By Chipo Masara And Simba Sithole
MVURWI, once a thriving commercial farming settlement, is now a ghost town.
An army of youths moving purposelessly is the most striking feature as one enters the town, 99 km from Harare off the Mazowe highway.
The young men, most of who look much older than their ages due to alcohol and drug abuse, signal the decay of what used to be one of Zimbabwe’s most important commercial centres.
What was less than two decades ago a thriving farming township that was surrounded by highly productive farms before the implementation of the controversial land reform programme, is now a far cry from its former self.
Ironically, Mvurwi — which was in 2011 “upgraded” to town status — was in a much better state when it was simply a township.
When the government granted the area municipality status, there was hope that the move would be an antidote for economic growth.
However, six years down the line, the general sentiment is that Guruve — a growth point located 50km north of Mvurwi — should have been given the town status instead because it has better economic activity.
This is, however, not to say nothing good has been happening in Mvurwi. The small town has on numerous occasions been praised for its neatness.
Unlike areas such as the country’s own capital city, Harare, where uncollected refuse and all manner of filth is the order of the day, Mvurwi Town Council ensures that refuse is collected and that people know where to discard of their litter.
Maybe owing to its small size, the area is easier to monitor and maintain.
The Standard Association of Zimbabwe and Unicef-approved tap water in the area would also be the envy of Harare residents who now resort to buying bottled water.
However, one should not let the neatness that welcomes them as they enter the town from the Harare direction deceive them.
Less than 2km from the town centre, one is confronted with the sad reality of life on the ground for ordinary residents of Mvurwi.
In this overpopulated part of the town is where thousands of jobless people are concentrated, many of who are youths.
With the exodus of commercial farmers — who were the major employers in the area — many people were forced to vacate the farm houses and flocked to Mvurwi town, where they set up all manner of homes. The development saw Mvurwi’s population more than tripling.
Over the years and as the population continued to grow, it has not been matched with employment opportunities.
In fact, Delta Beverages, whose Chibuku-making plant in the area was a big employer, scaled down operations and now only uses its premises as a depot to receive opaque beer manufactured in Harare and Chitungwiza.
The development meant that many lost their jobs, while the few lucky ones were transferred to other Delta Beverages branches scattered across the country.
As for the Grain Marketing Board depot that used to thrive in the area, it is now as good as non-existent.
There was a bit of relief over a year ago when the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (Timb)opened a tobacco floor in the area as that meant people could realise brisk business as they have taken to selling their different wares to tobacco farmers when floors open.
But then, it is an opportunity that only presents itself once each year. Any other time, the area is gloomy and lifeless, with everyone fighting to get a piece of the few dollars that normally circulate in the area.
Besides Timb and Delta, the few people that work for the council, Zesa, at the district hospital and in the few banks still operating in the town, as well as a few that own small businesses, are the life blood of the area.
The rest have to eke out a living from selling one small thing to the other, mostly vegetable products.
Above everyone else, however, it is the youth in the area that is bearing the brunt of the hopelessness that pervades the area.
Recently, there was panic in the close-knit little town when 21-year-old Takunda Zhuwao, locally referred to as Smigo, had to be taken to an apostolic sect after he suffered what appeared like a seizure as his body shook uncontrollably, making his parents believe he had been bewitched.
When the apostolic sect leader failed to heal him, he was rushed to hospital, where it was established he had taken an overdose of a drug commonly referred to as “mangemba” that is designed for mentally-impaired patients.
The selling of illicit drugs is so common in the area it is hard to believe it is illegal. The selling points are very popular with most young men in the town.
While Broncleer, a cough mixure referred to as “bronco”, is popular among the youths, at $5 per 100ml bottle, the price often proves restrictive.
Many then turn to cheaper options, which in most cases tend to be more dangerous. Kachasu — a highly intoxicating form of home-brewed alcohol that is sometimes made using fertiliser for a stronger effect — is very popular owing to its affordability, at $0,50 for a 500ml bottle.
While the consumption of drugs such as marijuana is still widespread, youths in the area now prefer stronger drugs that are cheaper to ensure they remain high for longer periods.
Prescription drugs such as Amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant that is used to treat symptoms of depression, are also gaining popularity. It could, however, not be established how the drug dealers are managing to get their hands on the prescription drugs.
Section 157 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 09:23, says it is illegal to possess, use, ingest, acquire, smoke, deal in, consume, or cultivate drugs.
“Alcohol and drug abuse is a very serious concern in Mvurwi. The young age at which our children are starting to take alcohol and drugs is very worrying,” said Farai Magora, a concerned mother of two adolescents.
Justifying Magora’s concern, at a house the youths reportedly frequent to buy bronco and kachasu, this writer witnessed tens of mostly young boys of school-going age and a girl or two milling around the place, the bulk of them visibly intoxicated.
Churches in the area have spoken of their concern at the high level of alcohol and drug abuse in the area.
“As churches, we are very concerned about the future of youths in Mvurwi; the drugs are destroying them. As a church, we are embarking on crusades where we seek to educate the youths on the dangers of taking drugs,” said Pastor Tompson Bepura of Zimbabwe Faith Apostle.
There is general consensus that the moral decadence afflicting youths is being caused by the high level of unemployment in the area that has led to idleness among this group.
“It is caused by the fact that these youths have nothing to do. Look at this place, all we have are beerhalls:
there is no sports centre, no library, nothing to keep the young ones occupied in a healthy manner,” said a teacher at one of the only two secondary schools in the area, who requested anonymity.
“What you should do is talk to the bosses at the council and find out what they are doing with the thousands of dollars they are getting from selling [residential] stands. Why can’t they invest in the youths?” added the local teacher.
Mvurwi does not have a college or university, with the closest university being Bindura University of Science Education, located in Bindura, which is 98km away.
In most cases, lack of funds prevents parents from funding their children beyond O’Level, even in cases where they would have come out with flying colours.
There are also worrying cases of school dropouts in the area, with many parents and guardians citing monetary constraints.
Girls have also been caught in the web, with some as young as 12 reported to be frequenting beer halls offering sexual favours in exchange for money, a development that is bound to increase an already high rate of HIV and Aids infection in the tiny town.
Mvurwi town clerk, Shelly Nyakudya acknowledged that the town was facing serious challenges because of an upsurge in the number of unemployed youths.
“We have established Mvurwi Development Committee to help us as we work on a vocational training centre to be established this year that will incorporate a number of activities for the youths. Working with the MP [Martin Dinha], we aim to make things better for the youths,” Nyakudya said.
Meanwhile, MDC-T Mvurwi youth chairperson Tonderai Samhu said only a new government would ease the plight of the youths in the area.
“Young people have nothing to do. When people are unemployed, they end up engaging in all sorts of dangerous activities,” he said.
“As MDC-T, we are saying the youths should make sure they register to vote so that come 2018, we have a change in government. Only then will industries be revived.”
Mvurwi’s environment is conducive for farming and the area can be essential in the food production of the country.