Fifteen years after former Agriculture deputy minister Roy Bennett was evicted from his Charleswood farm in Chimanimani at the height of land invasions, over 500 settlers are now occupying the once thriving and productive piece of land.
BY KENNETH NYANGANI
But the new settlers face the agony of inadequate agricultural inputs, difficulties in accessing education and health facilities, while child marriages are now the order of the day.
Under the leadership of Bennett, the 7 000-hectare farm was a net exporter of coffee, earning the country millions of dollars in foreign currency annually.
The farm also boasted of being a major maize, horticulture, and livestock producer, employing over 2 000 workers during the peak of the season.
Charleswood had over 40 coffee out-growers who received training courtesy of Bennett, the former MDC-T treasurer general.
However, today the farm, which used to be the envy of many in the country, has become a pale shadow of its former self.
The new owners of the farm — cash-strapped Arda, settlers and Russian owned DTZ-Ozgeo — have reduced the property to a shell.
DTZ was stopped from mining diamonds early this year by government together with other diamond mining companies in Chiadzwa.
Zanu PF councillor for Ward 12 Mike Chimene chronicled a host of challenges they were facing, which included lack of education and health facilities.
All these challenges started after the eviction of Bennett, with mining activities also taking centre stage.
“We don’t have a secondary school. Our children travel long distances to school, about 13km to 16km,” he said.
“We only have a primary school at Charleswood. Those who are attending secondary schools travel to Chikukwa [13km] and Nyahode secondary school [16km]. just imagine walking such a distance, they get tired.”
“As parents, we are forced to find accommodation near their schools and pay rentals.
“Our major challenge is that our children are marrying each other, since they are more independent. We spend two to three weeks without seeing them.’’
Chimene added: “We also do not have a clinic. We travel almost 16km to access a clinic and this is not convenient at all for us and we have since approached the relevant authorities.’’
The councillor also chronicled tales of rampant child marriages in the compound, but believes it is something that is being addressed.
Chimene said most settlers who had offer letters from government were A1 farmers with two and half hectare plots each while there were only 12 A2 farmers.
“We have good soils and we grow maize, beans and potatoes. We are doing well but we don’t have inputs and we need irrigation for us to perform effectively,” he said.
The primary school also faces a number of challenges such as the shortages of classrooms, textbooks, teachers and accommodation.
The arrival of settlers and mining activities at the school increased the school’s enrolment number from 300 to almost 700.
Centre for Research and Development director James Mupfumi said they met the local councillor, traditional leaders and Charleswood Primary School headmaster mid this year to discuss lack of employment and opaque mining operations by the Russians.
Mupfumi said the headmaster was asked how the school benefitted from the exploitation of resources in the community.
“The headmaster said the school was initially a farm school that had a small catchment area and could only accommodate less than 300 pupils.
“However, with the establishment of the mining activities in the area, relocations have been done and the number of pupils in the school has risen up to 691,’’ he added.
“This has led to accommodation problems classes were not adequate.
“Consequently, the school is now using an old tobacco barn block as classrooms and a makeshift classroom block. Still, these are not adequate to accommodate all the pupils.
‘The school does not have adequate accommodation for its teaching staff.’’
Mupfumi said out of 17 teachers, only five could be accommodated at the school.
He said there was an urgent need for more classrooms, textbooks, classroom furniture, accommodation for teachers and an early child development centre.
The human rights activist was worried about the state of affairs at the farm as he blamed DTZ for not helping the local communities with development.
“Russian diamond mining operations produced no tangible benefits for the community, except a water tank at the school and a classroom block.
“Diamonds were being sorted in Penhalonga, depriving the local community of employment,’’ he said.
“People there prefer farming rather than mining, and council is not receiving revenue from the mining company.
There is no clinic and secondary school.
“The primary school has no furniture and pupils are learning in makeshift classroom blocks belonging to Arda.’’
Mupfumi said they were training community leaders on public policy issues related to the exploitation of natural resources for them to approach local governance institutions to demand better service delivery and accountable governance of their resources.
Gladman Maronde bemoaned the high unemployment rate in Chimanimani district after Bennett’s eviction.
“Bennett, who was known as Pachedu [between us] was very influential.
“He was eloquent in our local language. He employed almost 2 000 people around Chimanimani district.
“He would send lorries to every corner of the district such as Biriwiri, Chikukwa, Machongwe, among others to transport workers,’’ he said.
“We all benefitted. Yes, we can talk of black empowerment, but we are missing him [Bennett] because we all benefitted from his services.’’
Most villagers praised the former Chimanimani MP.
“I don’t want to say much about Bennett because I will be victimised,” said one elderly woman.
“But the white man was just good to us. He made sure that we had everything we needed, including jobs and food.”
Airtime vendor Gladys Machongwe from Nedziwa said she and her husband once worked for Bennett.
“It’s almost 13 years now [since Bennette left]. I am now selling airtime to take care of my family,’’ she said.
Petros Mbarure, who now lives in Chipinge, said his family benefitted from Bennett.
“I grew up in Chimanimani but my family used to work for Bennet. They were paid weekly. Every person wanted to work for Bennett,’’ he said.