Land reform spawns free fall of rural infrastructure

Augustine Mukaro



AS the tragicomedy of unforeseen consequences of the land reform programme continue to unfold in rural Zimbabwe, viewed as the bastion of Zanu PF’

s political support, infrastructure has begun coming apart at the seams.


A drive to Mutoko, one of Zimbabwe’s expansive rural areas, reveals that virtually all infrastructure is falling apart, characterised by almost inaccessible roads because of eroded verges and potholes, and derelict clinics and schools resembling abandoned buildings due to neglect and lack of funds.


No form of transport is available along the 60-kilometre stretch, from the Harare-Nyamapanda highway to Musiiwa Township and even beyond.


Bus operators, including the Mashonaland East governor Ray Kaukonde who owns RPK buses, have long ago withdrawn their fleet to save the buses from wear and tear.


Ramshackle, old and battered pick-up trucks often ply such routes, otherwise people have to endure the long journey on foot after disembarking from buses along the highway.


As if the bad roads were not bad enough for the poverty-stricken people, clinics have absolutely no drugs for the sick except in some cases, painkillers.


Schools looked deserted, with almost all classroom blocks showing broken windows. Even administration blocks were not spared. A glimpse into classrooms showed broken furniture.


The state of dereliction resembled a war zone.


People blamed government and their MPs for failure to provide grants or even visit the constituency to see the plight of the electorate.


“Government has forgotten us,” one villager identified as Chisese said. “There is no one to take our problems to higher offices. MPs only come down here when they want to be voted for again. We last saw our MP, Olivia Muchena, during the campaign period in 2005. She is not aware of what is happening in this community.”


Samson Sete, another villager had no kind words for the government either, saying it had worsened their situation when it banned non-governmental organisations from distributing food and initiating food for work programmes which usually helped in the repairing of roads and moulding of bricks for other developmental projects.


“Most schools and clinics around this area were built by donors with villagers providing labour through food-for-work programmes but that has since stopped,” Sete said.


“Government has failed to come up with alternative programmes to maintain these structures, resulting in the dilapidation you are seeing.”


Rural District Councils (RDCs) attributed the dereliction to the land reform programme saying it starved them of a constant income as new farmers were not paying levies.


When Zanu PF encouraged people to invade farms in the year 2000, it was expediently silent about payment of levies, which most people resent paying.


Funds generated from levies were used for the repair and upgrading of district infrastructure such as roads, clinics and schools. Apparently, the drying up of financial largesse for the District Development Fund has accentuated the problems.


An Association of Rural District Councils (ARDC) official told the Independent that reluctance by farmers to pay levies has crippled local councils’ operations and their capacity to provide basic services.


He said some RDCs have engaged debt collectors and are contemplating taking legal action to force new landowners to pay the levies.


“Most RDCs have already engaged debt collectors,” the official said. “It is within the RDCs’ powers to engage debt collectors or even lawyers to ensure that farmers pay the levies.”


The official said summons have been dispatched to more than 2 000 A2 farmers, the majority of them political bigwigs and war veterans who have evaded levy payments over the past five years when they forcibly occupied commercial farmlands.


Sources said RDCs which have already forwarded names to debt collectors include Mazowe, Shamva and Mvurwi in Mashonaland Central province.


“Topping the list of non-paying people are A2 farmers,” the sources said. “The majority have not paid anything from the time when they moved on to the properties.” War veterans, Zanu PF members and their hangers-on form the bulk of the new commercial farmers.


Government however should ensure that the new farmers pay the levies when they sign leases. Currently, A2 farmers have resisted paying rentals to councils, which have no mechanisms of enforcement.