By Baboki Kayawe
LUSITU, Zambia, Mar 26 2013 (IPS) - Indigenous people who were displaced from the Zambezi Valley almost six decades ago for the construction of the Kariba Dam say they have not benefited from the development they made way for.
The building of the Kariba hydroelectric dam was supposed to usher in a bright future for the people of Zambia and Zimbabwe who gave up their land for its construction.
Unfortunately, that future was for others and not the displaced and their descendants. Most of the villages to which some 57,000 people from both southern African nations were relocated are still not electrified.
Sixty-nine-year-old Samson Nyowani was 15 when he was moved from his home in Chipepu, where the Kariba Dam now lies, to Sitikwi village in Zambia’s Lusitu district some 60 kilometres away. Sitikwi village, Nyowani says, still has no electricity, and the soil is infertile.
“We do not have power here in Sitikwi, and the schools and clinic are not electrified, which is a sad situation after what we were made to undergo during the mass relocation,” he tells IPS.
“They, the (British) colonial government, had promised to provide electricity in our houses and we demanded that, despite our homesteads being grass thatched,” says Nyowani.
Though he was a teenager then, he narrates the story as if it happened this morning. The old man at least expects the current government to do something about the situation.
However, the current democratic government did not promise the same thing.
The acting district administrative officer at the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit in Siyavonga, Hope Mpundu, says they are aware of the challenges facing the displaced communities. She adds that the government provides them with food aid and supports them with irrigation schemes.
“More should have been done for them as people who lived in this area before they were relocated, but they were pushed to those areas which are not good enough,” she tells IPS, conceding that the area they were moved to is drier than where they used to live.
Subsistence crop production is hard for the 3,000 people who settled in Sitikwi because the land is marginal. The area is also very hot which results in low harvests of maize and some indigenous vegetables.
“The yields are very low and only enough to feed our families from one harvest season to the next, which means that when the following year rains are minimal, people go hungry,” Nyowani says.
Frank Mudimba, a spokesperson for Basilwizi Trust, a non-governmental organisation lobbying for reparations to be paid to those who were displaced, says the Zambian government initiated the Gwembe Valley Development Programme, which targets communities affected by the construction of the dam.
He tells IPS that clinics, irrigation schemes, and dams were built and chiefs’ homes were electrified. However, he adds, funding for the programme stopped during the days of President Frederick Chiluba. “That stopped expansion, but whatever was established during the time the programme was running is still working, being run by the communities.” He adds that the Zimbabwean government undertook no such programme.
Like Nyowani, many other residents of Sitikwi are eager to see electricity in their village. The vice-headman in the area, Langson Mulungu, is not pleased that they have failed to reap the benefits of being relocated to make way for the massive hydropower plant.
“I am not happy that they didn’t give us electricity here, and instead electrified other neighbouring villages. Also, promises for irrigation schemes are not yet fulfilled,” Mulungu says.
Madam Siankusule was only eight when her parents were moved from Chipepu to Lusitu. She is told that in Chipepu the locals irrigated their crops and, coupled with fertile soils, harvests were good.
Now they have to contend with droughts. “I remember the drought in 1995 when the community suffered and food aid was brought in,” she tells IPS.
She usually sells chickens and at times tomatoes to make ends meet.
She agrees with Mulungu and Nyowani that their village should be electrified. Siankusule says preference should be given to schools because power is invaluable in those institutions.
Elizabeth Karonga, the public relations and communications manager for the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), tells IPS that the then colonial government was more concerned about the welfare of wild animals than about the indigenous people. “Operation Noah” was launched to physically move animals from the area that was going to be flooded by the dam water.
She says the authorities did not provide for the 57,000 people displaced from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides. Save for some of the men who were engaged as labourers in the dam construction, the locals did not benefit from the project.
“Although ZRA was not in existence at the time, we have realised that the relocation was done haphazardly as no provisions were made to ensure that these people who were dependant on the water for survival adapted to a new livelihood,” says Karonga.
In 1997, ZRA established the Zambezi Valley Development Fund (ZVDF) as part of its corporate social responsibility policy.
“We felt obliged to do something for these people, and the fund, into which a percentage of the revenue that ZRA is paid from the Zambia Electricity Corporation and Zimbabwe Power Corporation, is an attempt to help those who were displaced,” Karonga says.
The projects include irrigation schemes, grinding mills and laboratories and classroom blocks at schools. However, the authorities at ZRA are not sure whether the beneficiaries of these projects are those who were displaced or their descendants.
In addition, Karonga says though they work with local government officials in both countries to recommend people who need assistance, the current projects benefit only those who live around the listed ZVDF areas. These are Lisutu, Nkandababbwe, Nkolongoza, in Zambia and Nyamhunga, Gatche Gatche and Mlibizi in Zimbabwe.
Karonga says ZRA will be investing in projects that have a long-term impact for the displaced communities, and is considering building a clinic.
Nyowani knows he cannot go back to where his forefathers were moved. But he wishes the authorities would do more to make their lives more comfortable. Electrifying his village would be a good start.
*Additional reporting by Ish Mafundikwa in Harare.