Invest in your villages

guest column:Hopewell Chin’ono

TODAY I want to talk to the fellaz, varume vemuno muZimbabwe. Living in the English village is seen as a sign of status in the United Kingdom.

Many would buy a small flat in London and go back to the village every Friday to be with their family.

They call it the English countryside, something that many of my generation have disconnected with in Zimbabwe.

We come from a culture where the village home is always in the custody of the men not women. The logic is very simple, the woman gets married and goes off to live at her husband’s homestead.

So in our culture, the measure of someone’s responsibility or lack thereof was based on how someone’s homestead was maintained.

This, however, faded and changed with the metropolitan culture that we embraced in the 1980s.

Many of my father’s generation would ask why they had to be buried in the city as if they didn’t have an ancestral home.

“Ndovigwa mutaundi kuti handina musha here inini,” they would rhetorically ask.

This example is best captured with the death of Chenjerai Hunzvi who led a fast life in Harare, but when he died and was declared a national hero.

As is tradition, all national heroes are taken to their village home before being buried in Harare.

Hunzvi’s home was a disgrace, as the helicopter landed, the chopper blades were swinging the little hut’s door, it was surreal but not exceptional.

Many of us find ourselves in this difficult and yet unavoidable situation. Zimbabweans moved to cities and started new lives there with no concern of the village anymore.

Many go back to the village to visit their parents or grandparents, but are not emotionally or economically invested in village life anymore.

I was like that too until my two brothers who lived in England passed on. This left me as the only male in the family and the responsibility of the village plot was firmly thrust on my shoulders.

The goodness or the badness of everything to do with my ancestral home fell on my lap.

I had never lived in the village because my father was a senior civil servant so we lived in semi-metropolitan centres as my dad did his work.

When he retired, I chose not to go to the village but to my sister’s home in Harare and eventually I left the country after college.

So I had no emotional ties to the village, I just saw it as a place, where we all get buried one day when we pass on to the next world.

My parents had built a good home there before they died but it lay derelict for 12 years until I was faced with the responsibility of being the only mukomana asara (boy left).

My brother had passed on in England in 2014 and I had only one choice, to bury him in the village.

My parents would turn in their graves if any one of us were buried in the city, we grew up being told that.

I thought about the state of the village homestead and said to my sisters that it would be so embarrassing for all my friends who usually come to my big home in Harare to suddenly see my ancestral home in such a state, Hunzvi’s situation came to mind. Thankfully it had not deteriorated to such a level.

When someone dies in the UK, it takes anything from five to 10 days processing the paperwork, so I used that time to fix the place.

I would drive out every morning to supervise the work and was fortunate because one of my old friends had given me a truck to use.

I brought in a team of builders to radically sort out the home building structure and also a fencing company to put up a diamond fence covering one area.
A painter joined them because the place was dying for a fresh look.

The chaps did a wonderful job and when my brother’s body arrived from the UK, I was comfortable welcoming friends and family to this home that I had never stepped into in 12 years.

After my brother’s memorial, I calculated how much I had spent and realised that it was just over US$30 000.

At that point, I made a rational and yet abrupt decision that the village home was now my home and that I was going to fix it and live there whenever I could.

I asked the fencing company to come back and fence an extra 8 acres with diamond mesh.

At that time I had a flashy Mercedes Benz CLK convertible, I sold it and used every penny to make my village home modern. When I look back I even ask myself why I had bought that car in the first instance, a story for another day.

I drilled a borehole which was meant to cost me roughly US$3 000 but I was lucky that one of my neighbours in Harare had already paid for the same service to be done at his village in Mutoko.

So I ended up only paying for the drilling and not transport, the cost came down to around US$2 000.

What I am saying here is that I could have buried my brother and driven back to Harare and carried on driving my fancy Mercedes-Benz CLK and forgot about the village and yet one can never run away from their roots.

Zimbabwean women do not carry this burden because of the cultural intricacies but they bear the embarrassment nonetheless if men don’t take these responsibilities seriously.

Eventually I realised that having an expensive solar system and a solar-powered borehole made no sense if the village plot lay unused, that is how I started breeding Boer goats.

I took my friend Beatrice Mtetwa and her partner Professor Sam Moyo to my new village home. Prof Moyo was one of the leading agrarian scholars in Africa before he tragically died in a car accident in India.

He took a look at my piece of land and said “…iwe mupfanha urikutambisa ivhuka iwe.” (young man, you are wasting land).

He argued that Africans only thought of productive land in large-scale terms and yet one could earn a decent income from a small plot.

Mtetwa suggested that I start a goat project.

Prof Moyo put me in touch with the late professor Lindela Ndlovu from National University of Science and Technology. Prof Ndlovu’s PhD had been on small ruminants that include goats sheep etc.

He took me through what they required and eventually pushed me towards goats instead of sheep.

I felt energised by all this so I bought a 5 000-litre tank and had the solar powered borehole pumping into that tank which meant that I had plenty of water not only for myself, but also for the village if need be.

My father had drilled a manual borehole at the plot before he died, so I deliberately avoided fencing it inside the property and donated it to the community.

So I started off with our hard MaShona type of goats, learning how they behaved and eventually after six months, I went to South Africa and bought the Boer goat breed, 35 of them that cost me just over R125 000.

Had I bought them here they would have cost me US$35 000, which would have been R525 000 at the time. So I started breeding these goats and selling them as weaners (six months old) from US$350 to US$500 each. This project has made my village a productive entity for myself and those around it and it has given many around us a reason to also try their hand on it.

More importantly and emotionally for my family, we spent our first Christmas as a whole family at the village, including nieces and nephews some who had come from as far afield as England.

“Tosangana kumusha (we will meet at the village)” was the clarion call as we got close to Christmas in 2014.

I have homes around the world but this to me is now where my soul is not the city, I feel at peace there knowing very well that my grandparents, my own parents and siblings are all resting there.

I have also decided that I too will also rest there when my number comes up and I have picked a place where I want to be buried, as is part of our tradition.

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