This other time, I was in Mutoko in Mashonaland East province and what I came across was both shocking and saddening.
It was a hot Friday evening. A day before the ruling party held what it called its cell day. The day on which it was meant to conduct a loose audit of who was in its lowest structure; the cell.
On the way to Mutoko I passed more than a score of unmarked four-wheel drives on their way back to Harare and was wondering what the occasion was.
So, when I got to Mutoko, it was quite easy for me to find out. For, when I drove into one of the places in the rural town, cops were offloading big pots and other utensils from their four wheelers and there was a good hype of obvious security detail activities at that joint.
When I decided to sit down in a far and dark corner of the bar at that particular joint to cool off, my curiosity was quenched without having to bribe anyone with a beer.
There was no electricity at this run-down hotel of colonial fame, so there was no music and, therefore, I was well within earshot. Not that I had gone to Mutoko to sniff for anything, no.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa had been at Makaha, a few kilometers away, to commission a new gold mine.
These police officers — some of them very senior judging by their caps and epaulettes — who I saw offloading cooking utensils at the joint had camped in the Makaha area for something like a week because the commissioning ceremony had been postponed for days.
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The ceremony had been postponed because the people of Makaha were furious. These are the people who had been doing gold artisanal mining in the area before they were booted out to make way for a private company.
I also learnt that, a few days before, about a hundred trucks on the count had come and left Makaha with gold ore. It’s amazing how free and easy information is in Mutoko now. By just sitting in the corner of the bar for something like 30 minutes, among other things I also gathered that the mine was now owned by a Chinese company, fronted by a local bloke whose father was/is a very senior politician.
What was particularly intriguing is that some of the people who were offering this free information are people who you wouldn’t expect to talk so loudly in public, given the nature of their work. One of them actually pointed out that, now that there was talk of lithium having been discovered somewhere close by, he would move quickly to see if he could get a claim.
All this was one load of information for a naturally curious ear like mine. Once a journalist, always one. And then there was a bonus the following day. The Saturday when the Zanu PF cell day was conducted in Mutoko and nationwide.
Villagers who milled around Mutoko Centre were equally loud.
They admitted to being members of Zanu PF without anyone quizzing them, but they had snubbed the cell verification process. Their reason: “Let the president conduct the cell day with his Chinese friends!”
They didn’t like the decision by government to forcefully remove them from the hillocks of Makaha and give the gold fields to a Chinese company, whose name I have forgotten, and a few members of the black eating elite.
This anger is particularly ominous. Traditionally, Mutoko, as is the case with the wider Mashonaland province, is a Zanu PF stronghold. There was a time when you wouldn’t hear a single person, talking figuratively, speak evil of the party or its leadership.
This deep-seated loyalty explains why, during the 2008 political violence, Mash East recorded probably the highest incidence of the violence.
But things are changing now. People are becoming more vocal of the government and Zanu PF and more are openly joining the opposition.
One of the reasons for this shift is the festering frustration that the people are suffering. They have been systematically impoverished to render them vulnerable and defence-less. That’s one potent weapon the politicians always use to enforce loyalty to them.
And Mash East has virtually been turned into a Chinese province, given the rate at which investors from the Asian country are swooping on the region and disemboweling the land for granite and other resources.
People are being dispossessed of their ancestral land. To make matters worse, they are being denied the opportunity to benefit from the natural resources abundant in their birth land. Just like what happened in Makaha.
This growing crisis — for that’s what it’s turning out to be — is not limited to Makaha or Mashonaland East. The tragedy is now familiar throughout the country where there are abundant natural resources.
You already know how the discovery of diamonds left the people of Marange high and dry. You know what they were trying to do in Masvingo province when they almost displaced some 10,000 people to grow grass for cattle to benefit a private company.
You know how they are chasing away artisanal miners from lithium fields now and giving the claims to their own.
This is big contradiction. Government is always claiming that it wants to economically empower the people by bringing investments — mostly foreign — into the communities. But what’s happening is a systematic disempowerment of those communities.
The people are chased away to make way for a few individuals. These are mostly foreign investors from China. The arrival of the investors robs local communities of livelihood opportunities.
Where they were hawking, moulding bricks, doing market gardening, et cetera, they can no longer do so. In some cases, their rivers have been diverted and they no longer have water. No more pastures for the livestock. No more land to till for food.
What’s particularly painful is that these people are being sacrificed to please the ruling elite and its cronies. Only a few individuals ultimately benefit from the investments as the majority is condemned to poverty.
There is a big lie we are told in the process. Heh, heh, we are creating jobs for the people. Heh, heh we are going to ensure local beneficiation. Heh, heh, in a few years we are going to rake in billions in forex currency and we will have a first world economy by 2030. Nonsense.
Just look at how much the people who get employed by the mainly foreign investors are getting in salaries and wages. Peanuts. Even if the economy were to grow, there is something that people need to know. There is a difference between economic growth and national or even local development. The economy can grow without bringing development to the people.
For the record, the only growth or development worth talking about is what benefits the people. As it stands, those so-called investors are just coming to extract the resources from the communities and take them away to wherever they came from, while the people are pushed further into poverty.
The main reason why the trend is growing is because the ruling elite and its cohort of accomplices are selfishly benefiting from these investors. They are bribed to issue licences. The elites imposes their friends, children, wives and mistresses on the investors. This way, the elites get shares by proxy.
It’s never about the people.
A government genuinely concerned about its own people is expected to ensure that, as it seeks to promote investments, it prioritise the communities. It needs to protect them from the shocks that come with particularly this pandemic of foreign investments. It needs to create opportunities for the citizens, especially those that host the investments.
- Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]