By Takura Zhangazha
Far from the madding political crowd, there is a small but very important project to complete constructing a dip tank in the village community of Ward 10 in Gokwe, Zimbabwe. It’s a project that was started in 2010 with each family in the village volunteering to pay at least $US20.
Through this, the Dip-Tank Committee of the same ward raised at least US$4000 over a three year period. This money went to the completion of the phase that involves the digging up and fortification of the dip-tank in June 2013. They also managed to get donations of bags of cement from a German international aid organization and technical assistance from the Zimbabwe Division of Veterinary Services (ZDVS).
The key reasons for embarking on this project are that the previous dip tank collapsed and therefore there is need for a new one. Add to this, the long and tedious distance to get to the next wards dip tank and the necessity to pool community resources together was established.
The role of the Gokwe Rural District Council (RDC) and Gokwe-Sesame Member of Parliament Mr. Jeffery Runzirwai have also been recognized although villagers appear persuaded that both could do more. This is probably because the project remains incomplete. It is now in requirement of a permanent top level structure to direct the animals. The wooden logs that have been used since 2013 are not durable and are relatively much more expensive to maintain and are therefore in need of replacement by a concrete structure.
The stones have been collected. What is missing, again, is the money to purchase 50 bags of cement. At current rates, the cheapest bag of cement is at least US$12. The community at the moment does not have the total US$600 that would be required and is therefore looking for well wishers to assist them complete the project.
I have told this real story because it is one that has been conveyed to me by one of the community leaders of the project in question for the last four years. It is a project that is close to not only his heart but that of the community in which he lives.
It is however not an isolated story. Across rural Zimbabwe there are many such village self reliance projects. They are not only limited to dip-tank construction but also water retention and access projects such as the building of dams and deep wells.
They involve in most cases, an international development aid agency, local government official, a traditional leader but above else, the collective action of an affected community. It is the latter that is the primary motivator of the projects because it is normally a necessity than a want.
Sometimes it involves a local politician such as a Member of Parliament or his/her rival and the local councilor and in most cases toward an election campaign.
The key issue is however that there is an evolving culture of self reliance among rural communities in order to maintain or attain decent livelihoods. That donors are involved does not make this any less significant. The initial $20 that families paid to the dip-tank committee is not small change.
Accompanied by regular update meetings on the nature of the progress of the projects, together with volunteer and hired technical labour and you have a new consciousness about collective well being at a micro-level.
Essentially communities no longer wait for government, though they know that they need it’s permission. They deal with their realities, seek technical knowledge and assistance with their project budget deficits from willing and able stakeholders. Even if it takes a disproportionate period of time. In the case of the Gokwe Ward 10 dip-tank it has taken close to four years to reach the stage they are at now.
In democratic circumstances the construction of the dip tank should have been the prerogative of the rural district council and central government . But as has been the case for a while now, RDCs are under-funded. This must not mean that they can wash their hands of the project or outsource development to donors or poor villagers who now act out of collective necessity or risk losing their livestock.
The problem however resides with central government and its continuing inability to provide resources to rural communities for livelihood as well as livestock sustainability. That communal farmers understand that they too must play their part is a good thing but that does not take away central government’s responsibility to provide the infrastructural framework.
Furthermore, Members of Parliament cannot argue that they are waiting for their now annual disbursement of the controversial constituency development fund (CDF) to address basic issues such as the construction of dip tanks. Instead they should be asking the executive to provide more direct funding to the ZDVS and local governments to expand access to services even if rural communities appear to be trying to do it for themselves.
As it is, the Gokwe Ward 10 community is looking to complete the new dip-tank. They are looking for sometimes hard to come by good samaritans for the remaining 50 bags of cement that are needed not wanted.
*Takura Zhangazha,a historian and media activist writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)