Scores of village elders listen attentively as a community leader articulates the way forward with regard to their grievances, years after they were displaced by floods which rocked Chingwizi, leaving over 3 000 families homeless.
By Own Correspondent
Sounds of bitterness and anger echo throughout the meeting as the community leaders desperately try to cool off emotions that continue erupting from all angles.
Chief among the grievances was proper compensation and resettlement on arable land as Chingwizi was proving to be inhabitable.
Malaria, snake and scorpion bites have caused untold suffering among close to 3 000 families confined at Chingwizi.
“We are suffering here and the government seems not to care about our plight and we are launching an appeal to the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to assist us.
“People have lost everything, including relatives and livestock, ever since we were evicted from our land,” said 54-year-old Denford Gwanyanya.
He added: “There is no way we can continue to live like this given that the dam is now complete and we now have a new president who seems to care about the plight of the people compared to the previous government.”
Following years of empty promises of compensation from the government, villagers are still confined at Chingwizi, a dry and arid land unsuitable for farming and living conditions situated in the Lowveld and adjacent to Chiredzi.
The poor villagers were forcibly evicted by the government in 2014 following heavy flooding triggered by large volumes of water that escaped from the incomplete Tokwe Mukosi dam.
With little or virtually no compensation at all from the government, the 3 500 families were moved off from their land in trucks to Chingwizi transit camp, which lies about 150km from their original homeland.
Many lost their livestock and had to endure about six months in a transit camp, which lacked proper housing and sanitation facilities until the government finally forced them off to a 1-hectare plot of land.
Thousands of children abandoned school as a result with the makeshift school structures inadequate for learning.
According to the villagers, the land is very small for farming and livestock keeping and, worse still, Chingwizi is arid, thus rendering it unfit for agricultural purposes.
“Chingwizi is on very hot and dry land that falls under natural region 5 and it gets little or no rainfall at all over the years. Worse still, it is a high malaria zone and we have lost a number of people since we were settled here in 2014.
“Our appeal to the new government is to properly resettle us close to the dam project so that we can benefit from its proceeds,” said Shamiso Zunga.
Tasara Wamambo, the founder of Tokwe Mukosi People’s Rehabilitation and Resettlement Trust (TMPRRT), was hopeful that the new government would act and help resettle people close to the dam project so that they benefit from their resource.
TMPRRT has been instrumental in lobbying for proper compensation and resettlement of villagers since 2012 and managed to mobilise critical resources such as food and clothing for the affected villagers.
“I am confident that the current government will try to ensure that the gains of the struggle are not lost compared to the previous administration that did not care about the plight of the people.
“I have been engaging officials from the government and hopefully they will facilitate compensation and resettle the villagers,” Wamambo said.
“Our appeal as a community is for the government to first offer the affected villagers land and space to conduct farming or any other related business.
“This will be fair given that these are people who have suffered the most.”
The Tokwe Mukosi dam project is now complete and it is now the largest inland dam in the country with huge prospects in fisheries, gaming and boating
Wamambo, however, appealed to the government to consider the Chingwizi villagers first in accessing the benefits from the dam.
The villagers’ hopes were dashed following the death of former Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa, who was in the process of facilitating proper resettlement.
Ironically, when former president Robert Mugabe commissioned the dam last year, he gave away little with regard to compensating the villagers.
However, hopes are high among the villagers that Mnangagwa will intervene given the historical links he shares with the people of Chivi and Masvingo province.