Savior's 'Promised Land' that never was

NJELELE - It has been hyped as the “Promised Land”. And 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe — probably facing his last election — is touting it as the latest ace up his sleeve.

But for many rural folks whose vote Mugabe has survived on for the past three decades, the takeover of large foreign-owned firms, masked under the indigenisation and empowerment programme, is turning into a charade.

While the politically connected elite are creaming millions in spin-offs from the indigenisation programme, villagers stretching from Njelele in Midlands Province to Dora in Manicaland Province are hustling with no government support to realise their dreams of running commercial ventures.

People living in Njelele, 240km from Harare, say they only scan the big figures associated with indigenisation when they read old newspapers brought from town by relatives.

Villagers say they would love to get government support. But they can hardly tell what the Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment minister Savior Kasukuwere looks like, least the programme he stands for.

Bypassed by the indigenisation programme, villagers across the country are learning to realise their dreams on their own.

Just like the often violent land reform programme, the indigenisation project is turning out to be a feeding trough for the elite and politically-connected.

Struggling to cope with massive unemployment and biting drought-induced hunger, villagers are finding their saviour in age old methods to empower themselves in the face of government neglect.

For many Zimbabweans, Gokwe district, where Njelele is tucked, is a cash- rich region because of its long held reputation as a cotton hub.

But with low prices hitting the international market, the white gold has become unviable, forcing villagers to find their saviour in the age old method of community clubs.

One such group is Vashandiri Support Group.

The fact that most of the group members are living positively with HIV only pushes them to strive harder.

Local headman Francis Mpofu Mhaza said women living with HIV are at the forefront of such empowerment groups, adding that they have received no support from government.

“This has nothing to do with the government. It is the women who are doing all the work,” he said standing next to a fledgling piggery project run by Kusimudzirana Support Group which is in the same area as Vashandiri group.

“Indigenisation is yet to reach us here. There is nothing like that,” he said when asked if anyone in the area had benefitted from the indigenisation and empowerment programme driven by Kasukuwere.

Members of Vashandiri group say the only support they got was from the local Roman Catholic diocese which provided training while workers from the Barclays Bank Gokwe branch provided a little over $1 000 as seed capital for the project.

In other areas such as Zvishavane in the Midlands Province women who lack resources to fully explore their business dreams are turning to savings clubs, popularly known as stokvels in neighbouring South Africa.

Nyengetera Muchegwa, who leads a group of 28 in the Midlands Province’s Vugwi area, is one example of how small amounts of money can change lives. Members contribute as little as $5 to the club’s pool.

Thanks to the savings club, the 41-year-old single mother of three is now living her dream of becoming a businesswoman.

She used proceeds from the savings club to buy an electric sewing machine and now she has clients spreading across Zvishavane.

“We spin the money and then share the profits. But members are forced to use the money to set themselves up.Nyengetera Muchegwa leads a group of 28 women who have established self-help projects in Vugwi area near Zvishavane.

“Some have used proceeds to get passports so they can become cross border traders,” she said from the backyard room she uses as a “warehouse and office”.

Hundreds of kilometres from Gokwe, villagers in Dora are involved in similar savings club schemes.

Despite being a shy 15 km from the eastern city of Mutare, villagers say the government’s empowerment and indigenisation programme is non-existent.

“I have only heard of Kasukuwere and his programme on radio but there has been nothing for us.

“We are on our own,” said Amos Mandinoma, who is part of a savings club there.

He said villagers are desperate for government support, particularly for the youths who make a living illegally cutting trees to sell to residents of nearby Dangamvura suburb in Mutare.

“Our children are always engaged in running battles with the police who arrest them for cutting down trees. But how else can they survive when there are no jobs and people like Kasukuwere have no interest in empowering them,” said Mandinoma, describing the empowerment and indigenisation programme as a political ploy to milk votes.

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