The residents of Masvingo central constituency ward 16 and 18 have resolved to jointly construct a permanent structure for a community information centre. The two roomed community information centre currently at window level is being built inside the Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development (COTRAD) Mutirikwi Peace Garden and Nursery in Chirambamuriwo villager under Chief Shumba in ward 18. The residents have come to this resolution after having challenges in accessing free and enough space for the information centres in public institutions such as clinics and schools. In business centres where space is available the costs of renting is exorbitantly high and unsustainable. Currently the villagers are using a temporary structure for the services of the information centre and garden offices. Therefore, for sustainability purposes the villagers agreed to contribute towards the construction of Mutirikwi information centre.
The establishment of information centres started during previous COTRAD conflict prevention, peace building and social accountability monitoring projects. However the community have decided to sustain the initiative by embracing community ownership through taking full responsibility of the construction of a permanent structures for the information centre. The information centre has been located between ward 16 and ward 18 boundary, to allow both wards to access the information. The information centre shall serve a multipurpose, primarily to provide everyone with useful, practical information for daily chores and also an office for the peace garden project amongst other purposes.
In rural areas, the need for information cannot be overestimated as it is a major contributing factor to the lack of progress and community participation in development process. COTRAD information centres seeks to intensify information dissemination on development, humanitarian issues, peace building and social accountability. The provision of alternative sources of information improves the capacity and knowledge of the community members to actively play a role in social accountability monitoring, peace building and community development.
The government has an obligation to ensure that citizens are protected from the barrage of misinformation by providing the public with facilities where they can access reliable, evidence-based information. COTRAD Community information centres complement support for the government in ensuring access to information in rural areas. Access to information is a constitutional right enshrined in section 62 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Community use local available resource to Construct Information Centre
The 2012 national census results showcased that 90% of the population in Masvingo lives in rural areas. The existing information gap between rural and urban youth in Masvingo district was appalling. As an alternative, COTRAD established shared community access points better known as information centres which proved to be more economical as well as more effective in rural communities where a large rural population was facing not only network infrastructure constraints but also insufficient financial resources to buy necessary information. During the first year of the Diakonia funded COTRAD project these community information centres were established at public institutions such as clinics, schools and churches. In ward 18 Masvingo Central Constituency the information Centre was established at Shonganiso Primary School and this was during the term of office of the 2019 Shonganiso School Development Committee (SDC). The information Centre was resourced with local government and Public Accountability and citizen engagement processes and other related information material. This include but not limited to Masvingo RDC strategic/annual plans, budgets, auditor general reports on RDCs, full council minutes, Rural and Urban Council Acts, national constitution, local newspapers, ZLHR newsletters and parliamentary Hansard. The 2020 SDC for Shonganiso Primary School disapproved the idea of having the information Centre at the school on frivolous and vexatious reasons. The SDC alleged that the public accountability information material was political.
In response COTRAD facilitated engagements between the AAGs and community leaders on online and offline platforms to map a way forward. This include WhatsApp group, community dialogue meetings and community work parties. Public duty bearers such as Shonganiso SDC, ward 18 councilor E. Dhemba, headman Chibwe, Village heads Chineka and Marasha were conducted. The agreement to transfer and construct the information centre at the COTRAD Mutirikwe Nursery was reached. The community mobilised resources. COTRAD facilitated AAGs to engage the local business community to fund with building material.
Local builders volunteered to build the information Centre for free. AAGs provided free labour throughout the construction of the information centre local business leaders Makuchete Trading and Duruvi Traders pledged cement, timber and roofing material. COTRAD now has an information centre of its own and enhances the sustainability of information dissemination the project