MUTARE – Stripped of all trees and subjected to an annual torching ritual, the mountain that hides Dangamvura high density suburb from the rest of Mutare is a charred, obscene obelisk of destructive environmental citizenry.
Home to the eastern province’s departed heroes and hosting apostolic sects’ shrines, the mountain could easily pass for a sand dune if it were not for the rocks.
But this is a mountain in which sightings of lions were common four decades ago, according to one elderly man who only identified himself as Saungweme.
“It was thick with vegetation and there was a lot of game and there were even sightings of lions back in the 1960s,” Saungweme reminisced.
With a growing population of poor urbanites on either side of the mountain, Dangamvura on one side and Sakubva, Chikanga and Hob House on the other, the mountain never stood any chance of retaining its vegetation.
When power outages increased, it was as if the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) had condemned it as people stripped it bare for firewood.
The local authority was powerless against a desperate populace.
At the height of load shedding back in 2008, the city council had a workshop on the fate of vegetation in light of the then prevailing levels of power outages which were the principal cause for deforestation, Obert Muzawazi, Mutare City Council town clerk said.
The workshop, Muzawazi said, helped improved the situation.
Now, although there is nothing left to cut as “it is bare,” according to Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial manager, Kingston Chitotombe, the Daily News has been observing people cutting down the small trees that are sprouting off the stumps.
Of huge concern to Memory Hanisi, a Dangamvura resident is the torching of the mountain each year around this time.
“These fires are not giving vegetation a real chance to recover and they are destroying a lot of life,” Hanisi said.
Kim Samuriwo, a member of Sustainable Environment Conservation Trust Africa (Secta), said her organisation was really concerned by the fires.
“We are really concerned but we are resource constrained. There are also many locals who are demonstrating the need to preserve our environment,” Samuriwo said.
Mutare’s fire brigade however has sympathies in not putting out the fires in EMA’s Chitotombe who feels the terrain would not be safe to attempt to put out the fire.
But it only has two fire trucks that are not suited to vegetation firefighting and only one knapsack tank, which would have been more ideal, and a few fire beaters, an official in the fire department said.
Amos Chiketo, a local environmentalist and a retired forester of over 30 years, however says it is down to the absence of a good fire plan for the mountain.
“We can’t say it’s impossible to stop these fires because you simply need a professional to design a good fire management plan for the mountain,” Chiketo said.
The source at the fire brigade also said the other anomaly was that the department is not involved in planning against any wild fires in and around the city.
Now though, with the ecology upset, even the law of karma is kicking in — Johanne Masowe Apostolic sect members are fighting running battles with monkeys that forage the woshipers’ bags for food as if in revenge for cutting down even fruit trees to fuel their campfires.
But the city has another growing problem according to Chitotombe and Samuriwo — vegetation around low density suburbs is now prime targets of firewood poaching rackets for sell in the high density areas.
“We have received reports of trucks collecting firewood in the Mary Mount area at night,” Samuriwo said.
Chitotombe said the Christmas Pass and Greenside areas have now become targets for fire wood poachers due to their thick vegetation.
“We sometimes make joint operations with Mutare City and Forestry Commission to police the environment but some of things are done during odd hours,” Chitotombe said.
Mutare Rural District has also consistently been a source of firewood for the city as poverty and demand has seen locals ravage their environment for profit.
It’s Chief Executive Officer, Shepherd Chinaka said, “As a Rural District Council, we are very concerned about the degradation which is being perpetrated illegally by people cutting down firewood for commercial purposes.”
Of concern to Chinaka is also the abuse of children in the process as they are made to carry heavy bundles of firewood over long distances for sale during weekends and holidays.
There currently are now more trees in Mutare’s high density suburbs than the mountains around them.