In the period between May 2019 and June 2019, ZPP undertook a series of Human Rights Community Dialogues in the Districts of Binga, Chiredzi and Mutoko. These created platforms for discussions on topical human rights issues in these communities. The dialogues were convened following community assessments that ZPP had conducted in these districts to ascertain the availability of platforms for community members to freely deliberate on human rights issues affecting their communities. These communities all comprise of minority groups (Tonga in Binga, Shangaani in Chiredzi and Buja in Mutoko) who face distinct human rights violations. The districts are also geo-politically marginalised and impoverished. According to the Zimstat 2017 Poverty Report, Binga is the second highest impoverished district at 38.4%-51.2% prevalence; 50.1% of the households are extremely poor. Their health is also compromised, with 74% of the households having no access to ablution facilities. Chiredzi and Mutoko were standing at 25.6%-38.4% poverty prevalence. This paper focuses on Binga district due to the emphatic beliefs vociferously expressed by the community consistently on human rights violations that manifest in the form of systematic marginalisation in all spheres.
The Binga Context and the Problem
Binga boasts of vast waters of the Zambezi River and forests rich in wildlife. There are National parks and hotel tourism resorts which contribute immensely to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation. In 2018, tourism contributed 6.3% to Zimbabwe’s GDP. The poverty levels in the district however do not reflect these rich resources. The Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) initiative introduced by central government in 1989 has yielded few development results as communities in Binga remain very poor and there is low infrastructure development. CAMPFIRE is essentially a business transaction between the Rural District Councils (RDCs) and the private Safari operating industry by which RDCs allow operators to exploit wildlife resources in their district for 515% of the profits. This has however not translated to any positive change in the livelihood of communities In addition, the locals’ access to the Zambezi River is tightly controlled through licenses that they have to pay to the local authority; which strips the BaTonga of their water rights. From the community dialogues it emerged that the setting of fishing fees by the local authority is done without wide consultation. There are also no exceptions for locals who want to venture into commercial fishing. The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Tariff of Fees) by-laws, 2019 Statutory Instrument 108/2019 pegs an annual commercial fishing license at US$3 200,00 for Binga Rural District Council. This is a steep requirement for most locals who in the end resort to fishing illegally, as fishing is their main source of livelihood; risking arrest. Besides, the commercial licenses can only be obtained from Harare, which is 874 km away. Often individuals and companies from wealthier districts are able to pay for these licenses and benefit from the Zambezi River.
The above demonstrate the institutional marginalization of local communities in policy formulation and implementation. Marginalisation was a topical and emotive human rights issue in each of the numerous engagements which ZPP carried out in Binga district, Siansundu and Manjolo areas. This discrimination and inequality is revealed in pre and postindependence systematic economic and political marginalization as evidenced by the poor road, education and communication infrastructure across Binga district. The sentiments expressed by all levels and sectors of the community during the community dialogues was the belief and lived experience that Binga district, particularly the BaTonga and Nambya people are excluded from the greater Zimbabwean social discourse and identity. For example they were concerned that their education infrastructure had not been upgraded in years. This has resulted in poor performance of children with the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council recording a mere 30.4% Grade seven pass rate in 2018. The Tonga language was introduced to be taught in schools up to Grade Seven only in 2011, 31 years after Zimbabwe gained independence. The community also bemoaned the poor communication network in their district which negatively impacts on their day to day communication and development. According to Rahman (2008), ICTs create important development opportunities as they are capable to override barriers of social, economic and geographical isolation by increasing access to information and support the rural people to participate in decisions that affect their life.
In the dialogues, Binga community members often expressed being disempowered to participate in some decision making processes especially those involving setting up of fishing and hunting licenses by the Binga Rural District Council and Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority , with quotes such as the following being common: “We have no voice,” “What we can contribute doesn’t matter to those at the top,” and “Our participation doesn’t change anything.”
Issues of identity were also central to the human rights discussions where the community expressed that they were regarded as second class citizens. The Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights in 2018 highlighted that the Tonga people have been marginalized and discriminated at all levels. This followed Honourable Joseph Chinotimba’s utterances in Parliament on 13 March 2018 that soldiers must stay put in Binga as there are murderers in Binga; giving an impression of a barbaric and primitive community. Such careless statements from political leaders serve to further divide communities. The continued marginalisation of the Binga community in education, infrastructure and derogatory comments is an assault to the right to human dignity as stated in Section 51 of the Zimbabwe Constitution. The Constitution also provides for equality and non-discrimination in Section 56(3) where it states:
“Every person has the right not to be treated in an unfairly discriminatory manner on such grounds as their nationality, race, colour, tribe, place of birth, ethnic or social origin, language, class, religious belief, political affiliation, opinion, custom, culture, sex, gender, marital status, age, pregnancy, disability or economic or social status, or whether they were born in or out of wedlock.” Section 56(6) lays out the responsibility of the state in this regard as follows: “The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures to promote the achievement of equality and to protect or advance people or classes of people who have been disadvantaged by unfair discrimination, and – (a) such measures must be taken to redress circumstances of genuine need; (b) no such measure is to be regarded as unfair for the purposes of subsection (3)6.” These constitutional provisions clearly demonstrate the obligation of the state to ensure that ALL citizens of Zimbabwe are treated without partiality, including in governance issues.
Source: Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP)