Neglected Matebelaland Cries Out For Better Fortunes

The road was last upgraded 25 years ago and villagers struggle to use it.

The trees too spoke a tale of hardship, most of them were stumps having been cut for firewood because the place does not have electricity. The few that were standing were bare as they responded to the vagaries of the weather in one of the country hottest regions that, ironically has no dams for irrigation.

Apart from the trees, cattle with bones sticking out from their hides and lazily on dry grass, abandoned buildings with charred walls and roofless tops were some of the most conspicuous scenes that spelt desertion by the locals and also neglect from the central government.

I thought that I had seen the worst but nothing on my long journey had prepared me for the harrowing tales of villagers whose hopes of making it in life had long deceased.

After a decade, I was once again at my uncle’s homestead in the Godlwayo communal lands, some 180km outside Bulawayo.

We embraced in typical African fashion but my uncle was bent with the strain of time telling on his body, he has worked all his life but for nought, the land is spent and the government he said abandoned them a long time ago after the civil war in 1987.

My uncle, just like all the villagers I later spoke to, blamed their predicament on President Robert Mugabe and his successive governments since independence in 1980.

But they do not have a voice and when they find the voice nobody seems to listen to them.

“My son, you (journalists) are the ones we rely to tell the world about our troubles. Go and tell them back in Harare that we are suffering this side,” said my 75-year-old uncle, Bekithemba Ncube.

Only the intervention of non-government organisations keeps them going in a place where children walk very long distances to school while families walk for more than six kilometers to fetch water.

“If it were not for the food handouts that we receive regularly from World Vision, you were going to find corpses here, ” my uncle told me.

Touched by the long distances they had to travel to get water, I offered my truck and it was like Christmas for them.

In a small way, I had touched their lives but I now know it was just nothing because today in my absence, they have to walk the same distance to get the necessity.

The government seems to have forgotten that people need boreholes. The wells quickly dry when it is not the rain season and so the people thirst for water and attention continues.

For that reason the villagers who are from the Ndebele ethnic group are bitter at the central government in Harare’s ‘negligence’.

Chrispen Mabhena, my uncle’s neighbour who had joined us, displayed bitterness towards Mugabe and his government.

He vowed that he would never vote for Mugabe in any election.

“I will never, ever cast even half a vote in favour of Mugabe. He hates us,” he said wagging his ring finger in emphasis, “he neglected us long ago and is developing his own areas.

Mugabe has never won an election in most parts of Matebeleland when they was an opposition and the reason is neglect.

Over the years, people in Matebeleland where the Ndebele are the majority ethnic group have had only promises.

“Our children walk long distances to school, we travel even longer distances to clinics. This man amazes me. I wonder why he does not fulfil his promises,” said Mabhena.

Thomas Mathuthu, also a friend of my uncle interjected and said:“We are being fleeced of our little money through senseless exchange rates here,” he said without elaborating on what was offered in exhange, “Take note of that my son.”

“In Harare, we hear people are getting good cash for their rand (South African) yet we are given all sorts of funny rates this side.”

Local headman Tom Mthunzi whom I later visited, also spoke of persistent hunger in the drought prone area.

The elderly headman decried the continued flight of industrious offspring from the area into neighbouring South Africa and the country’s towns leaving the older generation to endure the painstaking task of tilling the stubborn land.

“Nothing is realised from the fields anymore,” he said, “Most of our children have left the area for greener pastures.  Only the aged and the minors have been left in the villages.”

He continued, “Long ago, polygamy was a fashionable practice as it produced children who would provide the much needed labour in the fields.”

Headman Mthunzi said even the few crops they produce are usually grazed by stray cattle as the herd boys have since left the area to seek fortune in gold panning areas such as West Nicholson within the vast province.

Livestock, which remain the only tangible source of wealth and food in the area, is devoured by wild animals as there is no one anymore to head them.

“People in the area are now surviving on groceries and a few dollars from their offspring from South Africa,” said Siyabonga Ncube, MP for the area.

“All these years, NGOs have been supportive but have since reduced their activities because of the crumble of the US dollar. It is hard to imagine they will be able to survive beyond this dry period.”

Chief Vezi Mafu Maduna also lamented government’s neglect of roads in the area.

“Bus operators have shunned the area because of the poor state of roads,” he said, “Villagers walk long distance to catch buses either to Gwanda, the nearest town or Bulawayo.”

A drive to the nearest business centre, Denje also indicated that all the life had been sucked out of the place.

Only a few buildings with a few basic groceries remain standing while some have been rendered redundant.

Even Finance Minister Tendai Biti has admitted most areas in the province have long been marginalised. Biti has designated money for the areas under the marginalised areas fund.

Whether this would help or not, Matebeleland cries out for better fortunes.