Develop me :Tapiwa Gomo

It was somewhere in the mid-1980s when I joined my grandparents in one of the villages in Mashonaland Central province. At the time, the country had a functioning economy, which gave millions of people hope for a much better future.

Coming out of many decades of colonial oppression, independence meant a lot more than just freedom for the millions of people who witnessed the transition mainly those in rural areas where battles were fought, lives lost, people injured and property damaged.

Every rainy season, Mutsvaire village down in Rushinga rumbled like a mini-agriculture industry as villagers jostled to till the land and get the best out of their farms. Just like any other rural area, it had its own economic class structure.

There were those who owned large herds of cattle and farming equipment such as tractors. This was the wealthy group by that village’s standards. The second category were those who used draught power for ploughing. They owned cattle as well, but not in large numbers.

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And the third group was those who did not have any of the above and either relied on hand tools such as hoes to till the land or hire draught power from the first or second group.

This simply meant that in most cases, they would be the last to complete ploughing their land and would lose out on capitalising on the rains. The harvests too would be little, requiring supplementary household food supplies to end the year.

These circumstances impacted, not only on household economy and food production, but affected choices and decisions made by different families.

Some of these improved the economies of some families while others affected the growth of the children from various families. One of the areas that was influenced by these choices and decisions was education — a major determinant factor to future employment and economic opportunities.

Children from wealthy families were not forced to go to the farm and till the land. This was because their families had the financial resources to mechanise their farming. In addition, they had the resources to hire permanent and seasonal labour. This allowed their children enough time to focus on school, play and relax.

This group of children tended to succeed and proceeded to colleges and universities opening up a whole new world of economic opportunities for them.

The second group of families, which was more like the middle class, were under pressure to catch up with the wealthy group. And for that reason, they maximised on the little resources they owned while minimising expenditure.

This meant that their children would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to yoke the oxen and till the land before joining other children for school later that same morning.

It also meant they would join their parents back on the farm in the afternoon soon after school.

The driving energy in all this was hope deriving from a functioning economy. There was hope that with hard work plus a good economy poverty was escapable. The economy made them to see an end to their suffering. I am not sure whether the same can be said of today.

As a result, while this group of families were able to harvest surplus food and cash crops to put the families in better financial situations, their children lost out on time to study, play and relax.

For this reason, most of these children took over farming from their parents when they aged, while a few of them were able to attend college and became civil servants. Those whose parents had made it into the first category and later inherited their parents’ wealth, only the third or fourth generation of children were able to enjoy a somewhat labour-free childhood in the village.

While the road was long, it was possible to transform the economic fortunes of future generations.

The situation was even tougher for the third category. First, all their farming activities were carried out manually, which meant that it was hard and exhausting. Second, each member of the family had to play their part, including children.

Third, they sold labour to the first and second category to raise money to supplement on family requirements such as school fees. It was such a horrifying poverty-stricken, labour-intense and undignifying experiencing for most children.

But in all this, they saw hope in hard work and education and their dreams too superseded the embarrassment of enslaving themselves to their neighbours in order to survive and achieve bigger dreams.

It is now over three decades and what has become of such a vibrant and promising village? The stories are both horrifying and desperate. The three categories are now one.

A bad economy has brought everyone to their knees and everyone is now equally poor. The ecosystem that used to bind the villagers together in nurturing their various hopes and dreams has been destroyed.

The first and second categories all lost their means of production and farming is no longer rewarding. To supplement income, families sold their cattle and other items. Members of all categories are now competing for limited resources, which together with bad politics, have brought paranoia and mistrust among the villagers.

And with that, that sense of working together to achieve family and personal goals has long vanished.