Poverty in the midst of plenty

With a number of mines, wildlife conservancies, indigenous timber plantations and untapped methane gas, Hwange East Constituency can be described as one of the richest in the country.

Pilate Bhebhe: difficult to reach our MP.
Pilate Bhebhe: difficult to reach our MP.

The sad reality, however, is that the constituency, like a number of other areas in southern Zimbabwe, is underdeveloped despite the abundance of natural resources. Most households are characterised by low income, poor sanitation and hygiene, deplorable education levels and low food security.

There is a prevailing bitterness among the people of Hwange East that the resources from their area are benefiting outsiders.Because of poor environment management policies and strategies, the wildlife which the villagers are supposed to benefit from actually makes them more vulnerable.

“One of the biggest problems affecting this area is wildlife, which is destroying our crops and killing our livestock. This has created a lot of conflict between locals and National Parks staff,” Chief Jonah Neluswa Shana of Jambezi told The Zimbabwean.

Chief Shana said people had lost hope in the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources CAMPFIRE programme, which supports the use of wildlife as an important natural resource that should also benefit local communities.

“No one is sure if Campfire still exists. Many people have been killed by marauding wild animals and we want our local MP to solve this problem before more lives are lost,” said the chief.

The constituency is represented in parliament by Tose Wesley Sansole, of the MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Home to about 80 000 people, most of whom are communal farmers, it is an arid stretch made up of 11 urban and 15 rural wards.

“This area is very dry and there is a perennial shortage of food and water for both our livestock and people. We want our MP to address the water problem and assist us to access free mosquito nets and free malaria tablets because a lot of people every year are succumbing to the disease,” said Anna Phiri, a villager from Ward 2.

Phiri said the villagers were failing to air their grievances to the MP because no meetings were being held in the area.

Pilate Bhebhe, a villager from Ward 10, said: “there are a lot of issues which we want our MP to address, but reaching him is very difficult.

We want him to take a leading role in ensuring that mining companies and conservancy operators in the area plough back into the community,” he said.

Most youths in the area are unemployed, in spite of the abundance of timber logging and mining companies operating there.

Sansole admitted that he had not been calling meetings in the constituency because police in the province always turned down his requests.

“I faced numerous challenges when Edmore Veterai was the Officer Commanding Police in Matabeleland North province. I could not meet the constituents as frequently as I wanted because Veterai would not allow us to hold the meetings,” said Sansole.

Following the recent transfer of Veterai to Harare, the situation has improved and he is now allowed greater freedom to meet his people. He used the Constituency Development Fund to electrify Milonga Clinic and provide a 5,000 litre water tank, and to purchase furniture for schools and electrify teachers’ houses.

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