BY NKULULEKO SIBANDA
FOR an ordinary farmer, whether commercial or subsistence, the winds that blew on the morning of July 27, 2014 signaled good weather patterns that could eventually lead to the much anticipated rains come the normal rainy season in the country.
It signals a prospect of a good bumper harvest in the event that the rains fall pretty well. That would mean there is food to feed the family until the next agricultural season.
For the folk in Tsholotsho, the winds that blow on a daily basis spark some fear rains could fall anytime and should this happen, a repeat of the floods episode that was witnessed in their area early this year might be in the offing.
An investigation in the Tsholotsho communal lands showed government authorities had failed to attend to the major causes of the floods that rocked the district, the collapsed and at times non-existent drainage system around the dams and rivers in Tsholotsho
With the reported bickering between officials in the local authority, the business and traditional leadership, chances are that villagers would get to the next rainy season without getting any solution to their problem.
According to our investigation, the floods were caused by the spilling of dams, chief among them the Manzamnyama and Gariya dams, owing to siltation.
Villagers interviewed said authorities had been advised there was siltation at the dams. But due to alleged arrogance and the “we are the bosses and we know it all” attitude in some of the Tsholotsho Rural District Council officials, the problem was never attended to.
“When the rains started falling, it did not take much time for Manzamnyama and Gariya dams to fill up. Given that there were torrential rains, the dams started spilling water. In normal circumstances, water is diverted to the Hwange National Park using canals that were constructed many years back.
“The authorities were advised that elephants had destroyed the canals and there was need to have them reconstructed so that they could be used to move the water away from the villagers, but no one listened to us,” said Nixon Moyo.
It emerged, during the investigation, that had the canals been in place, the water would have been successfully diverted to the national park as was the initial design of the dam.
“The water flowed from the dam straight into the homesteads and the villagers were left to count their losses. Our administration here in Tsholotsho, especially the District Administrator, Nosizi Dube, is very arrogant. They think they know everything. And they are not interested in listening to alternative advice from anyone,” said Moyo.
He added: “Those canals were the ones that were going to help villagers to be spared from the water. They have even failed to lead a programme to reconstruct the canals because they are always locked up in their offices and hardly have time to meet with the community to hear our concerns and issues.”
Efforts, the villagers said, were underway to push for the re-assignment of the district administrator, Nosizi Dube, whom the villagers accused of being abusive of the traditional leadership in the district.
It also emerged that there is a big fight brewing between the government, through the ministry of local government, public works and national housing and the villagers in the area over plans by government to move the affected families to “higher ground.”During the investigation, the villagers vowed they would not move from the area.
The reason is that they do not trust government’s word and assurance they would be moved to a better place.
Thabani Moyo, 67, who has been a villager in the area for the last 45 years, said he and other villagers were not prepared to move to any other place.
He said the challenge was that they were likely to be moved to barren lands where they would no longer be productive.
“We have cattle here that we keep. The cattle feed on rich grass from salty soils here which is good for them and this plan to move us from these soils, which are rich for both cattle rearing and our own farming activities, will not work because we are going to resist the move. They might try and use force but we will not budge. Its better they kill us here than to move.
“We do not trust them (government). We have heard of their stories with the people of Masvingo and with that kind of experience, we better die here,” said Moyo.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a human rights lobby group, government recently indicated it wanted to move victims affected by the floods in Masvingo into a safe zone, but alas, the organization said the victims were dumped in areas where their only salvation was becoming cheap labour at sugar plantations where government intends to produce sugar for ethanol production.
Southern Africa director at HRW Tiseke Kasambala was quoted as saying: “These 3 000 families have been displaced under questionable circumstances and dumped at a place where their only alternative is to be cheap labour for Zimbabwe’s ruling party. These families have a right to compensation for their property and to voluntary resettlement elsewhere in the country; to earn a living as they see fit.”
The investigation also shows that most of the affected villagers have gone to re-construct their mud and pole houses to replace those that were swept away by floods.
Unlike the Chingwizi camp, and against the usually held notion that there was a transit camp that was established for the victims, the ones in Tsholotsho did not get that luxury of a transit camp.
“We were only given foodstuffs to sustain us. There was no camp to house us. We had to rely on some relatives who provided us with temporary shelter. Government wants us to move but we are not. They should fix the dams and their canals and stop bothering us about being moved,” said Austin Sibanda, also a villager in the area.
Government, it emerged, had been on a wild goose chase.
The villagers said told government officials who toured the area during the floods period that they could not move from the area as there were graves where their relatives were interred.
This, some villagers said, was just an excuse used as it was realised the trick of citing relatives’ graves as a major reason for the refusal to move would disarm government intentions as the government had no answer to the graves issue.
What is evident in this area is that come the rainy season, the Tsholotsho folk will be in the news again over the same floods issue in the event that government and the villagers here fail to reach an amicable solution to this problem. And the earlier the solution is found the better.
Efforts to get a comment from the district administrator, Nosizi Dube and the Tsholotsho Rural district council chief executive officer, Themba Moyo were fruitless as they were said to be attending workshops outside Tsholotsho.