Zimbabweans on paper, South Africans at heart
BEITBRIDGE – From currency to television and radio, people in this poor southern region are likely to know more about South African affairs than the average Zulu.
The cocky ones tell you they actually mistake South African leader Jacob Zuma as their president.
The minority Venda community, who say for decades they have remained marginalised by the “government in Harare”, have a strong feeling they are only Zimbabweans on paper.
With no meaningful economic activity and government support, the Venda largely rely on children and other relatives working in nearby South Africa, having fled the economic and political turmoil which hit Zimbabwe since 2000.
Nearly every homestead in this district in Beitbridge has a child or relative working in Egoli, as South Africa is fondly known here.
“Yes we might be holding Zimbabwe identification cards but in real terms we are South Africans,” venda headman Ntuweleni Siyoka of Manjini village under Chief Stauze tells the Daily News during a visit to the district.
“We depend on our children and relatives working in that country for survival, especially in this time of hunger. The Zimbabwe government has completely forgotten about us,” he says.
But he is certain that “very soon” the Venda will be getting attention from Zimbabwean authorities.
With a population of 100 000 plus, the Venda make a key voting bloc and with a watershed general election certain to be held this year, politicians who last set their foot here ages ago will be trooping back to beg for support.
“We only know that there is Zimbabwe when it’s time for elections,” says Siyoka, hunger written all over his face and his voice quaking with anger.
“This is because that is when you find government officials, especially politicians, running around this place seeking votes. Otherwise this government has done absolutely nothing for us,” says the 70-year-old with three dilapidated huts portraying the poverty residing here.
Venda, also known as tshiven?a or luven?a, is an official language of South Africa.
In Zimbabwe, politicians who negotiated the current Lancaster House Constitution completely ignored this lot.
The draft constitution set to become the country’s new supreme law recognises venda as an official language.
The majority of venda speakers live in the northern part of South Africa’s Limpopo Province. But about 10 percent of its speakers live in Zimbabwe mostly in Beitbridge districts and signs of neglect are all over.
Roads are in a terrible state, there are no bridges and shopping centres are devoid of life as rural businesses here collapse under the weight of economic inactivity.
The food situation is dire and residents say government support is not forthcoming.
Dry and blazing hot, Beitbridge has been hit by serious hunger following successive droughts.
Proud Ndou, who resides in Chief Matibe’s area, says food aid from government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) rarely reaches the area.
He says the situation has left residents like him without relatives sending groceries from South Africa surviving on mopani worms, commonly known as macimbi or madora.
A delicacy rich in protein, these worms are in abundance in Beitbridge area and have come in handy for poor families.
“There is serious hunger this year and without macimbi we would have been dead. We even cross to Musina in South Africa with some buckets of macimbi to sell, then we return home with food,” the 55-year-old says.
The Daily News crew witnessed hundreds of villagers including school children in the bush harvesting mopani worms.
Officials admit the situation is grave.
Matabeleland South provincial administrator Midard Khumalo told Daily News the situation in most districts in the province have become critical because of hunger, adding that despite heavy rains were received in other parts of the country recently, the area remains dry.
“Drought is serious in this province, especially in Beitbridge and Gwanda. But the government is working with non-governmental organisations sending food relief to the area. We last distributed food for vulnerable people last month. And right now we are working on a time table on when we can send food again to those areas,” said Khumalo.
Beitbridge West MP Metrine Mudau of Zanu PF acknowledges that starvation is widespread, adding that food aid programmes have temporary stopped because of shortages of maize at State agency, the Grain Marketing Board.
“Yes, the situation on the ground is not good,” Mudau said.
“But the reason why government food aid was stopped is that maize is not available at GMB main depot in Beitbridge. Usually when we get maize we send it quickly to small depots, which are closer to villagers like Zezani and Rutumba business centres,” said Mudau.
Beitbridge was the hardest hit district by drought in Matabeleland South followed by Gwanda, Kezi, Mangwe and Bulilima districts, where officials say at least 10 cattle die weekly due to lack of pastures.
Cattle farmer Onias Mbedzi of Mpengancena area near Zezani Mission in Beitbridge West says he fears then situation could worsen.
“There are no pastures for cattle anymore in Matabeleland South Province and cattle are dying in numbers. This is a cattle ranching place so many people are affected,” said Mbedzi.
Morgan Ncube, the councillor for ward 3 in Beitbridge, warned that Zimbabwe could face a repeat of the 1992 situation, when over half of the national herd succumbed to drought with the Matabeleland regions being the most affected.
The two Beitbridge constituencies, Beitbridge West and East are Zanu PF strongholds.
In recent years, Zanu PF has been getting some of its highest votes from these two constituencies.
Rights activists say government deliberately kept people here marginalised to reap from their ignorance on current issues.
Human rights activist Mmeli Dube, who works with civic society organisation Bulawayo Agenda, says Zanu PF has managed to keep the Venda people in Beitbridge in the dark and then intimidate them into voting for the party.
“It’s not surprising that Beitbridge had no Zimbabwean radio and television transmission for many years. Zanu PF has put people in the dark and intimidates them,” Dube says.
“That is why Zanu PF is raiding civic society organisations and human rights activists for distributing free solar powered SW and AM radio sets to people in rural areas such as Beitbridge because they know that Zanu PF will lose once people get correct information about what is happening in Zimbabwe,” says Dube.
The NGOs raided over these radios include Zimbabwe Peace Project and National Youth Development.
Recently, police spokesperson Charity Charamba announced the ban on radios and warned that villagers who received the radio sets would also be arrested together with organisations distributing the gadgets. – Pindai Dube