The forgotten lot

BINGA - One has to travel to Binga District in Matabeleland North Province to understand why people here, who are mainly Tonga, have been rejecting Zanu PF since Independence while keeping loyalty to opposing parties.

Roads are out of shape, health centres are kilometres away and mud structures make for classrooms, in the few areas where schools are available.

Binga was a PF Zapu stronghold since Independence in 1980. Zanu PF only managed to run Binga after swallowing PF Zapu under a “unity” agreement in 1987.

From 2000, following the formation of the MDC, people have reverted to their anti-Zanu PF stance.

This place is one of the poorest and under developed districts in the country and currently is facing serious hunger because of drought. Government help on food is far from reaching this place.

Most areas in Binga have no schools, clinics, dams, roads and bridges.

Some children travel up to 10 km on foot to reach the nearest school. The few available schools are dilapidated.

Traditional leaders in the area say people are livid at the underdevelopment characterising the area.

Chief Sikalenge of Sialichaba area says the reason why people have been rejecting Zanu PF is because they are tired of government’s empty promises.

“People are not happy,” he told the Daily News.

“For a long time we have been getting empty promises from government in terms of developing this area. Now people think the government doesn’t care about them. There is also very high unemployment in this district, most youths are just seated at home because they have no jobs,” Sikalenge said.

Adds the 61-year-old chief: “Some areas are not even accessible because there are no roads and the roads we have are in a very bad state, having been neglected for decades.

“Again if you look, we have few irrigation projects while some districts around the country have many irrigation projects helping people to generate some income. There is just little support from government.”

Never Mudimba, a 40-year-old resident of Siansundu area, says people regard Binga as the “MDC headquarters”.

Since 2000, the MDC has been getting its highest number of votes from the two constituencies here, Binga South and Binga North.

“We now call this area the MDC headquarters, people don’t want anything to do with Zanu PF because that party has done absolutely nothing for us since 1980. There is serious poverty everywhere and our children walk long distances for school. We have no support from government in terms of farming and we are surviving through food handouts from non-governmental organisations,” said Mudimba.

During the rainy season, some areas like Kariyangwe Catholic Mission in Binga South are usually cut-off from the rest of the district as Detema River, whose dilapidated small bridge, will be flooded.

However, Zanu PF Matabeleland North provincial chairperson Richard Moyo says his party is still confident that it will win the two Binga constituencies in this year’s elections.

“We haven’t lost hope in retaining Binga. So far we have launched serious campaign programmes in that area and I am very confident that we will grab all seats. In the next few weeks we will be having rallies daily in all corners of that district,” said Moyo.

Local officials say because of high unemployment, most youths in Binga are risking their lives by getting into the crocodile- infested mighty Zambezi River for fishing without proper equipment like boats.

“Fishing is now the only source of income for most youths here, but it is very risky to fish from the Zambezi River without proper equipment because there are too many crocodiles.

We have been receiving several cases of fishermen who are attacked by crocodiles while fishing in the middle of Zambezi River without proper equipment,” Themba Mukombwe, councillor for Ward 17 in Lusulu area said.

Mukombwe added that few luck youths who formed cooperatives have fishing boats which were donated by NGOs operating in the area.

The Daily News witnessed more than 15 villagers precariously fishing in deep waters in the middle of the Zambezi River near Binga Centre without any protection.

One of the fishermen Isaac Tshuma, said villagers had devised new methods to scare away crocodiles.

“Yes this river is crocodile-infested, but if we get into a river as a group chances of being attacked are very slim. If we don’t do that we won’t catch any fish and we will starve,” said Tshuma.

“We survive through selling fish. So for one to catch enough fish for selling you have to be in deep waters in the middle of the river,” said Tshuma.

Binga has had no radio or television reception for Zimbabwean stations since 1980. People here rely on Zambian radio and televisions.

Matabeleland North provincial administrator Latiso Dlamini said the government has not forgotten about Binga and is currently making efforts to improve the lives of people in the area.

“It’s very true that Binga is still underdeveloped but as government we are making all efforts to improve the situation,” said Dlamini.

“We have many developmental projects which have been launched in the district although I cannot mention them. We also expect funds released to MPs under Constituency Development Funds to be used to improve the situation in areas like Binga, especially building schools. As for the high unemployment rate, that problem is not peculiar to Binga but the whole country,” said Dlamini.

High unemployment in Binga was worsened by the closure of Kamativi Mine, which used to employ thousands of people from the district.

The tin mine was closed in June 1994 due to lack of viability stemming from depressed international tin prices and falling ore grades.

The depression emanated from the devastating effects of tin price crash in 1995, when, overnight, the price crashed from about $10 000 per tonne to less than $4 000.

Tin mineral is used in electroplating, creating alloys and manufacturing kitchen utensils. Tin mining was a major economic activity in the province and at its peak the mine produced one million tonnes of the base metal annually with a staff complement of more than 2 000. - Pindai Dube

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