HARARE – Largely regarded as the epicentre of the ruling Zanu PF’s support base in Mashonaland East since independence in 1980, Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe easily ranks as one of the most underdeveloped districts in Zimbabwe.
Situated about 160km north-east of the capital Harare, the district which has two legislative constituencies, has proved to be the fulcrum of President Robert Mugabe and his party’s three decades-plus in power.
And the ruling party has jealously guarded the two constituencies like a beleaguered citadel, making it difficult for opposition parties to make meaningful inroads into its fortress.
Uzumba-Maramba-Kufunga is what opposition political humourists have come to call it in reference to the community’s unwavering support for the ruling party.
In the July 31 harmonised elections which saw the party trounce the opposition MDCs, the VaPfungwe — as the local community is known — confirmed their unparalleled support for Zanu PF with graphic clarity.
The constituencies gave Mugabe the highest number of votes in the province, which has nine districts.
Yet, despite standing out as the 89-year-old veteran politician’s all weather supporters, UMP remains one of the poorest and underdeveloped districts in the country, comparable only to Binga, probably.
Roads in UMP are in bad shape, health centres are kilometres away and pole and dagga structures make for classrooms in the few areas where schools are available.
Other districts in the province such as Mutoko Centre, Murewa Centre, Chikomba, Goromonzi and Wedza among others are fairly better in terms of infrastructural development.
The effects of the country’s high unemployment rate is epitomised in UMP where local youths risk their lives catching fish in the crocodile-infested Saparanyambuya Dam, using equally risky and rickety wooden boats.
For starters, there is only one boarding school (Uzumba High) in the two constituencies and learners travel distances of up to 15km to reach the nearest school.
The second best school in terms of infrastructural development is Maramba High, at Mutawawa Growth Point — over 20km from Uzumba High.
With an enrolment of over 700 pupils and a staff compliment of 33, almost half the students conduct their lessons under the mango trees that make the school orchard.
Teachers are either crowded with their families in the few houses built by parents or they have to look for alternative accommodation in the township.
And the community is livid at the marginalisation that characterise their area, with serious food shortages compounding the situation.
The Daily News on Sunday spoke to Zanu PF supporter Patrick Kamuso of Pfungwe during one of his fishing errands.
Kamuso lamented the district’s underdevelopment, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the local political leaders whom he accused of not pushing the agenda of development.
“Poverty is what makes us take these risks but we cannot do anything as we have families to feed,” he said.
“We have always supported Zanu PF here and we have never wavered. We love the president (Mugabe) that is why we have always come out in our numbers to vote for him in every election.
“What is worrisome however, is that our area has not developed to catch up with other districts. Our local leaders are corrupt that is why there are only a handful of schools that have electricity in the district.
“We have not enough clinics here and people walk long distances say from Shamba to access medical care in Mutawatawa. There is no transport network from there and many pregnant mothers deliver at home,” Kamuso told the Daily News on Sunday.
Washington Musvaire, Maramba Pfungwe’s member of the National Assembly, admits UMP cannot be compared to other districts in the province in terms of development. Musvaire however, blames the marginalisation on the previous inclusive government which he said did not give priority to rural development.
“UMP has not developed very much along with other districts in Mashonaland East. The previous Finance minister (Tendai Biti) would promise us Constituency Development Funds but we would only get part of it hence we could not finish our projects.
“We have however, tried our best under the circumstances where we have rehabilitated classroom blocks and constructing teachers’ houses at schools like Bangari Secondary and a satellite school near Chikuwa. We have also made donations to about five or so local clinics,” added Musvaire.
The lawmaker said he would use the current parliamentary term’s CDF to construct classrooms and teachers’ houses at Maramba High School.
“Plans are underway to ensure that the infrastructure at Maramba and other local schools is rehabilitated as well as building new blocks since the school has grown big and the council can no longer take care of its needs,” he said.
“We hope in the future some of these council schools are handed over to government because the councils are struggling.
“I am confident this time around we will do more projects given that we are now alone in government after the MDC was defeated.”