Council demands threaten community garden project

A group of elderly women and single mothers have been given new hope by the Norwegian Refugee Council – but now the city council is trying to take it away from them. KENNETH MATIMAIRE reports.

Beauty Samu shows some of the produce in the community garden.
Beauty Samu shows some of the produce in the community garden.

As the economic situation continues to deteriorate, more and more families are finding it tough to make ends meet. Some have crossed the borders for greener pastures while others have turned to vending for survival.

While many suffer, the situation has been even worse for 19 families who experienced the negative effects of Operation Murambatsvina in this eastern border city. The government’s 2005 “clean-up” operation targeted hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers suspected of supporting the MDC and caused a nation-wide humanitarian disaster that was condemned by the international community and the United Nations.

These families have spent close to nine years eking out a living in a defunct bar in Sakubva high density suburb. Although they have a roof over their heads, thanks to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), their dilemma is far from over.

These families, headed mainly by elderly, unemployed single women, face a constant battle to put food on the table for themselves and their grandchildren and pay utility bills.

The NRC recently came to their rescue again by setting up a community garden on a piece of land adjacent to their homes in an attempt to give them a means of making a living.


Benita Goneso, chairperson of the community garden, says the NRC’s kind gesture came at a time when they were wallowing in abject poverty.

“Our situation was devastating. Operation Murambatsvina rendered us homeless and surviving all those years in a bar was no joke. Imagine 19 families cramped into Mushando Bar, it was a truly painful experience.

“Good fortune came our way when the Norwegian Refugee Council donated the houses. We are now proud home owners and little did we know that there was more good fortune to come when the council donated the community garden to us,” said Gonese.

The grandmothers and single mothers now grow a variety of vegetables in the large community garden. It is irrigated by a solar-powered borehole that stores water in 20 000 litre tanks. The garden is assisting 40 families, including residents who were not affected by the controversial demolition operation. Beauty Samu, a victim of the Murambatsvina and now a beneficiary of the NRC project, says that the community garden has positively changed their lives.

“Things are better now. We eat a balanced diet and sell excess vegetables to buy small household commodities. We can now afford soap, sugar, cooking oil and other necessities,” she said.

Another beneficiary, Nyasha Mutetwa, added that their solar powered water reservoir had come to the rescue of surrounding residents who now use it as a water source when the local authority cuts the regular water supply. This happens frequently.

Council demands

However, Gonese lamented the fact that the local authority is now demanding $1 100 from the 40 families as payment for the land.

“The local authority should understand our situation. Just when families are trying to put their energy into making this garden economically viable, the council is already demanding that we pay for the land. Where do they think we are going to get so much money?” questioned Gonese.

Samu added that the little that she is getting from the garden is only enough to fend for her family’s basic needs and ruled out chances of ever raising the $1 100. These inhuman demands by the local authority follow similar attempts to evict Gonese and the other families from Mushando Bar. The council was later barred by the courts from evicting them without offering alternative accommodation, which they could not do.

The NRC intends to set up a tuck shop in the community garden and hand over an additional $6 000 for other income-generating projects.

Post published in: Analysis

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