Makonde District in Mashonaland West Province is a vast and richly endowed region, which is home to a large community of Land Reform Programme beneficiaries.
The district’s fertile soils and excellent climate are favourable to intensive agriculture and crops such as maize, tobacco and cotton flourish in the region.
Underground, there are huge deposits of gold and other minerals, making mineral extraction a lucrative activity.
Despite the abundance of these rich endowments, Makonde has for years suffered stunted growth owing to lack of investment in infrastructure by the predominantly white former farmers who populated the area before the land redistribution programme.
Indigenous farmers who were resettled here found themselves living in an area without basic amenities like roads, water, health and education facilities.
For years, they lived without these crucial facilities, but this situation is changing.
The devolution programme, which commenced with the dawn of the Second Republic, is proving a blessing for this previously overlooked district.
Pohas Matinhire draws water from a solar-powered borehole, while a builder (COVER PHOTO) inspects an unfinished classroom block at Chidobeya Primary School
The Government is required, in terms of the Constitution, to appropriate not less than five percent of the National Budget towards the devolution programme through providing funds to local levels of Government to undertake developmental projects in their areas.
Treasury has, since the coming in of the New Dispensation, fulfilled this constitutional obligation by providing these funds to all 92 local authorities.
The Government has encouraged local authorities to direct the bulk of this funding towards improving health, transport, water and sanitation, public amenities, education and electricity in their areas.
Makonde District has excelled in utilising these funds.
In a presentation during the 2021 pre-Budget seminar recently, Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube singled out Makonde for outperforming other districts nationwide in utilising devolution funds.
“A case in point is the impact of devolution funds in Makonde District, which in 2020 received more than $4,8 million,” said Prof Ncube.
“The district has made great strides in the delivery of water, health and education through use of devolution funds.
“In addition, at least seven wards in the district now have solar-powered boreholes and tanks, while a school is under construction in Ward 18.”
Last week, The Sunday Mail was in Makonde to get a first-hand appreciation of the miracle unfolding in this district.
Water and sanitation
Makonde suffers from perennial shortages of clean water, despite the area receiving between normal to above-normal rainfall annually.
Locals often have to travel long distances in search of clean water sources.
However, this problem is slowly but surely being addressed.
Using devolution funds, solar-powered boreholes have been drilled in seven of the 19 wards in Makonde.
Makonde District Council acting chief executive Mr Tarwirei Taipa said authorities in the district settled for solar-powered boreholes because of their efficiency.
“Surely we cannot talk of bush pump boreholes when we aspire to become a middle-income country by 2030,” said Mr Taipa.
“As a district, we unanimously agreed to have solar-powered boreholes, which is in keeping with President Mnangagwa’s Vision 2030.
“We also had in mind women and children when we settled for the idea because bush pump boreholes require a lot of energy and effort and would have been inconvenient.
“The remaining boreholes will be drilled in the coming year when receive the outstanding funds.”
In Ward 8, at Portland Estates Phase 6, residents who previously had to travel a distance in excess of 10km to draw water from a dam, now barely have to walk within a radius of a kilometre to the nearest borehole.
Mr Pohas Matinhire, who resides in the ward, said before the borehole was drilled, they shared the same drinking water source with livestock.
“We had no choice but to share drinking water with our cattle because the dam was the only source of water we had,” said Mr Matinhire.
“For years we struggled with diseases such as diarrhoea because our water was contaminated.”
Over $600 million has been set aside in the 2021 Budget for borehole maintenance in all rural areas and Makonde is set to draw its own share.
This year, two clinics — Gandawasvika in Ward 13 and Mupata in Ward 14 — have been rehabilitated to modern standards.
Makonde District Council plans to build new clinics over the next five years to shorten the distance patients have to travel to access healthcare services.
Currently, patients travel distances averaging 15km to the nearest clinic, according to Mr Taipa.
“In our 2021-2025 strategic plan, we have undertaken to ensure that no one should travel for more than 5 km to get to the nearest healthcare facility,” he said.
“So far we are planning for at least two or three health facilities annually using our own resources. But for 2021, we are targeting to rehabilitate over 20 healthcare facilities.”
Over $500 million was set aside in the 2021 National Budget to help rehabilitate health facilities in rural areas.
Makonde has grappled with inadequate education facilities.
Parents in Chidobeya, for example, had to remodel a tobacco barn to house Early Childhood Development (ECD) classes because the pupils could not walk in excess of 17 km to the nearest school.
Construction of a new school in Chidobeya began in January using funds provided under the devolution programme.
“Again, we have agreed that no child should walk more than 7km to attend school,” said Mr Taipa.
“We started constructing a school in Chidobeya in January this year.
“We constructed schools there because children from this area were walking more than 17 km to attend school and another 17km back home, which is unheard of.
“We were however, disrupted by Covid-19, but we are happy that we are now at roof level for two of the blocks and we are confident that early next we will be done.”
Makonde is set to take delivery of a motorised grader it has procured for road rehabilitation.
Said Mr Taipa: “We however, had payment challenges for the grader. Because of exchange rate movements after the Zimbabwean dollar was floated, the price of the grader went up before our payment had gone through.
“So there was a difference now in terms of the price that we initially agreed to with the supplier and the price after the exchange rates shifted. So at the moment the grader is in the hands of the supplier.
“We have been trying to make up for that variation as council and we are making some progress. We have applied to our parent ministry for assistance.”
The Government has to date disbursed over $1 billion for devolution with infrastructural development made in various provinces.