Yoliswa Dube-Moyo, Matabeleland South Bureau Chief
Rhodesian farmer, Mr Douglas Rogers had vast tracts of land in the West Nicholson area in Gwanda District in which he built a bridge to protect his business interests.
The bridge, which locals have christened after Rogers, now separates West Nicholson from Mbembesi, a fast developing peri-urban centre in the province.
Now there a tale of two different worlds on either side of the bridge. On one end of “Rogers’ Bridge”, is West Nicholson, which has remained stagnant over the years with just a couple of shops while on the other end is Mbembesi, which has seen the development of various business entities.
The locals say it is thanks to the country’s land redistribution programme that Mbembesi has come to be.
Mbembesi has attracted big businesses from Gwanda, the provincial capital, while other entities such as Jabu Motors, Mbembesi Food Park and Oasis Supermarket have contributed to the transformation of what was formerly one of Mr Rogers’ farm into a peri-urban centre.
The centre also houses a filling station, clothing stores, butcheries, bottle stores, supermarkets and accommodation facilities, with the foundation for a restaurant already laid.
Former Insiza South MP and businessman Mr Malachi Nkomo said he was grateful to the Government for the land redistribution exercise as people are now able to set-up businesses in such areas.
“This area used to be Rogers’ farm and during the land redistribution exercise, it was gazetted and allocated as a resettlement area. Since there were no shops, people asked for space to put up supermarkets and bottle stores. At West Nicholson, there was an issue of title deeds such that it was problematic for the area to expand.
It was then discovered that this place (Mbembesi) had available space where people could build. There was a scramble for land and people started building shops.
“If you look on the other side where Rogers’ houses are, it’s a sad situation as people can’t expand their houses; that’s where you see the beauty of the land redistribution exercise. We’re grateful to the Government for redistributing land because people are now able to set-up businesses in such areas. They also put up cottages behind their shops so that they have accommodation as residential stands are a challenge here,” said Mr Nkomo.
He said locals were hopeful that as time goes on, residential stands will be availed.
“Most of the land here is State land. A housing cooperative has been formed and we hope once it’s approved, people will be able to build their homes. However, water and electricity are still a challenge which has resulted in residents making use of solar energy and sinking boreholes while others ask for water from people in West Nicholson.
You can’t rest assured that the water is safe for drinking. Some people end up fetching water from nearby rivers, which is not safe.”
In less than two years, Mbembesi has grown into a peri-urban centre providing various services with even more potential to expand.
“We’re being let down by Government departments and the national power utility otherwise this place is growing very fast. West Nicholson has no industry, everyone who lives here survives on mining activities. At any given time, for you to process your gold, you need diggers, who can be around 15.
You’ll also need loaders, that’s another number of people. You will also need people to offload the sacks and they charge R3 for one sack, so if you have 1 000 sacks, imagine how many people you would need to offload. There are also women who will be selling drinks close to the people offloading the sacks. So everyone is benefiting from the mining activities here,” said Mr Nkomo.
He, however, lamented the rampant incidents of violence among artisanal miners in the area.
“The population of people looking for gold in this area could be 1 000-plus. The only challenge is the fighting that sometimes happens here. Gold mining has kept us going, but the cases of violence and other crimes wear us down sometimes.”
West Nicholson has in recent times recorded a number of murder cases involving artisanal small scale miners.
However, the area’s potential to grow cannot be understated as it provides a downstream chain which sustains itself.
One of the shop attendants working at the centre, Ms Anele Moyo said a lot of long distance truckers stop by Mbembesi to refresh, giving them a lot of business.
“This place is always busy as you can see. We get a lot of truck drivers and omalayitsha who stop over for meals and accommodation. There’s the food park over there and rooms that they can book and spend the night. We also have a restaurant coming up so there’ll be even more options,” said Ms Moyo.
She said the traffic frequenting the centre also brings business to the various shops located at Mbembesi.
“We have supermarkets, butcheries, bottles stores and even clothing stores which interest the people who visit this place. The artisanal small scale miners are, however, the biggest spenders,” said Ms Moyo.
For the artisanal miners, just 10g of gold is enough to give them a bit of cash to splash.
The locals said the illegal gold miners never hesitate to spend, which has been one of the major reasons why Mbembesi is booming.
Mr Mengezi Ndlovu, a small-scale miner said his trade was a game of luck.
“A lot of people have tried to get into gold mining, but very few succeed at it. There are times when I can get gold worth about US$4 500 and other times just US$500 or less. Every day is different, every month is different. But what I can tell you is that you have to have the knack for it and a bit of luck otherwise you’ll never succeed. A lot of people invest a lot of money in mining, but get nothing out of it and others are always getting rich pickings. It’s luck,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said after a hard day’s work, Mbembesi is all he needs to unwind.
“There’s food and a few bottle stores around where we can buy drinks and just relax. We’ve watched this place grow over the past two years and so when we come here to relax, we’re very proud of the place,” said Mr Ndlovu.
Gwanda acting District Development Coordinator Mr Thulani Moyo said while Mbembesi is a fast growing peri-urban centre, more effort was needed in its planning.
“Mbembesi is fast growing as a peri-urban centre owing to the resources around especially coming from the mining sector.
There are a number of mines around that place and it’s very busy in terms of these mining activities. However, we have a few challenges with Mbembesi. It is located in the resettlement areas and the planning authority there would be the Ministry of Lands.
When they plan such places, we need relevant expertise but the Ministry of Lands doesn’t have these qualified planners for such developments.
It is being done by people who are qualified in agricultural work not in the planning of such peri-urban settlements. It is our desire that when such places are growing in that manner, we get the services of properly qualified planners.
Mbembesi is fast growing but it’s not properly planned,” said Mr Moyo. – @Yolisswa
Article Source: The Chronicle