Chimanimani now a ghost town

Despite the recent discovery of diamonds in the area, Chimanimani has virtually collapsed and turned into a ghost town. It was once a major tourist paradise and a key agriculture centre, a hub in coffee, fruit, dairy and beef production.

Deserted....Chimanimani business village has been deserted by business people as the liquidity crunch bites throughout the country.
Deserted….Chimanimani business village has been deserted by business people as the liquidity crunch bites throughout the country.

At its peak, it played host to an annual cultural hotspot offering a regular musical and arts festival that brought in luminaries from all over Zimbabwe and abroad. But all that has disappeared as shops have closed down, leaving a few government service departments and a small banking agency as the only dominant features in the town.

The recent movement of Russian gem-seekers into the area has yet to change the town’s fortunes. If anything, their presence remains largely unnoticeable, although they are busy with their mining operations.

The previously majestic Chimanimani Hotel has become a shadow of its former self, with flaking paint and cracking walls. Local business people interviewed said the economic meltdown had virtually forced them out of business.

“There is no business to write home about. The rate of unemployment is just too much in this area. Only government employees have jobs and they are not earning much to sustain business and the tourism sector, which used to be heartbeat of our town,” said Mike Zandara (32), who runs a small retail shop.

So small are the shops that even civil servants opt to travel over 140 km to Mutare for their shopping needs. Ishmael Seko, a sculptor, said the collapse of the tourism has forced him into desperation.

“We used to sustain our livelihoods but today there is virtually no tourist to talk about. Government has a mammoth task to rebrand the country so that they can re-start the economy. We have suffered here,” Seko said.

An official at Chimanimani town council added: “The council is sneezing as a result of this liquidity crunch. Businesses are closing while the remaining indigenous operators are finding the going tough and cannot remit their taxes and levies to the local authorities.”

Grace Mukaro (33) who used to knit wares for tourists said she might move to Mutare and pursue other business opportunities. “I have been patient thinking the situation will improve but it’s getting worse and I have lost hope,” she said.

Located 150km from Mutare, Chimanimani is in the middle of mountains ranges which border Zimbabwe with Mozambique. The place also houses the Chimanimani National Park.

Meanwhile, there are plans to move over 100 villagers displaced by the discovery of diamonds by Russian company DTZ-OZGEO at Charleswood Estates to an area known as Springvalle in Chimanimani.

Charleswood Estates used to be owned by exiled MDC-T treasurer Roy Bennett before it was taken over by government in 2000. Bennett fought and won the right to the farm in the High Court but was, nevertheless, denied access to his property by the government.

So far, only five families have been moved to Springfield. DTZ-OZEGO is a partnership between the government of Zimbabwe and a consortium of Russian businessmen. Each household received $3,000 or 10 tonnes of maize, $2,200 for family needs such as fees and medical and $800 as a Christmas bonus.

A further amount would be disbursed to the families as compensation for their losses after an evaluation exercise. They were told that the money they received so far would help to resettle them until the next farming season since they were relocated before harvest, according to Minister of State for Provincial Affairs (Manicaland) Chris Mushohwe.

Mushohwe was speaking at the hand-over of one of the newly constructed homes for the five settlers. “This is a clear testimony of government`s commitment in making sure that families disrupted by mining activities are not just dumped but accorded decent accommodation to continue with their lives,” said Mushohwe.

“When we find diamonds we don’t just dump people. The houses are just the same as those built near Chiadzwa,” he added.

Mushohwe said it was the responsibility of the companies to provide decent infrastructure while government can only provide land. Villagers will be allocated 0, 5 hectare for irrigation and three hectares each for dry planting.

He threatened local timber companies operating in the area, saying he would not fold his hands while they continue to exploit natural resources without ploughing back into the communities.

“There are so many timber companies operating locally. They should play their part in the development of this area. We want development for the next five years,” said Mushohwe.

He also spoke about a local share community ownership trusts which he said local companies should help with funds for income generating projects.

Russian ambassador Sergey Bakharev said the strong ties between the two countries were based on principles and values they shared in their approaches towards global problems.

“This project will help with bringing more investments from Russia and I hope that our joint effort will result in other Russian companies following the example of DTZ-OZEGEO in the near future. I believe that not just these investors, but ultimately the people of Zimbabwe will be the beneficiaries of the cooperation,” he said.

Villagers interviewed said it was too early to celebrate. They would wait until government and its partners fulfilled their pledges to provide decent social services such as schools, clinics, roads and recreational facilities.

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