Thursday, 13 August 2015

Rural Zim’s Never Ending Urban Burden (For Little in Return)

By Takura Zhangazha*

In the wake of the massive layoffs of workers and the heinous destruction of 'illegal' homes by the Harare City Council,  public debate has focused on what options are left for victims of such state sponsored/sanctioned economic cruelty.  More often than not, these options consider migration. And not necessarily from the country.  Instead the option is to go back ‘kumusha/ekhaya’ if all hope is lost.

Although the latter option is said with the most distasteful humour, it is now as important an option as it was during the callous year of the infamous ‘Operation Murambatsvina’.

Except that kumusha/ekhaya is also no longer the same. During the recent Heroes Day extended holiday there were no media reports of an avalanche of the urban citizens travelling to visit their rural homes as is the tradition. The immediate reason  for this would be that there is no disposable income to afford such age old visits.  In fact, they have become an urban luxury.

A more nuanced assessment would be that our rural areas are now more desolate, poverty stricken than ever before. Regardless they continue to carry the burden of the travails of urban home dwellers who become suddenly destitute, fall ill or even require a decent traditional burial ekhaya/kumusha. 

This is despite the fact that the rural political economy  has come to rely on donor aid for food/agricultural projects, missionary hospitals for health and in relation to commerce, exploitative cattle/grain and cotton buyers coming from major urban centers.

Further still, generations of younger Zimbabweans (both urban and rural) do not hold ekhaya/kumusha in the same high esteem as  did or do their fathers and mothers.  If they live in the urban centers, they tend to not want to go there.  In reverse, if they are rural area based they are keen to leave for the bright lights of Harare, Bulawayo and even Johannesburg (South Africa). 

All of which points to a gradual but economically forced neglect of rural homes by many urban residents. At least those that would still have their parents and extended family still eking out a living from small scale subsistence farming. 

Whereas prior to our long standing economic crisis, visiting the communal lands from the urban was to be a sure sign of success, in the majority of present cases, it is a sign of financial and economic troubles. It can be as simple as returning home to sell some cattle (fair and fine) except that that specific income by and large goes back to the urban economy. Or if such sales are done locally , they are not done for commercial purpose but in order to either pay for basic necessities such as school fees, health costs or travel to the urban.

And there is the burden of our national politics where our rural areas face the brunt of political violence every other election year. And since the year 2000, this violence has note been atoned for.
So this is the historical burden that our rural areas and our fellow citizens who reside therein are saddled with.  While its not always all doom and gloom, (there are happy life moments such as weddings, children passing exams under difficult circumstances, the successful return of an urban based daughter/son), there is need for a change in our country’s rural development policy.  

The first departure point from the current is that while commerce reigns more supreme in urban centers, all people residing in either the latter or rural areas have a right to equally prioritized development.  From basic services through to respect of human dignity and freedom from want.   Secondly, it is of urgent necessity that there be a review of the colonial hangover administrative infrastructure that still obtains in our rural areas.  

This would include a review of land allocation roles given to both traditional and local government authorities and integrating much more democratically their social service delivery mandate in relation to education, health, transport, water and sanitation.  This would and should include better security of tenure (minus large scale corporate/elite privatization) for peasant farmers, much more equitable. organised land distribution and integrating to greater effect customary and common law.

Finally, it is abominable that thirty five years after our national independence largely won on the basis of peasant support for a Maoist guerrilla war, the rural remains subservient to the urban. This is despite the fact that the rural historically and in the contemporary remains the baseline of the livelihoods of millions of Zimbabweans.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (