HomeLocal NewsPoverty pushes resettled Chiadzwa girls out of school

Poverty pushes resettled Chiadzwa girls out of school

KENNETH MATIMAIRE
ESCALATING poverty in Arda Transau Relocation Area has forced many girls out of school and into early child marriages, investigations reveal.

This comes after nearly 1 200 Chiadzwa households were relocated to Arda Transau to make way for diamond mining in 2010.

The settlement is about 40 km north of the Chiadzwa diamond fields.

Arda Transau is a former estate of state-owned entity Agricultural Rural and Development Agency (Arda).

It is located in Odzi, about 32 km west of the city of Mutare in Manicaland.

Records availed by the Mines ministry in 2013 indicated that Arda Transau measures 12 000 ha, and has a capacity to accommodate 1 800 families of the 4 300 that were up for relocation in Chiadzwa.

However, only close to 1 200 households were relocated as Marange families resisted the exercise over unfulfilled promises of financing income generating projects, compensation, food hand-outs and employment by the mining companies.

The area has since been flooded by illegal gold panners from across the country operating along Odzi, Mutare and Tsambe rivers, which are endowed with gold deposits.

Aerial mapping of the settlement obtained from Google Maps, shows that the rivers closely meander along Arda Transau, which makes the community the main providers of accommodation to the gold panners.

A graphic presentation on Chiadzwa relocation

Hard pressed by poverty, the villagers rent out rooms to the gold panners, while women and young girls sell goods, such as firewood, cigarettes, alcohol and food to sustain their families.

It is during such interactions that women and young girls fall prey to the money flashing gold panners.

Investigations supported by the Information for Development Trust (IDT) – a non-profit outfit supporting the media to probe bad governance – unearthed high numbers of girls dropping out of school.

Many of the young girls fall victim to rape while others are forced into early marriages.

Twenty-year old Theresa Dzoma (not her real name) is one such unfortunate victim.

Dzoma was 15 years old and in Form 3 when she dropped out of school in 2017 after her family failed to pay school fees.

She resorted to selling sadza to gold panners to support the family.

“By 2018 there was a big gold rush in Odzi and there were a lot of panners here (Arda Transau).

That same year I left home and started living with a gold panner, who came from Chipinge,” Dzoma said.

She was 16 years old then.

At law the legal age of marriage and cohabitation in Zimbabwe is 18 years.

Dzoma’s partner was 28 years old, making the union illegal.

Dzoma said she never enjoyed the abusive two-year marriage.

“He would come home with his friends drinking (alcohol) and would get offended when they talked to me and would beat  me up.

The police station became my refuge,” she said.

Though Dzoma parted ways with her abusive partner in 2020 and was now back at home, she regrets not only the precious time lost but a wasted childhood.

“When I look at my former school mates, they are either at universities or working decent jobs, but all I have is a failed abusive marriage and bad record at home,” she lamented.

Due to financial constraints, Dzoma is unable to resume her secondary school studies.

In fact, her younger sister was also forced to drop out of school at the age of 15 years in 2020. Dzoma’s case is just a tip of the iceberg of the social ills bedevilling the girl child in Arda Transau.

Her plight is common in a country wrecked by economic turmoil and in areas besieged by gold panners.Statistics gathered from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education provincial offices revealed that a total of 440 dropout cases were recorded from the three schools in Arda Transau between 2017 and 2021.

These are Chirasika and Wellington primary schools as well as Transau Secondary School.

The secondary school has an enrolment of 500 students, while the two primary schools have around 1 900 pupils.

Analysis of the data highlights that Transau Secondary had 258 (58,6%) dropout cases alone while the others were from the two primary schools over the period under review.

Moreover, female students constitute 44,7% of the overall drop outs recorded during the past five years.

National figures released in June 2021 by Friedrich Naumann Foundation indicated that dropout cases reached an all-time high of 840 000 learners in 2020 across the country, against a national enrolment of nearly six million.

A 2020 report titled Longitudinal Study into Dropout and Survival in Zimbabwean Schools by Unicef and the government of Zimbabwe cited poverty as the major driver of dropout cases and early child marriages.

Elderly women in Arda Transau said poverty has robbed the girl child and young women of their future and dignity.

“Our girls are going there [to sell wares to panners] but they come back with pregnancies. We don’t know what to do as parents.

We even have cases of our daughters-in-law who end up eloping with gold panners.

“But the most cases involve school-going girls that are eloping, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many eloped, some as young as Form 2 (14-15 years old) and these marriages do not last.

