SILOBELA — Crossroads Growth Point, situated 80km out of Kwekwe, is the commercial hub of mineral-rich Silobela constituency.
Report by Blessed Mhlanga
Barely 10km from Crossroads is one of Zimbabwe’s largest gold producing mines — Jena Mine.
The dirty road leading to Jena Mine, owned by Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, makes a mockery of the wealth produced here (an average of 40kgs of gold every month) whose estimated value on the black market stands at a whopping $200 000.
Another mining company, Mwana Africa, also owns huge tracts of explored land reserves which are rich in mineral deposits.
These are virgin lands which are not open to gold prospectors or any other company.
Yet in the midst of all this wealth, the people here wallow in abject poverty.
They have suffered four consecutive years of poor harvests owing to a combination of poor rainfall, lack of draught power and farming inputs.
The story here is one of a people neglected by the harvesters of their own resources and largely ignored by their own government.
Since 1980, no meaningful development has visited this part of the world and other than the age-old structures at Crossroads there is no evidence of the natural wealth that Silobela is endowed with.
Grey-haired Cletus Mkwanazi (72), who spends most of his time roaming aimlessly at the growth point, says he has not seen any development that has benefited his community despite the fact that he and fellow villagers take time to go to vote every election year.
“I was born here and I am still here, but I can tell you there is nothing we have benefited from our minerals or from the votes that we have cast to retain our leaders.
“Poverty wreaks havoc here and drought has become our perennial nightmare. Three years ago, and 2010 in particular, is the most unforgettable in recent years. We had to barter our cattle for maize in order to survive,” Mkwanazi recalled.
The people of Silobela were that year forced to exchange cattle for as little as two bags of maize brought in by businesspeople who came all the way from Harare.
Mkwanazi reckons this year is going to be even worse as the entire area has suffered total crop failure.
The people here say their hope lies in government handouts and non-governmental organisations that have over the years come to their rescue.
Many families have survived on wild fruit and edible roots to fight similar calamities.
Goodmuntu Sibanda from neighbouring Kamaranch echoed the similar sentiments, but added that he saw no more reason to vote at all because the people of his area were always totally forgotten soon after casting their ballots.
He complained that children here had to walk more than 10km to the nearest school.
The majority of the people in Silobela are unemployed and live from gold panning — risking being jailed.
“To avoid getting arrested, people have to be members of Zanu PF whose gold panning syndicates are spared such harassment. Failure to do this results in endless battles with the police,” he said.
According to Zimbabwean law, gold panning attracts a mandatory two-year custodial sentence, while illegal possession of gold earns the offender five years in prison.
These impoverished people must also pay hospital fees when they visit the nearby Sibobela District Hospital. They must pay $4 per visit which the majority cannot afford.
Miriam Dhlomo said the situation was untenable and hoped the government would one day realise the need to provide jobs and free medical service for the people of this area.
“We have no jobs and we rely on farming. Now with this drought where do we get money to pay hospital fees? We do not even have money to buy food,” Dhlomo lamented.
Headman Muchikicha, born Sikumbuzo Dhlodhlo, weighed in and said most households under him had no access to basic needs including healthcare.
It is painful, he said, that the people have to suffer like this in a land of plenty.
“My people have been neglected by the government which clearly only remembers us during election times. They just come here to loot our minerals and leave us hungry and dry,” he said.
Silobela MP Arnold Silulu said it had been difficult to get the government to do anything in his constituency.
“I have been to Zimbabwe National Roads Administration trying to get them to work on the Kwekwe-Nkayi road which passes through Silobela but to no avail. Food relief from the Grain Marketing Board and other organisations has failed to reach us because of the bad roads. It is a shame that the government neglects people to this extent,” he said.
Silobela is connected to Kwekwe by a narrow strip road built during the colonial era to service white commercial farms and gold mines in the area.
Because of the bad state of the roads, commuter operators demand $5 for the 80km journey when fares for the same distance between Kwekwe and Kadoma range between $2 and $3.