Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Sitting on a Goldmine

On Friday I waved goodbye to two busloads of small farmers from rural Matabeleland, who were here for a week doing training in ‘seed multiplication’, ie growing their own crop seeds, so they don’t have to buy them from the monopoly seed company Seedco every year. The farmers gave us a presentation on Thursday morning, saying they had never known they could produce their own seed ‘because Seedco doesn’t want us to know we can do it ourselves’. They concluded with a Ndebele song and dance routine (including some impressive dance moves by the older ladies), with lyrics roughly like this – ‘The donors are leaving, if you hold onto aid dependency, you will be left behind’.

Zimbabwean society is going through a huge shift as international aid organizations withdraw from famine relief. In arid Matabeleland, rural communities have depended for years on food aid and handouts of hybrid seeds (that don’t reproduce reliably) planted in fields that are almost pure sand, without anything done to restore the soil. At an Oxfam workshop recently a Zimbabwean professor described this as ‘the aid industry giving out fertilizer and seeds to continue the cycle of poverty’. With the withdrawal of much international aid, rural people are being forced to make a transition to more sustainable livelihoods just to survive. Groups like last week’s are a reminder to me of how important Hlekweni’s work is in helping this process.

Our end-of-year graduation ceremony is coming up in December, unless the police order us to move it - Zanu-PF are holding their national conference just up the road in Bulawayo in the same week and public events that ‘clash’ with Zanu rallies (even family events such as weddings) are often banned. We have also been training a group of older rural women who came through a Zanu-PF funded scheme, and I have been making efforts to discourage our staff from referring to them as ‘that Zanu lot’…

I was out with other staff and trainees fighting a bush fire on the farm again last week, when we stumbled on (but luckily not into) a crude mine-shaft dug by squatters on Hlekweni land. Gold digging is a widespread illegal activity among Zimbabwe’s desperate poor – extracting tonnes of rock with pick-axes in the hope of finding tiny quantities of ore. I don’t know whether ‘our’ miners have ever found anything, but it would be ironic if with all our financial woes Hlekweni turns out to be literally sitting on a gold-mine...

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