Most of the girls are back home,” lamented Doreen Kambeni, indicating that some of the girls are been raped.

Doreen is one of the 14 wives married to Kaiboni Kambeni, father of 80 children, of the Johane Marange apostolic sect.

Community elder, Henry Mawoneke (56), who chairs the association of settlers relocated by Jinan, said poverty and religious beliefs have not helped the highly polygamous community.

Mawoneke said most fathers were finding it difficult to support their big families.

He explained that under the apostolic sect, it is common practice for underage girls to be married off, and because of this, cases of early child marriages involving panners do not raise alarm.

However, Mawoneke pointed out that what has gotten the attention of the community is the high number of domestic violence cases.

“We have tried to report some of the cases but it’s difficult to apprehend the culprits because they are not from here and they easily flee,” Mawoneke said.

An illegal gold panner operating in Odzi, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the community continues to watch in silence child sexual abuses as the poverty stricken parents are enticed by the few pieces of silver the panners bring.

Abishel Mushawatu (22) — an orphan under the care of her grandmother, who dropped out of school at the age of 16 (Form 4) — said Arda Transau is no longer safe for the girl child.

“I dropped out of school after my donor stopped paying my fees. I realised that I was not safe in Arda.

I didn’t want to end up like my peers so I started working as a house girl in nearby cities.

I used the money to sit for my O and A Level. But it’s now difficult for me to fund myself to go to college,” she said.

Mushawatu obtained seven subjects (two As, two Bs and three Cs) at O Level and six Points at A Level.

Mawoneke said the major source of their crisis emanates from the false promises that led to their relocation.

He said they were dumped in Arda Transau where there is no means of generating income and had to sell their livestock to sustain themselves.

Mawoneke said he lost 17 cattle after he came to Arda.

Records from the Mines ministry revealed that the government only managed to resettle 10 villages out of the 31 villages that are in the Chiadzwa mining concession, as the former miners short-changed Arda Transau settlers.

So dire was the situation that the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), which took over from the former six miners that relocated villagers, only managed to resettle 20 families as the majority resisted.

Arda Transau Relocation Development Trust (ATRDT) chairperson Donaldson Masvaure said their relocation was based on lies, which is the major reason other villagers in Chiadzwa resisted.

Records that were corroborated by some of the mining company executives then, indicated that the firms were supposed to issue monthly food handouts, seasonal farming inputs, establish a community irrigation scheme and launch income-generating projects for which the miners would provide a ready market.

The community was further promised tree planting contracts for women and jobs priorities for relocated young men.

Arda Transau community elder Elivert Gamunorwa, who was a headman when the Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the community, government and mining companies, confirmed the pledges.

However, visits to the area by this publication revealed that the publicly heralded income generating projects never took off; a scenario that further plunged the community into deep poverty.

“All these false promises, which have worsened due to Covid-19 have left many, if not all families in deep poverty,” the 72-year old grandfather of 11, Gamunorwa said.

He said as parents and guardians, they were no longer able to meet their extended family needs and demands, which have led to family instabilities haunting the girl child.

“School going girls are now looking for elderly men to take care of them.

As fathers we are failing to take care of our families.

There is no food in the house, so they now look for people to provide that and gold panners are taking advantage of our incapability,” Gamunorwa said.

Another elderly woman from Arda Transau, Idah Kambeni warned that, “Arda Transau is no longer safe for the girl child and there is urgent need of interventions.”

Centre for Research and Development (CRD) executive director James Mupfumi said the crisis in Arda is as a result of unplanned relocations.

“And due to this, the impact on vulnerable groups like women and children is devastating because there is no income to that community since their husbands are not working,” he said.

“The promise to have secured jobs in Marange has not been honoured yet; they are staying in a community that cannot cultivate income.

They are staying on 0,5 ha pieces of land as extended families.

There is now over-population and the resources that are there cannot secure livelihoods.

“And unfortunately that area is also surrounded by gold mining areas and as children and women try to look for areas to sell their wares to fend for themselves, they are exposed to gold panners and as a result cases of rape and sexual abuse are on the rise, which have led to a high rise of sexually transmitted diseases, early child marriages and school dropouts,” Mupfumi added.

Experts indicated that early child marriages expose girls to Gender Based Violence, HIV-infections and other health-related conditions and further put the young mothers and their children into a cycle of poverty.

Simukai Child Protection that has been working in Arda for the past five years said they have assisted approximately 144 households with empowerment projects, skills training, sexual reproductive health, and back to school enrolment fund assistance, among others.

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