As ressettled Gokwe people plead for social amenities
Mapfungautsi Forest in Gokwe South District, Midlands Province which was once popular for its great ecosystem dominated by trees and woody vegetation has become a pale shadow of its former self with villagers settling in the area destroying much of it.
The Villagers are said to have been there for a long period of time and are also living under difficult circumstances with no essential services and developments reaching their area.
Villagers occupying Mapfungautsi Forest under Chief Njelele told this publication that they are living in turmoil because they are yet to receive any assistance in terms of sustainable projects. Mapfungautsi Forest now has 26 villages established under Chief Njelele in ward 15.
“We are now counting 8 years since 2014 without having a primary school and a secondary school built here. Our children are walking long distances crossing Sengwa River to attend Gwehava primary school and Mapfungautsi primary school which are 6km from here,” said a villager identified as Mr Shava.
Many families in Mapfungautsi are living in abject poverty and dwelling in makeshift and ramshackle houses .There is urgent need for the provisions of clinics, schools, roads and boreholes. This comes at a time when Zimbabwe is a signatory of the parties that have pledged to achieve reduction and elimination of poverty through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
“We are living in fear because the government last year sent forces to harass us and destroyed our crops forcing us to leave the area. We need the government to tell us the truth whether we should stay or leave,” Mr Shava added.
They say water is life but in Ruvemba village and other surrounding villages, there is untold suffering. It is the survival of the fittest for these villagers, as one of them pointed out, “Mwari vanoita kuda kwavo (We survive by God’s grace)”. Women and children are walking long distances in search of water approximately between 3 to 4km. According to one identified as Mai Ruvati of Ruvemba, the situation there is unbearable.
“The water that we drink and use is from Mbumbuzi and Sengwa River. The water is dirty and not safe for our health. In recent times some of us have fell sick due to diarrhoea especially in the past two weeks due to the unclean water that we drink,” she said.
Village head identified as Mr Ruvemba said it was devastating that their village is not being recognized. He said it was sad that they are left out on important issues that affects their lives even through sustainable projects.
“We are a marginalized group of people here in Mapfungautsi area and surprisingly no one outside us is even thinking about us. We hear that other areas get donor support while other are supported by the government through sustainable projects but as for us, we have nothing,” he said.
The dwellers of Mapfungautsi Forest depend on farming and in the past season they did not yield good harvest therefore many families are in need of food aid
“We are pleading to the government to support us with food as the harvests was not good at all this year” said Mr Taruvinga another villager.
In the addition to the above agricultural fields expansion by the villagers have significantly caused forest degradation and deforestation since there is no one providing them with appropriate education on extension services of farming and conservation of natural resources.
Midlands Provincial forest extension manager Rodrick Nyahwai, said due to the illegal settlers in the forest, there has been revenue loss by the country with more people continuously cutting down trees unnecessarily.
“As the Forestry Commission, we have had major challenges with the settling in of illegal settlers in the Mapfungautsi Forest. They have engaged in the cutting down of trees be it for agricultural purposes or poaching for firewood,” he said.
Chief Njelele, however denied settling anyone in the area saying those living in the forest have been there since the early 80s.
“It is a forest but there were people who occupied a small area from as early as the 80s. There was a time when these people were ordered to vacate the area but they protested saying there were graves that belonged to their ancestors,” said Chief Njelele.
When it was first demarcated as a state forest in 1953, it was 101 000 hectares in size before it was reclassified in 1972 as a communal area and some parts of the southern part were gazetted, leaving the forest with a total of 82 100 hectares.
Now an environmental disaster is looming with an estimated 11 000 settlers from all corners of the country invading Mapfungautsi which used to be a dense forest.
The villagers are part of the constituency of the now Ambassador , Victor Matemadanda hence urgent action by duty bearers is need