By Rex Mphisa
A VERY sharp curve, a hotel bar where patrons can almost touch vehicles driving past along the Harare-Beitbridge Highway, a prison complex where inmates endure endless traffic noise and one big store aptly describes Chivhu, one of Zimbabwe’s earliest settlements.
For motorists it’s a stretch of the road where you ease off the accelerator for the brake pedal to negotiate that sharp turn, gently increase your speed and drive away, no need to stop.
This has been the case for many years, with Chivhu having nothing to show for its age, location and capacity, save for pedestrians more of a danger to themselves and archaic buildings no one can write home about.
Yet being 140km away from the capital, Harare, providing a shorter link road from Bulawayo to Mutare or the Eastern Highlands, standing deep in the central beef lands surrounding it and on flatlands ideal for massive irrigation projects, Chivhu could have done better.
Fort Charter or Enkledorn, as Chivhu was known before Independence, appears on all the early maps of the country having been established in the early 1890s, but despite its strategic location, it remained largely abandoned. Its first hotel was later established for the Zeederberg coaching service a few kilometres to the north after the drift over the Ngezi River and was later developed into Charter Estates by the Meikles Brothers.
Influential names connected with Chivhu are many; to include former President Robert Mugabe who passed here many times during his courtship to former First Lady Grace, whose Marufu homestead is just 30km away.
The late former Vice-President Simon Muzenda, a comic character of Mugabe’s administration, drove through here almost weekly with his convoy headed to his Zvavahera village in Gutu.
There is the man who used to handle Zimbabwe’s central bank, Gideon Gono, who owns the old unimproved Vic’s Tarven, the late army supremo Solomon Mujuru, the late Ishmael Kadungure who was an influential Zanu PF figure — all with something to do with Chivhu.
Founding president of the opposition party MDC the late Morgan Tsvangirai, ex-ministers Joey and Mike Bimha of Zanu PF, late famous journalist Justin Nyoka, renowned author Charles Mungoshi and great musician James Chimombe, all came from near Chivhu.
But their fame never influenced growth of the sprawling town. Not even singer Paul Matavire’s hit song Madhara emaGonyeti whose storyline on prostitution was set in Chivhu brought change compared to what Jonah Moyo’s Devera Ngwena’s hit Solo naMutsai did to Gutu Mupandawana, now a town.
Chivhu is just a township or business and farming centre despite the last population census having put its population at slightly around 12 000.
Residents now believe change is here, courtesy of the last general election which swept ashore a new council administration.
“We have several projects lined up for Chivhu before finally applying for town status. We have road projects, residential suburbs illumination, upgrading of clinics and replacement of old buildings coupled with relocation of some,” Chikomba Rural District Council chairperson Israel Dhikinya said.
“The District Development Fund, Zimbabwe National Road Administration and our local authority’s engineering section have teamed up to work on the local roads and those in the district,” Dhikinya added.
“We have 600 families affected by the Cyclone Idai disaster and that has slightly taken us off our development radar. We have to see that the disaster victims are catered for, at the same time looking at damaged infrastructure to include nine bridges,” he said.
In town where the council resolved to have the main road dissect as opposed to bypass town, landmarks Vic’s Tarven and the Chivhu Prison will make way for the Harare-Beitbridge Highway and OK Mart, respectively.
“Mvuma died because the highway bypasses the town. We have learnt from that. Here the highway will pass through town, so it will grow from spin-offs,” Dhikinya said.
The deal, according to sources, will see OK or council build a new prison complex at a cost of close to $500 000. Vic’s Tarven, or a section of it will give way to the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare Highway.
Vic’s Tarven, notorious for its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Rhodesia to form the Republic of Enkledorn, a state of otherwise naughty white farmers, is among the oldest buildings in Chivhu, one of the Pioneer Column’s rest forts as Fort Charter.
Naughty farmers in the 1960s established a “Republic” where one had to have a passport to enter their bar (which they actually stamped) before being stopped by the British government.
Journalist Miriam Mangwaya said the arrival of OK, a big international chain store, will increase movement in Chivhu as well as provide residents with a wider shopping alternative.
“It is a welcome development. Residents of the district and travellers will have a wider choice and that is certain to turn a new page in the development of the town.”
Apart from improving the status of the town, Mangwaya who has in the past written extensively about Chivhu and the outlying district, said the arrival of such development paved way for Chivhu to seek town status for enhanced service.
“It will increase the value of homes and properties within the town,” she said.
Dhikinya said his council was set on ending years of stunted growth and encourage the arrival of new traders and perhaps a more sophisticated workforce at the local authority set to split once town status is attained.
An expert in local government affairs said with the awarding of town status, Chivhu will be weaned from the Chikomba District Council to be administered by a town council as it moves to join the likes of Gokwe, Mpandawana and other like settlements.
Currently, devoid of industries, Chivhu residents are employed mostly to themselves, feeding off three gold mines that have attracted several youths.
Scores of youths have joined the gold rush to exploit alluvial gold deposits in the periphery of the Great Dyke where Chivhu lies and rich deposits in the Zoma area of Gutu North.
Chivhu has several lodges and game farms in its vicinity, while an ancient renowned school Assisi Secondary adds value to the settlement 100km north-west of Murambinda Growth Point near Makumbe Mission.
Mystic pools like Jemedza in the east, the source of the Sabi and its closeness to Wedza and Dorowa Minerals makes Chivhu, central to valuable centres.
A cool weather courtesy of the Mozambican channel smiles on Chivhu, sprawled on Savannah woodlands where tall grass thrives providing a preferred zone for cattle ranching.
It maintains its early position of a communication centre but awaits transformation to a town ready to provide it’s industrial service to a willing community now looking at Dhikinya’s administration with hope.
“We need abattoirs and mills for gold ore processing, colleges that can support schools from Buhera, Gutu, Wedza and even as far down as Chirumanzu. Don’t forget we were once in the Midlands and can still play a central role,” said a resident.