“IT is only during election time that we are remembered. Afterwards, the world turns a blind eye on us,” says Adonio Mazhetese with refrain.
BY TATENDA CHITAGU
Mazhetese is one of the 18 000 flood survivors from Zimbabwe’s biggest inland dam, Tugwi Mukosi, in the southern part of the country, who were forcibly ejected from the flood basin by soldiers four years ago without compensation.
After they were dumped in the inhabitable Nuanetsi Ranch, which houses a conservancy, the situation of these impoverished victims of development is not improving. If anything, it is getting worse by the day.
“Soldiers drove us off our ancestral land, and we were bundled up in trucks, together with our livestock and few belongings that were spared by the ferocious waves, and initially resettled in a transit camp, Chingwizi, that resembled a refugee camp,” he said, fighting back tears.
“There were no schools, no clean water sources or hospitals. We lived like squatters for six months and our children missed school because the makeshift schools were far away and under-resourced.”
Mazhetese also decried the prevalence of waterborne diseases and sexually transmitted infections that also broke out in the camp, with under-age girls falling pregnant as the crowded and squalid living conditions created a kind of free-for-all lifestyle.
The lucky few who managed to get tents from non-governmental organisations shared one tent with their grown up children, while they resorted to relieving themselves in the bush.
Government, realising the disease outbreaks, resettled the families further down in the ranch at one-hectare plots after six months against their wishes. The villagers wanted four hectares each instead.
The government also banned NGOs from giving them food handouts to force them out of the transit camp.
This was despite the resistance they had put up like chasing away 10 ministers who had come to convince them to move, as well as torching a police vehicle at a temporary base that was set up.
“We were again moved further down in the ranch to one-hectare plots against our wishes, and still without compensation. Soldiers and the police burnt our tents in retaliation for torching a police car in resistance,” Melody Shava, another victim, said.
Over 300 villagers were arrested in the blitz, but only six were charged with public violence and convicted. They, however, appealed against both sentence and conviction.
But their troubles haunted them even when they were resettled for the second time at the one-hectare plots. Still without compensation for loss of their properties, some have up to now not built proper structures and toilets and have resorted to makeshift structures.
Some lucky villagers, however, got compensation in 2016 after government availed $3,5 million for their structures. But not everyone was covered as there was a balance of $5,5 million to cover everyone.
The villagers said they were also facing food shortages as the area, which falls under natural region six in Mwenezi district, is unsuitable for crop farming, while water shortages are still the order of the day. The few boreholes drilled there, the villagers say, have salty water.
“It seems like we are a cursed lot. We have been condemned to poverty here in the bush,” Shava said.
When the disaster broke out in March 2014, the then President Robert Mugabe declared it a state of emergency, but never set foot there. Even after the dam was completed, Mugabe, who came to the dam site for the first time, left the villagers more bitter after he gave an uninspiring speech, without promising them any preferential treatment concerning the benefits from the dam water, like irrigation.
The villagers expected to hear how they would benefit from the dam, which will contain 1,8 cubic metres of water when full, but Mugabe skirted the issue in his speech.
When reminded by then Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister, Shuvai Mahofa (now late), about the displaced families, whom she had proposed should benefit from sugarcane outgrower scheme, Mugabe said Mahofa should bring the issue to his office.
Following Mugabe’s ouster, the villagers had high hopes that the change of guard would mean a new attitude towards them. They believed that finally their plight would change for the better as they had been victims of a national developmental project.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa hinted that the villagers should benefit from the dam water as sugarcane outgrowers in irrigation plots.
“Here in Masvingo, we have the Tugwi Mukosi Dam which will help our agriculture and tourism sector. We want villagers displaced by the dam construction to benefit from the water, so we will create irrigation schemes where they will grow sugarcane,” Mnangagwa said at his last campaign rally at Mucheke Stadium in Masvingo in late June.
The villagers, however, said they would only believe him once they get the remainder of their compensation.
“We are tired of promises, especially when it is election time. During a by-election here, we were given promises by Zanu PF, and we voted in Jusby Ommar, who had promised to change our lives for the better,” said another villager.
“Still, we are in the same predicament. Now, Zanu PF made promises again during the just ended elections. We will wait and see if the new President is a man of his word. But to show that he is serious about our lives, he must first address our compensation demands.”
Mwenezi district administrator Rosemary Chingwe said government was giving food handouts to the Chingwizi villagers.
“The fate of their settlement rests with Cabinet, but we submit that if possible, their stay should be regularised. It’s a drought year and the entire Mwenezi district, not Chingwizi alone, is faced with drought. Monthly, we give social welfare food assistance. But there are NGOs that indicated they may start giving out food relief, starting October,” Chingwe said.
The new Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister, Ezra Chadzamira, committed to avail compensation to the flood survivors.
“Further to this sector, the finalisation and closure of the resettlement and compensation of the people in Chingwizi, displaced by the dam, remain top priority. Relevant State organisations will be engaged to mobilise resources and take steps towards addressing these issues,” he said.
It remains to be seen if the new administration, ushered in after the July 30 polls, is sincere to the 18 000 flood survivors.