Weavers suffer as tourist numbers drop

Finding diamonds in Chiadzwa has been a curse for the ordinary residents, as even ordinary visitors are now shunning the area because of the heavy presence of armed forces, Linda Mukoto told SOFIA MAPURANGA.

Linda Mukoto
Linda Mukoto

Living a few kilometres away from Zimbabwe’s rich diamond fields has not changed 35-year-old Juliet Makotama’s life.

Instead of the expected economic change and better lifestyle for communities living in and around Chiadzwa, life is now even more difficult for the ordinary person after the discovery of diamonds a few years ago.

Further disadvantaged by coming from ecological region five, where crop production is unsuccessful and therefore minimal due to the dry climatic conditions, Makotama decided to venture into basket weaving for a living.

The mother of three said although the business of weaving does not give her a lucrative income to boast about, she manages to make at least $120 a month for her family’s upkeep.

No capital

A divorcee, whose husband does not ‘care a flinch for their three boys’, Makotama said she does not have adequate income to start vending like the majority of the women in her area, whose main source of livelihood is vending fruit and vegetables that they buy mostly from Chipinge and Chimanimani.

“My business is not capital intensive,” said Makotama. “I use the bark of baobab trees which I buy for $2 a bucket.” The size of the mat determines the quantity of bark needed. “Sometimes I use more than six buckets of bark for a single mat,” she said.

Makotama said it takes her four to five days to weave a single mat to perfection, adding that she was a master weaver because she was in the business for over five years now.

“Over the years, I have realised that business is brisk in summer because this is when there are a lot of tourists visiting this area. The main challenge is that tourists are now shunning using this route because of Chiadzwa,” she said.

Army presence

A 2012 report by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) established that diamond mining firms in Chiadzwa were reluctant to implement livelihoods projects or offer employment to the relocated families living in and around Chiadzwa.

Linda Mukoto, 39, who is also into the weaving business echoed the same sentiments.

“Chiadzwa is a curse for us because even ordinary visitors are now shunning this area because of the heavy presence of the armed forces,” said Mukoto.

Mukoto, whose mats range from door mats to large rugs, said business was very poor. In a good month, she makes between $250 and $350, but this is rarely possible nowadays.

Cross border

“Door mats costs from $2 to $5 while centre rugs depending on size cost between $25 to $50. The prices are influenced by the amount of material used and the time taken to weave a particular mat,” she said. Some customers who take a lot of mats and rugs order specific designs, which the women are happy to make for them.

Mats for sale
Mats for sale

Mukoto, one of the pioneers of weaving who has been in the business for over a decade now, said she used to get customers from South Africa and Botswana.

“Cross border traders used to come and buy from me before a lot of people started engaging in the weaving of mats. Now that there are a lot of us who are in this business and because the number of customers has dwindled, I am not making much,” she said.

Mukoto said to come up with the different colours on the mats, she uses natural dyes. “We have specific trees and shrubs that we collect and extract leaves which we boil and when mixed with the bark that we use to weave the mats, results in a specific shade,” she said.

Kingstone Chitotombe, the Manicaland provincial manager for the Environmental Management Authority, said the harvesting of the baobab tree bark by the weavers was linked to failure by the trees to produce fruit.

“Although there is no research or scientific evidence to prove this, the belief in the community is that because the people are removing the bark of the baobab trees to use for weaving their mats, this is why the trees are not bearing any fruit,” said Chitotombe.

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