ZIMBABWE: Tongas continue their fight for justice

Binga, January 8, 1997 (AIA/Johnson Siamachira) -- When the Zambezi River was
dammed and Lake Kariba established in 1957, little compensation was given to
the 57,000 local people known as the Tonga who were displaced by the

Now, 39 years later, the subsistence farmers and fierce hunters, whose
population has since more than doubled, still complain bitterly of the
sacrifices forced upon them, which have left them with nothing but hardships.
Frustrated by this predicament, the Tonga are demanding compensation either
in the form of cash or resettlement to better farming areas.

Currently, the Tongas supplement their meagre farm produce with food handouts
and clothing from charity organisations.

Before the construction of Lake Kariba, the Tonga people lived largely
without interference from the colonial rulers who, at the time, were
uninterested in the remote area. Their problems began in 1957, when the
government sanctioned the forcible removal of the local inhabitants to make
way for the lake and subsequently a huge dam and an electricity generating
station at Kariba.

The colonial government, unperturbed by the human cost of the exercise. The
local people had to pay a huge price for a development that they would never
benefit from. Apart from losing their traditional alluvial farmlands and
ancestral burial grounds to the lake, there was also the mental trauma
associated with being forcibly removed, without compensation, to infertile
dry land now called Binga and Kariba districts.

"We need our water which we were forced to leave behind. We need our water to
follow us. Water is the most sacred thing we left behind," says 71-year-old
Simpango Munsaka of Binga's Gande area.

"Our leaders are trying to solve our problems without bothering to visit us
or listen to us. For example, if we have problems with wild animals they will
promise to do something about it but this does not happen. We should be
granted a forum whereby we can air our grievances," says Binga village elder
Magoyela Mudenda.

According to the villagers, the government promised to resettle the people
immediately following the construction of the 282 kilometre long Kariba dam
but did nothing. Instead they were deposited in haphazard locations and left
to fend for themselves.

"The distance from the lake makes it difficult to find water to drink let
alone any for farming and because of the considerable distance from the lake,
we are unable to fish. In fact finding adequate food is a major problem,"
says 56-year-old Judas Mwiinde, of the Nsenga village in Binga.

Ironically the area has a wealth of natural resources which offer a number of
development options. Yet past governments have ignored these resources to the
detriment of the local population.

Professor Marshall Murphree, director of the Centre for Applied Social
Sciences (CASS) at the University of Zimbabwe, says it is important for local
communities to benefit from the successes achieved in the area.

For example, while the electricity generated at Kariba is of tremendous
benefit to the country and national economy, the over 45 000 villagers in
Kariba's Omay communal lands still do not have access to electricity. The
unavailability of water, electricity and telephone facilities have negatively
affected the economic growth of the area.

So while it is ironic that the Tonga have not benefitted from the resources
of Lake Kariba, their former waters; for many people elsewhere in Zimbabwe,
the waters provide luxury, offering tourist attractions and, of course,

The government now plans to further utilise the Zambezi river without heeding
the cries of the Tonga population who are pleading for water supplies from
the same river.

Under the multi-million dollar Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP),
expected to commence in April, the government intends to translocate water
from the Zambezi to Bulawayo, the country's second city, located 500
kilometres away from the lake.

Chairman of the MZWP, Dumiso Dabengwa, who is also the Minister of Home
Affairs, says the project is expected to bring investments in agriculture,
mining and tourism in Bulawayo and the two provinces of Matabeleland North
and South.

Meanwhile, the Tonga are steadfastly continuing in their fight for justice
and groups such as the Binga Development Association (BIDA), Omay Development
Association (ODA) and the Binga Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace
(BCCJP), are assisting in this struggle. (Africa Information Afrique)

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