Home » Business » Hardships Dampen Uhuru in Rural Zimbabwe

MY gaze at the imposing and mesmerising Zambezi Escarpment’s Mavuradonha Mountain range as it undulated into yonder distance was promptly disrupted. The smooth drive from Harare to Mukumbura border post in Mashonaland Central had abruptly ended. The car bumped and violently vibrated, forcing me to firmly grip the steering wheel and reduce speed to a snail’s pace.

About a kilometre down the rough road, and before I had fully come to terms with the jagged road surface, I hit a smooth tarmac again, which brought some relief to my tense nerves. And before I knew it, I was upon yet another bumpy gravel patch. Yet a further kilometre down the road, some more tarmac appeared again. Now, I was getting confused.

My eyes darted about, looking for someone to ask the meaning of this type of road surfacing — patches of tarmac continually alternating with gravel strips. Soon the tarmac ended once more and my curiosity turned to anger. If someone thought this was a joke, indeed, it was a sick joke. Then, someone finally appeared. Stopping next to him, I smiled and greeted the young man who was carrying a plastic bag with fresh green maize.

I then casually asked him why the road had been constructed in such a crazy manner, to which he naughtily smiled and replied: “I don’t know. Maybe the workers had not been paid and made the road that way to protest for not being paid.” We both laughed. In hindsight, many a truth has been said in jest.

He quickly added: “You are going to get onto some more tarred road just over that rise and when that piece of tarred road ends, it is going to be dust road all the way to Mukumbura border.” I despairingly sighed. And as I was about to drive off the young man asked: “Mdhara (Daddy), where do you come from?” “Harare,” I answered. “Oh, ok, are there any jobs there because life here is really tough?” he enquired.

After thinking about it for a few seconds I said: “To tell you the truth my friend, jobs are very difficult to come by these days, but if you have a cell phone I will give you a shout if I hear of any.”

He gave me a cell phone number of a relative and when I asked him how far he had gone with school, he said up to form one, adding that he failed to go further because his parents could not afford to pay for further education. He also said he had had the misfortune of having all his documents, that included a birth certificate, grade seven certificate and identification card, destroyed when the hut he lived in caught fire some years ago. Saddened by the young man’s predicament, I bid him farewell and slowly drove off.

Though his situation could have been peculiar to him alone, there were many aspects of his dilemma that painted a gloomy picture of Zimbabwe’s deteriorating socio-economic situation, more so as the southern African nation celebrates 34 years of self rule.Living at the end of the symbol of development for many of Africa’s marginalised communities — the tarred road — and with prospects of construction ever resuming any time soon very gloomy, empathy for the young man and his community overwhelmed me.

The tarred road construction stopped some 10 years ago at more than 50km from the intended destination — Mukumbura border post. The plight of these outback communities, that bore the brunt of the country’s armed struggle for independence, is nothing but tragic. Unemployment is high and poor incomes, due to perennial failed harvests caused by recurrent droughts, are the order of day.

Mukumbura, north of the Zambezi Escarpment in Mashonaland Central’s Mt Darwin District, is part of Zimbabwe’s infamous Dande Valley which is among several forgotten communities bordering Mozambique that were first to be liberated in the country’s protracted 20-year long battle for independence, but were later never remembered to be placed on the inventory of the nation’s development priorities in an ironic and cruel twist of fate.

Simply because when the guerilla movement fighting against the colonial regime of Ian Smith pressed towards the then capital of Salisbury, areas such as Mukumbura became no go areas for the Smith regime’s Rhodesian Forces, one would have imagined that these places would have naturally been the first to enjoy the fruits of independence. Sadly these lands remain sources for cheap labour and their economies so poorly developed that their produce such as cattle, goats and grain are always lowly priced because of lack of information.

President Robert Mugabe’s annual independence speeches still need to be translated into the vernacular for them to be understood by the villagers in these communities each time they are delivered because of the low literacy levels in a country that is believed to have an incredible over 90 percent literacy rate. The adult literacy programme that President Mugabe himself launched in Mudzi District in 1983 when he was still Prime Minister, specifically targeting rural communities, has since died a natural death. It is hardly surprising that schools in rural areas are last to be allocated with both teaching and learning materials as well as teaching staff.

Politicians have often boasted that the number of primary and secondary schools in Zimbabwe grew from 3 161 in 1980 to 8 065 to date to seek political mileage, but they have hardly bothered to interrogate and highlight the poor state of many of these schools, the majority of which are in rural areas. For instance, at Kapiripiri, some 15km from Mukumbura border post, 34 years after independence, the area’s secondary school pupils are still learning under trees and the only structures that have been built there are a few pit toilets, a cracking concrete water tank and one incomplete classroom block.

However, despite the raw deal these communities have received since 1980 they have remained committed to the ideals of independence and have never failed to commemorate the independence with song, dance and much feasting. Their participation remains genuine. For example, when the border post at Mukumbura was temporarily closed for a few hours on Independence Day last week to allow people to attend the celebrations, no one protested.

But, regardless of their commitment, the country’s unrelenting liquidity crisis markedly dampened the celebrations, not only in Mukumbura but across most of the country’s rural districts. With communities contributing a dollar and a plate of maize meal per family towards the festivities, not many could afford the contributions resulting in poor attendance.

Nonetheless as my journey through Zimbabwe’s forgotten outlying lands took me to Rushinga and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe districts it increasingly became evident that this year’s independence celebrations were distinctly subdued and they were significantly a pale shadow of other past celebrations.

Along the dirt and tattered roads, as the sun set, the modest groups of women and children walking back to their homes carrying pots and buckets after the festivities, underscored the fact that Zimbabwe is a country that is indeed going through a really tough socio-economic era.

Source : Financial Gazette