approve. Tribalism, nepotism and graft under President Robert Mugabe have led our country to the sick condition it is today. We need a caring, tolerant and transparent government that governs fairly and honestly, so the natural treasures can benefit everyone. – Amos Mutale, South Africa

Post published in: Letters to the Editor

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