By A Correspondent- Having been displaced during the construction of the Kariba Dam and now living at the peripheries of Zimbabwe’s largest hydro-electric power project, Kariba, it is only logical that the Batonga people of Mola in Siakobvu and Nyaminyami districts should have access to power. However, for the Mola residents, it is, indeed, a case of so near yet so far as they have had no electricity for the past two years.
“Our belief is that it is totally repugnant and especially exclusionary for an entire district, one which is a producer of hydroelectric power, to go for over two years without electricity, the production of which has permanently and so far, negatively altered our lives,” the Mola residents claim in a court application placed before the High Court.
The Mola residents have taken to court the Zambezi Water Authority, Nyaminyami Rural District Council, Kariba MP John Roland Houghton, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wild-life Management Authority and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority Holdings Limited for contributing to the underdevelopment of the area.
The residents have also dragged to court several Cabinet ministers, among them Mangaliso Ndlovu (Environment, Water and Cli-mate), Cain Mathema (Primary and Secondary Education), Zhemu Soda (Energy and Power Development), Kazembe Kazembe (Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage), and Attorney-General Prince Machaya.
In a court application seen by NewsDay Weekender, in addition to power outage, the Mola residents “are effectively cut off from the rest of the world as Mola is inaccessible by phone or by road”.
“Often, we have to traverse several kilometres just to get mobile network connectivity and do simple things such as to send text messages or phone calls,” the Mola Residents Forum says in the application.
Lessons at one of the primary schools in the area, Kauzhumba Primary in Dumbula village, are conducted in the open under trees following the collapse of classrooms in 2008. The school, with an enrolment of about 400 pupils, does not meet the Primary and Secondary Education ministry standards of an examination centre, hence Grade Seven pupils walk 15km to go and sit for examinations at Marembera Primary School.
According to the court application, the residents “are seeking a declaratory order enforcing the right to language and culture, as well as the right to education, access to health care and the right to environmental protection.
“We would also assert the principles of public administration set out in section 194 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”
The Mola people are further demanding that they be able to practise their language and culture protected under section 63 of the Constitution and that they be permitted to practise their culture of holding traditional rites and ceremonies and practice their artisanal fishing.
The Mola people are being represented by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights). ZimRights national director Dzikamai Bere told NewsDay Weekender that what was happening to the Batonga people in Mola was an atrocity.
“The Batonga people have paid dearly for development. Their ancestors were displaced by the Kariba Dam project in the 1950s, on a promise of a better life he said.
“Many years later, they are living like second-class citizens. The responsibility to protect their human dignity falls on all of us, including corporates.”
Over 57 000 people were displaced during the construction of the Kariba Dam.
ZimRights projects lawyer Kenias Shonhai, who is assisting the community, said in the application, “the Mola people also want freedom of movement within the Zambezi Valley and its surrounds, basic education rights for their children, environmental rights and access to public resources including locally generated electric power and water which they want to be made immediately available.”
“At the time the Mola people were relocated, they had been promised that the water will always benefit them. However, the greater part of the dam shore is leased to private players who do not tolerate any artisanal fishing, a way of life the Mola people had been accustomed to. Their way of life has greatly been altered. Fishing is now for the privileged and well-connected people,” said Shonhai.
He said their clients were worried by the neglect they are experiencing and are now demanding development in their area.
“They believe the legal route is their last hope, they are praying that the courts address their demands and force the government and all its relevant agencies to act in ensuring service provision to their community,” added Shonhai.