Binga – a place with forgotten people

They had adjusted to a life of herding cattle, subsistence farming where there is little or no rainfall, wood carving for tourism, and fishing for those lucky enough to be relocated fairly near the lake. But in recent times, as their dislike of the hated ruling party became obvious, the wrath of Zanu-PF descended on them, turning a tidy little colony into the dusty begging bowl that it is today. Politics, in spite of the GNU, is still spoken of in hushed voices, many Zanu PF supporters had been moved in to Government positions here to keep an eye on the people, and the entire Binga area, a total of 1500 hectares, with a population of 130 thousand, has been under siege virtually since the constitutional elections in 2000.
A visit to a growth point, just south-west of Binga, showed us just how the economic and political upheavals of the past few years had affected the rural community. They are desperately poor. The rains were not too bad this year, but with a lack of seed and fertiliser, the impoverished community was unable to capitalize on the unusually high rainfall and crops are sparse.
Cotton is one crop that does fairly well in Binga and the Cotton Marketing Board had a fairly good system running before the political wheels fell off the country. At the foothills of the Chizarira Mountains I saw the remnants of what once was a good subsistence cotton crop. Great piles of giant hessian bags marked Cotco 2008 were everywhere awaiting collection. It was very dirty poor grade cotton, the bags were already rotting in the boiling sun, and cotton – someones livelihood – was spilling out and blowing away in the wind.
They will come and get it one day, when a price has been negotiated was the calm response to my question. One day is an indifferent term in Zimbabwe time; it could be weeks, months or years, but someone will come one day and collect it, as sure as day turns into night. Terminology has moved on in Zimbabwe. We now do not speak of Change or Chinja. We do not say wistfully with almost every breath When things change; we now speak of When things get better – and so it seemed this way too in Binga. I never fail to be proud, but always astounded, at how self-effacing, how humble, and peaceful Zimbabweans can be in the face of hardship and despair.
Logistics play a big part in rural Bingas economy. What trucking company will come all this way, on a road that shatters your bones to pieces, when diesel is short yet again, and hard currency is hard to come by? No doubt the cotton farmer will be paid with the peculiar Government Voucher which allows him to buy at certain supermarkets around the country. How many of them are in Binga, I wonder? Thankfully the User, the local name for the US$, does not devalue and the farmer may one day get some goods, or some cotton seed to replant for when Things come right – hopefully not when its too late.
Another glaring anomaly in this remote Binga district was the incongruous sight of a mighty brand-spanking-new Kipor Generator, officially marked with some sort of reference number. It must have been all of 100 Hz, enough to provide power to a hotel, but sitting as proud as punch in a pole and wire lean-to, goats nestling against it cosily for the shade!
Next to the giant sunshine yellow generator was a brand new grinding mill, untouched by human hands, pristine and unsullied. Not a gram of maize had been ground by it. It was a gift from the ruling-party Zanu-PF, prior to the elections in 2008. This donation is a big expensive effort to bribe the Zanu-PF loathing community into voting for it. Which consortium of brilliant government intellectuals had thought of this interesting scheme? How does one come across hundreds of litres of diesel to run this mighty machine in the middle of darkest Africa? It is such a gigantic beast, one would probably be looking at one litre an hour at the least, and where were the spares and where was the maintenance program ? All of this is irrelevant, I assume, because the real point was to try secure votes!
A generator of this size in a community where survival requires musika pods and umcaga berries to be harvested from trees by elderly grandmothers? Where bullfrogs and flying-ants are a delicacy? Where one single hand-pump borehole must supply a community with villages as far as twenty kilometres away? Where cattle, sheep, goats and humans drink from the same hand-pump?
But the goats were comfortable and the yellow peril stood proud and tall. The people smiled ironically at the machine as they walked past to the hand-pump borehole, carrying endless buckets on their heads. Theres no folling the people of Binga – they now this machine is yet another useless legacy of proof of a government with its back once seriously against the wall.


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