Poverty, anger in 'rich' city

MUTARE - It is often referred to as the diamond city. But nothing glitters here.

Only one traffic light works in Mutare — Zimbabwe’s fourth largest city sitting at the heart of rich diamond, gold and timber resources.

The traffic light at the corner of Herbert Chitepo Street and Robert Mugabe Avenue at least represents something working.

Because working is something the majority of people here know nothing about — never mind that diamonds found in this eastern part of Zimbabwe have created at least 60 000 jobs in India, according to the World Federation of Diamond Bourses.

Here, idle ghetto youths wake up daily to smoke weed and lazy around the hood.

Some have college diplomas and university degrees hanging on the walls but jobs are hard to come by.

Always broke but quick to hustle a dollar or two, the youths have found a new best friend — the Zimbabwe Emergency Drink, the name popularly given to Zed, a cheap, potent brew smuggled from nearby Mozambique.

“Everybody drinks it, even the employed drink it. Industry is paying peanuts so Zed is the thing,” says Jake, a 22-year-old from the poverty stricken Sakubva suburb.

Health experts say such illicit brews pose serious risks, but no one is listening. Shebeens have sprouted on every corner in suburbs such as Sakubva, Dangamvura, Chikanga and Hobhouse — their major trade being Zed.

The “industry” referred to by Jake is what has been described by former Zanu PF Manicaland provincial chairman Basil Nyabadza as a “graveyard of companies who were yesterday household names and they are now history”, leaving the likes of Jake with nothing to do but drink the cheap brew.

Formerly giant firms such as Tanganda, Mutare Board and Paper Mills, Karina Textiles, Border Timbers and Cairns Foods have either closed shop or are operating at a threadbare minimum.

For many, the collapse of the local industries had become a way of life as many companies began cutting down a decade ago. Residents were getting used to the low life — until the discovery of diamonds in Marange in 2006.

The city turned green with US dollars, as did many parts of Manicaland Province before the army launched a brutal campaign to flush out thousands of panners to make way for “organised, commercial mining”.

Since then, it has been back to poverty and residents are seething with anger at how they are being forced to scrap for survival in a sea of riches.

Some, such as development and economic expert Itai Zimunya, have questions.

“How can a provincial capital whose geography contributes $1 billion to the national developmental matrix only get $18 million to service it? From a pedestal perspective, one might ask where the $980 million that Manicaland generates go to?

“Is it an effect of sanctions, looting or a result of poor developmental policy frameworks?” queried Zimunya.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling that elections be held before July 31 means there is little time for President Robert Mugabe to undo the damage caused by his government’s handling of the Marange diamonds issue.

“The discovery of the diamonds has shown us how he really feel about us,” says Ozwell Chareka from Chikuni area, a stone’s throw from the diamond fields. “We will meet at the ballot box,” he adds, thoughtfully.

But more dire for Mugabe and Zanu PF is the fact that most of the heat about Marange is being publicly generated from within the party, just two months to a key election which may be decided by this swing province.

This past month, top Zanu PF representatives in government and a pro-Mugabe business groups have raised dust, some even questioning why ordinary supporters should remain loyal when they are sidelined from diamond benefits.

Charles Samuriwo, a former Zanu PF Manicaland deputy provincial secretary for information and publicity and now spokesman for Manicaland Business Action Group likened the handling of the Marange diamonds issue to “bhora musango”.

Bhora musango is a phrase Zanu PF does not like to hear, because under the project, party officials plotted to undermine him, resulting in his March 2008 presidential election first round loss to long time rival and now coalition partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

“There is a new form of Bhora Musango that is going on within the party. Our supporters are being taken for a ride so they get angry at our leadership,” he said at a heated meeting with community representatives at Mutare Hall.

“This is a new format of Bhora Musango theory where people sleep behind the wheel and won’t deliver employment opportunities for the people of Manicaland,” Samuriwo said.

This was after Zanu PF supporters in Mutare district and members of the Marange Residents Empowerment Trust (Mret) told him during the meeting not to expect them at party rallies if they remain sidelined.

The Marange Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust touted by top Zanu PF officials such as Indigenisation minister Savior Kasukuwere as an election trump card is being ripped apart.

Didymus Machiri, chairperson, the Mret raised a stink over the operations of the trust.

Said Machiri: “The Marange launch was launched by the president and we heard $50 million was made available. Two months ago, we read that officials are saying on the promised $50 million, ‘don’t worry, we want to set up a board of trustees because registering the trust is a long process’.

Tobva tati, ‘iya, saka it was launched before being registered and the same trust was given money without being registered, so who is accountable for that money?’”

“I laughed the other day when I saw council workers repairing roads on the route the President was to use when he came here. A diamond area only repairing the road because of the president’s visit, and only on his route?” he queried.

“Yet, if you go to Chiadzwa, they are opening new roads everyday to ferry diamonds to Mutare enroute to Harare when Manicaland is like this,” he said, adding: “There is no consultation on this Marange Trust. It’s not our thing. How can you impose on people? If you want to develop an area you ask the people from that area and they tell you what they want, not this imposition.”

Tracy Masvaure, a committee member of the organisation she would no longer “waste time attending party functions that fail to deliver on promises”.

“We want to warn the leadership in our party that it is futile to keep taking us for granted. The time is up and we want action now and not speeches and promises,” Masvaure said.

“People are sick and tired of attending these meetings that do not resolve the problems people are facing. We need to see clinics, schools being built, roads constructed and youths and elders getting the jobs,” said Masvaure.

Earlier in the month, provincial governor Christopher Mushowe had begun the ball rolling, though he chose to take aim at mining firms.

He told participants at a mining workshop that since Mugabe’s official launch of the Marange-Zimunya Community Trust in July last year “nothing, absolutely nothing, has taken place. Not even talking about it”.

“I am talking on behalf of the people of Manicaland. The people of Manicaland are very patient people but not let that patience be taken for granted.  And we say are we really being taken for granted to that extend? Kuno kuManyika tinoti kunyarara hakusi kupusa (silence does not mean we are fools),” said Mushowe before sounding a warning: “If you build a small island of richness in the middle of a sea of poverty, the sea will drown the island. So let the island realise that it must appease the sea because the sea cannot continue to hold on to an island when that sea is hungry.”

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