By Elvis Anusa.
FROM the usually inactive small shopping centre of Mount Hampden that marks the boundary between Harare and Mashonaland West provinces to as far as the small town of Banket, along the Lomagundi highway, an unpleasant impression of poverty similar to that which frequently pervades most of the country’s high density suburbs prevails.
Agriculture is arguably the major source of employment in this predominantly rural and arable area that normally receives very good rains.
Subsistence farming is practised by many of those resettled in the area due to reasons including unavailability of capital, the lack of a genuine interest in agriculture and a lack of specialised farming knowledge and experience to undertake modern farming activities.
Inability by many to produce enough to feed themselves is a very disheartening reality. Reliable sources told The Solutions Tower about landowners who hardly do any farming but resort to menial jobs at other people’s plots and farms, including planting, weeding and harvesting.
In such jobs, one can pocket an average of two dollars after about nine hours of hard work, while permanent employees can earn about $70 monthly.
A few lucky farm permanent employees, however, receive ration food such as sugar, salt, cooking oil, sun dried salted fish, maize meal and soya chunks from their employers, and furthermore, it is usually the fortunate ones who receive their salaries on time as some employers normally pay them in instalments if they happen to pay them at all.
Together with other people from some of the capital’s high density suburbs, Dzivaresekwa included, some of the area’s inhabitants make a living out of stealing produce from big farms and their loot includes potatoes, vegetables and grains such as sugar beans and maize.
Solar Farm, Bell In Farm, the part of Gwebi College of Agriculture where the Chinese are carrying out their farming operations and PB Anott’s farm, which is close to Westgate shopping centre, are amongst farms from where these people steal. Save for the well armed and trained guards, any attempt to apprehend these thieves can be suicidal since they normally operate in numbers and are armed to the teeth with items such as iron bars, catapults and axes, with which to attack once cornered.
Firewood and gum poles are stolen for sale, while small livestock such as rabbits and chickens are mainly stolen for consumption.
In response to severe food shortages common amongst many, some people glean in other farmers’ corn, sugar beans and soya bean fields for some desperately needed protein and starch foods.
Even a few grains that fall from delivery trucks along the highway is patiently picked by some, mostly the elderly and children of school going age while some of the people survive on working at other farms in return for food items such as maize meal, sugar as well as chicken and pig intestines.
Three decent meals per day are beyond the reach of many households, to most of who the buying of foodstuffs in bulk has just but become a dream. They usually buy from tuck shops which are found within their communities and vendors mainly from Harare who also, in addition to some food items, supply some of them with second hand clothing, cheap electronics such as transistor radios and plastic ware in exchange for grain, corresponding livestock and cash.
The Solutions Tower can confirm having seen some women hanging around shebeens and beer halls at shopping centres such as Nyabira, Mapinga and in farm compounds soliciting for customers, day and night. Their prospective clients include soldiers from Inkomo Barracks, One Parachute Regiment and Darwendale. Truckers who are common in the highway as well as locals and patrons who come from places like Harare mainly during the weekends also fall prey to these ladies of the night.
The area is notorious for the HIV and Aids pandemic whose scars includes child headed families, some of whose members usually drop out of school due to lack of financial support or resort to prostitution or to criminal activities for survival.
Distances that some children in the area walk to and from school are tortuous thus leading to occasional absenteeism and massive dropouts, especially during cold and rainy days. Some wake up before dawn to prepare walking for distances of more than 10km to get to school in time, only to get back home after sunset.
Redundancy is indisputably amongst the reasons why some of the people waste both their lives and whatever they will have worked for getting intoxicated. From the popular opaque beer, an illegal homemade beer commonly referred to as kachasu whose alcohol content is believed to be close to one hundred percent, to a substance nicknamed cranko which, for a dollar’s worth, a group of people can get very drunk, they will take whatever they can afford.
Cheap cigarettes, marijuana and discarded tobacco which they get from farms are also common amongst them. Grass roofed dwellings made of either wood or grass and plastered on both sides with mud are a strong indication of the presence of poverty in the area since those built of cheap farm bricks and iron sheets are luxurious assets only a few can afford.
There is no guarantee for privacy once inside some of these houses since they are poorly constructed leaving openings through which one can catch a glimpse of the inside. Agents of weather can also find their way inside, making it very uncomfortable an experience for people to spend time inside.
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