By Kudakwashe Vhenge
A five hour drive from Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe towards your northwest will ferry you to Binga, home of the BaTonga.
The BaTonga are a minority ethnic group of people, also found in neighboring Zambia and Mozambique.
These native people were displaced from the banks of Zambezi Valley almost six decades ago to pave way for the construction of Kariba Dam. However they have not benefited from the development they paved way for as most of Binga district is not electrified and the water from the river has not “followed” them as promised by the colonial government.
Regardless of being a very hot dry region, the Tonga people traditionally used to harvest crops almost three times a year as they got abundant water from the Zambezi River. Nonetheless, now they face perpetual drought due to their displacement into the upper land in a region that has poor rainfalls.
Irrespective abundance of the natural resources; wild animals and fish at their disposal, the Tonga have not acquired any substantive income from these because of bureaucratic laws that were introduced. Of particular concern is the fish farming business in which like all other aquatic animals is managed under legislation governing wildlife and other natural resources.
Exorbitant fishing permits license fees only acquired in Harare as required by the department of the National Parks and Wildlife Authority (NPWLA) has hindered the local Tonga people from engaging into fishing business. This has pushed them to illegally engage in fishing activities with poor equipment. They risk arrests by authorities, attacks by hippos and drowning in the crocodile infested river.
A visit by BustopTV to a fishing camp site illegally operated by youths from Busi communal lands, some 60 kilometres south of Binga Centre along the Zambezi River conveyed a clear picture of the hazards involved in this illegal activity.
One fisherman, Suppose Mureya (24) demonstrated how unsafe fishing using small baobab boats is. They easily capsize when there is excessive wind or butt against hippos. They urgently need life jackets so they can swim to the shore when their boats tip over.
Mungande Champion (27) from Msenampongo Village under Chief Sikalenge a self-proclaimed illegal fisherman explained that he had to resort to prohibited fishing in order to sustain his household.
He, however, laments the lack of cordial relations between the park rangers who enforce the law and the locals whose relationship is best described as that of a cat and mouse.
“I resort to poaching fish from the Zambezi River because that is the only way I can take care of my family as there are not much economic activities here. I wish I could engage into this fishing business legally and expand my business but l don’t own a fishing permit because l don’t have the amount of money that is required. In fact l don’t even know where l can get the permit even if I have the money because I have never been told where to get one. This is because we never had a clearheaded dialogue with National Parks authorities because whenever they appear this side we always have running battles because once they catch you, they beat you up asking for a permit unless you bribe them with some money. They sometimes confiscate our catch and fishing equipment including nets and boats”, he said.
Binga district has wild life reserves with Chizarira National Park to the east, Kavira Forest land westwards and Kamativi which is toward the mighty Hwange National Park. The surging wildlife population has resulted in escalating human-wildlife conflicts.
In 2019 alone, seven people perished in human wildlife conflicts in Binga. During the same visit, a grade 4 pupil died after being attacked by a giant crocodile whilst crossing Sengwa River. The unfortunate incident is still fresh in the minds of locals.
A report was made to national parks authorities and the reptile was eliminated.
The increasing wildlife population has been blamed on the international embargo on culling following the promulgation of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which imposed a global ban on the trade of wild animals and their products particularly ivory.
Villagers are counting losses as their livestock are attacked by wild animals; hyenas, lions and cheetahs and crops are destroyed by elephants and buffalos without any compensation from responsible authorities.
Emma Mudumo (32) a widowed mother of three had her cattle devoured by two stray lions that had terrorised the villagers for months while the authorities ignored their reports. The same lions again killed a bull belonging to another villager and attacks of goats and sheep by hyenas have become a regular occurrence.
Part XII of Section 20.14 of Parks and Wildlife Act which prohibits locals from hunting also outlaws the killing or injuring of wild animals even in incidents of self-defense. To Mudumo this simply means that wild animals are more important than those of human inhabitants of the same land.
“It pains so much that we are living under fear because these animals no longer stay in the game park and are now invading our communities. There is no balance between people’s rights and dangerous animals’ rights. It looks like animals are more important than humans because once you kill a lion when it comes to attack your home before reporting to the authorities, you get a long term prison sentence. So it looks like animals are more important than us to those in authority,” she said.
Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) public relations and communications manager, Elizabeth Karonga reiterated the same sentiments stating that the colonial government was more concerned about the welfare of wild animals than that of the indigenous people especially in the Binga region.
Basilwizi Trust, a non-governmental advocacy and community development organization which works for the social and economic development of Tonga and Korekore people operating in the Zambezi Valley have been involved in livelihoods programs. The lobby group engages government and various departments so the Tonga people can benefit from their natural resources.
Basilwizi, a Tonga word translates to People of the Great River. The name is a combination of two Tonga words- “Ba” Bantu meaning people, and “Iwizi” meaning great expanse of water. The name was coined by the Tonga people of Zimbabwe to describe themselves and their great loss after they were forcefully relocated from the Zambezi river valley into upper land.
Basilwizi Programs Manager, Thalisa Mudimba appealed to the government to plough back revenues gathered from Zambezi Valley for the development of the Binga community as most of these funds are centralized.
“We always hear that institutions like the National Forestry or the National Parks and Wildlife are donating to communities and even assisting schools in different parts of the country but we haven’t heard any of them donating here in our local schools. We have a very needy situation in our schools especially in terms of infrastructure development and some of the situations are very pathetic, you don’t even find a chair and children are using stones to sit on while learning. We are therefore looking at a situation whereby one day, National Parks can just say maybe all the animals that we are going to sell for this quarter we are going to give you even 50% to develop a school, clinic or any other infrastructural development that the community will be looking forward to have,” she said.
To decentralize the amassing of money realized from the country’s natural resources to areas that are already developed, Chapter 14 of the 2013 Constitution speaks on the devolution principle of empowering provincial and local authorities to spearhead economic and social development projects in their areas by leveraging on locally available resources.
This therefore entails that the Tonga people in Binga must begin to benefit from the abundance of natural resources that lay in their midst.