Isaac Museva remembers the days back in 1959 like it was just yesterday, and back then, being a little 11-year-old boy, he did not know what was unfolding before his eyes would have a profound effect on his life.
“I remember I was doing my Standard 1 that year, 1959, when the white men would come and spend days pegging the dam. To many of us, young as we were, we just watched them in awe as they went about their work. We were told that the dam was meant to transform our lives,” recalled the now 67-year-old Museva last week.
That transformation, however, was to come many decades later and in a manner he had never imagined. Today, along with some other 5 000 or so families, Museva is a resident of Chingwizi, much against his will. To him and many others, Chingwizi is a largely inhabitable settlement in the Mwenezi district.
“To say this place is inhabitable is an understatement. This place is just too hot, just a little hell on earth, and today’s temperatures are just cool but from August to mid-December during the dry season, our temperatures always hover in the 40s,” he said as he led us to the nearest borehole, one of the only six functioning boreholes out of the 65 that have been drilled by donors serving the community.
“This is the water that we have to drink,” he added, handing over a tumbler. “When the Government officials come here to address us they don’t drink this water, they bring their mineral water, so they don’t really get to know how we feel about this settlement.”
To prove that the water, which is very salty, is not suitable even for animal consumption, the owners of Nuanetsi Ranch, wherein Chingwizi lies, pump water from Runde River to several drinking pans in the ranch.
“When water is pumped for the cattle that is when we get some fresh water to drink. But we are not sure if the water that is pumped from Runde River is treated in-between or not. Whichever way, it is better than the salty water that comes out of these boreholes,” said Museva.
Though the construction of the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam was meant for the good of the nation, typical of many Zimbabwean programmes, it was short on methodology of its implementation.
In February last year when the dam filled up against expectation, placing several families in danger, the Museva family, just like a number of several others who were thought to be within reach of the possible flooding of the dam, were moved to Chingwizi holding camp.
Yet up to now they have not been compensated, nor do they know the value of the compensation they are set to receive. Tokwe-Mukosi’s resident engineer, Paul Dengu, acknowledged that some $8 million is still outstanding in compensation to the displaced families.
And as the holding camp became too small, with the attendant dangers of a looming health hazard, Government then resettled the 5 000 families on one-hectare plots within the Nuanetsi Ranch, which is said to be a private property.
The owners of Nuanetsi, according to Chingwizi settlers, had earmarked the ranch for sugar cane farming, to supplement their operations at Chisumbanje.
“Besides the plots being too small for an average family, we live in uncertainty as we have been asked not to build permanent structures. You can see there, we had dug a pit for a latrine, but we were told to stop work on it. Even the signals that we get when Government officials come to visit us, is that we are not here permanently.
“It would have been better if Government had compensated us, so that to those of us who can, we can look for our own places to resettle. But as it is, we cannot afford to move from here because our lives have been disrupted for so long.”
Besides the salty water, the lack of social amenities is the other headache that the community has to deal with.
For example, there are no proper schools in the community, with the “best” of them all being Chingwizi Primary School, a pole-dagga-and-thatch affair.
Though staff at the school refused to field any questions, saying they had not been cleared to do so, it did not require any interrogation at all for one to see that it is against all odds that the school is running.
“We have let pupils use uniforms from whichever school they were before they came to Chingwizi, because it was going to be heartless to ask already hard-pressed parents to look for new uniforms,” explained one of the parents, a Fokoza.
Besides the two “classroom blocks”, the rest of the classes are held under trees. Because of the semi-arid status of Chingwizi, the residents have to survive on hand-outs.
“When we were still at the holding camp, we did not have problems with regards to food as we received daily food rations. But now the situation has changed, we are now getting a 50-kg bag of maize once a month, irrespective of how big a household may be.”
The scarcity of food in Chingwizi is compounded not only by the hot weather, but also the lack of water. In most rural set-ups, gardening is usually a sustainable and viable option in food security.
“Besides the small acreage, what can one do on one hectare? There is no water to support gardening projects here. Back in Ngundu we used to live by the river and we would sink wells, but we can’t do that here,” complained Museva.
The relocation of people from the different areas surrounding Tokwe-Mukosi also had the effect of disrupting the usually intricate rural family set-up.
“We left some of our relatives in Chivi, and you must appreciate how, as Africans, we respect and need to be near our relatives, whether living or dead. And even the small family units that managed to come to Chingwizi were split even further as plots were not allocated along family lines, but rather randomly.
“You will find some members of the same family were settled here in Chingwizi yet others were settled about 11 kilometres away in Madhanga.
“This disrupted the traditional manner with which we lived and settled family problems. Village heads no longer have the power they used to have back home, because they no longer have their people near them,” lamented another villager.
Museva, who acted more as the tour guide, could not have painted a gloomier picture when it came to illustrating how family relations have been torn apart.
“Whilst we were at the holding camp, my brother lost his son who was teaching in Chiredzi and we resolved to go and bury him back home in Ngundu because our future was not yet certain.
“This past December I lost my eldest son and we could not take him to Ngundu as we thought we were settling here permanently, so we buried him in my yard. Only to be told later that there might be plans to move us from here again. So if we are to leave this place, I would have to leave my son lying in this wilderness.”
Lying roughly some 50 kilometres to the south-west of Triangle, of which most of the road network is rugged, the other challenge that Chingwizi settlers have to contend with is transport.
The area is serviced by one Zupco bus, which leaves at break of dawn every day and comes back as the sun sets.
“If you get anything in-between, it is usually more expensive, given the poor state of our roads,” added Museva.
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