MUTOKO villager Virimai Gurure (47) is having sleepless nights over imminent displacement from his flourishing two-hectare garden to pave way for a Chinese mining company.
The Mashonaland East rural district is known for possessing black granite deposits despite absence of any infrastructural development worth talking about.
Instead, the quarrying activities in Mutoko have destroyed the road network, caused massive environmental degradation and forced the relocation of some of the villagers, with Gurure being the latest victim.
If the displacement which appears more likely proceeds, then the father of eight is on the verge of losing his income-generating project without compensation for either the land or crop currently in the garden.
“These mining people are so close to our community and they are expanding, saying they want some stones which are in our garden and we are still to resolve the issue,”said Gurure, who is a small -scale farmer.
The mining firm has reportedly approached the local headman who, according to Gurure, “appears to be taking their side” by saying the two parties should solve the problem by themselves.
“We have also spoken to councillors in this area, but the issue is not yet resolved and communication from the mining company is that they will tell us when they are coming to start their work and we do not know what to do.” Many Mutoko villagers view the black stone endowment as a curse.
Gurure, who lives less than 200 metres from his garden, hopes a mutual agreement in which he is allowed to stay on his land will be reached, although the prospects are very dim.
“I want us to engage in more talks because moving us will be a blow to our lives and we do not want them to destroy the fertile land,” Gurure, who grows tomatoes, maize, beans and bananas, among other crops, said.
But following Monday’s elections, villagers like Gurure hope their vote will bring in leaders sensitive to environmental issues and sustainable development.
“Citizens’ choices regarding which candidates win the elections are important as far as the environmental aspect is concerned,” Kudakwashe Makanda, a Mutoko farmer, said.
According to Makanda it is “suicidal and so ill-advised” to dissociate issues of the environment from the politics of the day as they were closely linked and for progress’ sake should remain thus.
Unfortunately, during the fierce campaign trail that absorbed the better part of productive time so far this year, politicians have not made any promises towards environmental protection, perhaps to them it was not attractive enough to get those votes.
Former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa recently got a public bashing on social media when he commissioned a handful of bins in Rusape where he is seeking re-election as Member of Parliament.
Like most politicians who do clean-up campaigns in the run-up to elections, an unmoved Chinamasa told a local tabloid that he had commissioned the refuse bins to seek votes in a show of the insincerity most politicians have shown as they cured only symptoms and never actually addressed the environmental menace.
“The ideas of office aspirants should be reflective on their stances regarding the environment, so I feel there should be a cultural shift of focus towards the environment because that is the basis of socioeconomic well-being or progress of the nation,” Makanda said.
“All sustainable development is anchored on environmentally sound policies and practices so their ideas should be greatly hinged on this and the electorate should be guided to vote accordingly.
A look at most of the parties’ manifestos shows that issues to do with the environment were considered peripheral.
“I think the manifestos from different political parties do not clearly state issues to do especially in terms of protection of the environment from degradation,” Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association’s acting director Shamiso Mtisi, said.
“As much as activities like mining bring economic growth to the country, we need to talk about its negative impact to the environment and how we can solve that and it starts with policy-makers which is the reason why selecting those environmental conscious ones is very important.”
However, politics of populism is what succeeds in the country and that poses a major threat to good policies, according to Mtisi, who advised the electorate to overcome environmental issues and focus on strategic choices to secure their livelihood.
Over the years, the nation has witnessed policy inconsistencies regarding environmental issues and this has triggered vast ecological damage in different areas.
Some politicians have disbursed housing stands or authorised illegal construction on protected wetlands to appease their followers, while government has been on expansion and upgrading of coal mines, apparently to create jobs, at a time the world is shifting focus towards renewable energy.
Climate change is posing a threat, particularly on food security and access to clean water. Reckless social, economic and political choices, will also haunt the people of Mutoko, according to the Department for International Department (DFID)’s local deputy head, Joanne Abbot.
“What we know as Zimbabwe is we are experiencing those (climate change) impacts now and they are going to intensify and by 2030 they are going to be very real (such that) the chances of growing maize (the country’s staple) in southern Zimbabwe will be extremely limited then,” Abbot told stakeholders at a policy framework meeting in Harare last month.
She insisted that while it felt as if the statistics were far off into the future, if put into electoral cycles, the impact was a mere three phases from materialising.
“We need to get climate change adaptation and mitigation as part of the political discourse so that wherever you are in the world when facing elections, let’s really scrutinise the manifestos.”
“Ask politicians some very tough questions about climate change and what they are going to do about it because it is only by factoring in climate at the heart of the economy of the country that we are actually going to be able to mitigate the impact.”
Over the years, government policy- makers have prioritised economic growth at the expense of the environment and this has had ripple effects on citizens by affecting food security and posing immense health threats.
Sustainability scientist Ngoni Kativu believes that all the nation needed were politicians with a “stewardship mentality” of achieving pro-poor sustainable development and food security in the country to redeem an ostensibly dim future.
“We are at a tipping point as far as climate change is concerned, and the environment is our number one ally in buffering the shocks, hazards and natural disasters that are rapidly multiplying in occurrence and impact as a result,” Kativu said.
“If ecologically insensitive leaders assume power at micro and macro-political levels, the destruction of the environment will be the destruction of communities and their livelihoods.”
As people settled for their final choices in this election, perhaps there was need for a moment to question their choices’ environmental consciousness in order to avoid blame from future generations who were almost sure of inheriting an inhabitable country, if the status quo prevailed.