Binga villagers appeal to government to review fishing levies

By Dumisani Nyoni
BINGA—MATABELELAND North villagers—in Binga and Lupane in particular—have come out gun blazing, accusing government of impoverishing them by imposing “unaffordable levies” on fishing business, their only source of income.
Lupane Residents secretary, Khulumani Mpala told Radio VOP in an interview that people living in rural Binga district in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North Province, have for generations depended on fishing for food and income but unaffordable government levies were making their lives increasingly difficult.
“We used to enjoy unlimited access to the Zambezi River but this started changing about two decades ago when government departments-including the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks),  local district councils and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA)- began charging levies to fish in the river. The fees at first were small and the authorities were not strict, but they have been increasing over the years,” Mpala who is also Lupane Youth Activista director, said.
Currently, Mpala said anyone wishing to fish using nets or rods must pay US$5 a day, while commercial fishers operating boats pay $2,500 to Zimparks every three months, $350 to ZIMRA and $40 per rig per year to the rural council.
Mpala said fishing on the Zambezi river was dominated by commercial fishers from urban areas who were charged the same levies as the locals but often sell their catch in towns and cities at higher prices.
“There should be unhindered access to it (Zambezi River).  But the problem is that the Tonga people are now virtually barred from fishing from it because of prohibitive levies and this is driving poverty levels up. Instead, the river is now benefiting fishers and traders from the cities and towns who have the money to pay the levies,” he said.
Mpala said Binga District was too dry to make crop farming viable.
He also revealed that the area was under-developed despite being rich in mineral and timber resources.
“It is officially confirmed that there are good coal, gold, tantalite, uranium and diamond deposits and vast land under indigenous timber in this area but nothing is happening and we wonder why?,” he said
Mpala appealed to government review or scrap levies altogether as local communities were now suffering because of them.
“Local communities look to the Zambezi river for fish-mostly bream and kapenta-for house hold consumption and sale to small-scale and commercial buyers from urban centres as far as Harare, some 500km away. Income raised from the fish is used to buy other food items, in addition to paying for school fees and medical expenses,” he said.
Mpala also revealed that Lupane was under-developed despite being rich in timber among other natural resources.
To address economic imbalances at provincial level, government has since come up with devolution programme.
In his 2019 National Budget, Finance and Economic Development minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube set aside $310 million to facilitate the process of devolution in the country.
Efforts to get a comment from relevant government departments were unsuccessful.