Kwekwe – About 15km outside Kwekwe lies what used to be the famous Sable Chemicals game farm and other safari lodges which used to earn Zimbabwe a lot of valuable foreign currency from tourists and game hunters.
Report by Blessed Mhlanga
Today these vast lands lie derelict with over 100 families resettled in this dry part of the Midlands region attempting to turn non-arable former game parks into farmland with little or no assistance from government.
Riversdale Farm is one story of families who were dumped in the wilderness of land reform with the hope that getting a piece of what used to be owned by white farmers would transform their lives.
Once a successful ostrich rearing farm run by a farmer identified as Ian, Riversdale has been parcelled out to 15 families and the farmer’s homestead turned into a miniature school.
The farm has become an epitome of poverty and suffering as people battle to survive in a semi-arid area with virtually no social infrastructure.
The farmhouse has been converted into teachers’ lodgings while 289 primary school pupils are made to learn in what used to be tobacco barns, curing and storing tobacco grown on the other side of the farm.
The barns have no windows, doors or furniture and pupils sit on the floor exposed to harsh weather conditions.
The sorry state of the school headed by Edward Tinarwo is compounded by the fact that the 289 pupils enrolled here use just two Blair toilets built by the former farmer for his workers.
Teachers who spoke on condition they were not named said teaching here is very difficult as pupils come to school late and hungry with some sleeping during lessons while parents refuse to pay the $20 in school levies.
“Only a quarter of the parents pay levies while the rest, most of whom are war veterans, refuse to pay saying President Robert Mugabe owns the school and therefore it must be free,” said a teacher who chose to remain anonymous.
Tendai Marota, one of the resettled villagers, says pupils as young as five have to walk 15km to and from school every day, often barefooted.
“When we moved here we thought it was going to be a life-transforming move for the better, but we have been neglected. We are far away from clinics and hospitals. There is no social life at all and transport is a big problem,” he said.
Nonetheless, Zanu PF provincial secretary for security Owen “Mudha” Ncube has threatened to weed out all MDC-T supporters who benefited from the land reform programme unless they dump the party and join Zanu PF.
However, apart from being rendered homeless if evicted, beneficiaries here see no benefit from their new settlements.
“The elections are coming and we are ready to speak with our vote. This government dumped us here. We get no support yet most of them (senior officials of Zanu PF) took good farms for themselves,” Marota said.
“We are suffering here. The nearest clinic is 40km away and we have to rely on ox-drawn carts for transport to ferry sick people to Kwekwe for treatment. Can you call that benefiting?” he queried.
The nearest secondary school is Nhaka Yedu on Marivel Farm, a former game ranch some 30km away. Because of the distance, pupils are having to build squatter accommodation around the school where they have to live while attending school. This has resulted in all sorts of delinquency, including premarital sex, theft and other vices among the pupils.
“Our children have been forced into building small homes near the school because they can’t walk daily to attend classes,” said a villager who refused to be named.
At the adjacent ranch, over 50 families were resettled on the game ranching farm which is not suitable for agricultural purposes save for cattle rearing and game hunting and viewing.
The former owners operated lodges deep in the dry arid land where tourists would come and pay licences to hunt game in the vast forests that used to exist then.
The lodges have since been turned into Nhaka Yedu Secondary School while the farmhouse has been transformed into a police post which doubles as a teacher’s residence.
Nhaka Yedu Primary School is a combined garage and carport which the former owners used for attending to game viewing vehicles.
Firewood has become a “cash crop” here with a truckload selling for just $5. Most small game has migrated owing to uncontrolled hunting.
The resettled “farmers” must walk 10 to 15km in search of water in unsafe drinking places and 30km to the nearest clinic and shops.