Villagers vow to "die fighting"

Villagers here have a new war on their hands. A few months after they successfully repelled Kezi spy boss Rodney Mashingaidze in his attempt to grab Maleme Ranch, the villagers now find themselves squaring off with Never Khanye, the Zanu (PF) Member of Parliament for Matobo North.

Just like Mashingaidze, Khanye is trying to torpedo villager-driven development at the Big Cave camp, a tourist attraction that has brought an alternative source of income for residents of this mountainous and baboon-infested area, which is hardly suitable for crop farming.

Owned by local businessman Dave Waddy, the camp is an A-frame of chalets built among ancient boulders on top of a large granite whaleback and enjoys stunning views across the hills of Matobo Hills National Park. It is currently a fairly basic camp offering simple accommodation and both cultural and wildlife activities.

“We have a real war with Khanye, who wants Big Cave,” said a spokesperson for the villagers, who for security reasons, requested not to be named in a recent interview with The Zimbabwean.

“Instead of bettering our lives as our parliamentary representative, Khanye wants to grab and destroy Big Cave. Our biggest worry is that if he manages to do that, tourists will lose confidence in the whole tourism sector, yet we have a vast community that depends on tourism for survival.

“Matobo is sandwiched between the National Park, Mountains and a few farms and has no grazing or agricultural land. The tour operators like Big Cave are enabling the local community to benefit from the sector,” he said.

In nearby areas like Silozwe, Halale, Chapo and Malundi, hundreds of families depend on curio vending for survival, with the tourists who flock to Big Cave being their biggest customers, apart from the commendable works of corporate social responsibility being shown by the camp’s operators, have been paying school fees for hundreds of orphans in an HIV-ravaged community and supporting under-funded local schools with infrastructure and clinics.

“The move by the Khanye will adversely affect the whole community of Matobo as a snowball effect and have a negative impact on the national tourism drive and the GDP. That is why we are saying ‘no’ to his madness,” said the spokesman and community leader.

“White Water Secondary School has a huge and highly-resourced library stocked with the latest books courtesy of Big Cave, while Nathisa Clinic has a pregnant mothers' waiting room also courtesy of Big Cave. We are prepared to die fighting if need be and there is no way Khanye will take away our source of livelihood. That is not why he was voted into power and being Zanu (PF) does not mean he is a better person than us,” he declared.

Efforts to get comment from Khanye were fruitless, as he did not take calls from our reporter for more than five days, but villagers said they had phenomenal support from their traditional leaders to stop him.

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