Ishmael Ndlovu, recently in Chabili
About 20 kilometres before Beitbridge town, off the Harare-Beitbridge highway in Beitbridge East, is a village called Chabili. It is a village of mostly the elderly and young children. The not so young people have crossed the Limpopo river into South Africa to look for employment.
In this remote area of Matabeleland South province residents buy their provisions in South Africa, and use various illegal crossing points to make their way across the Limpopo river into the neighbouring country. Here smuggling of cigarettes, vehicles and other goods is reported to be rife, and the local currency is virtually unknown as people carry out financial transactions using the South African rand.
People here talk of vehicle smuggling across the Limpopo river, where the car tyres are reportedly deflated to lessen the weight, and then pulled by oxen and donkeys across the waters of the mighty river into Zimbabwe.
“If you want a new car or brand new tyres, here you can get them for a song. Tyres that cost an arm and a leg elsewhere across the country, someone from this area can sell them to you at ridiculously low prices,” a resident of Chabili village says.
Children do not go far with their education, even promising ones. A teacher at Chabili Primary School who hails from Masvingo, Mr Shylock Muzinda, says most parents’ dreams are stillborn in this area.
“We have very bright children, potential doctors and lawyers but who do not go far with their education as the lure of a better life across the Limpopo beckons. Chabili Primary School has an enrolment of 400 pupils and eight teachers. Mr Muzinda says most of the teachers are from areas outside Chabili.
He says some pupils see their age mates who will have abandoned school when they return from South Africa, driving beautiful cars and relating exciting experiences of city life and decide to join them.
“They reason that there is no point in continuing with their education when even those who abandon school before completing Grade Seven seem to be doing well”, he said.
This was supported by another local resident, Mr Ndou, who said some of his children abandoned school to go and do menial jobs in South Africa.
“This is the main problem in this area”, Mr Ndou told ZTN.
“Children do not see the value of education when their colleagues who are less gifted academically leave school for South Africa and return home during holidays driving nice cars and wearing good clothes.”
The situation is made worse by the fact that there is no secondary school in the area. This means children have to walk long distances to the nearest high school which is Chitulipasi Secondary School, 20 kilometres away.
The literacy levels here are low, with most youths unable to speak basic English for communication. The only language of communication in this part of the country is Venda and that means if one cannot speak the language, chances of them being able to converse with the locals are almost impossible.
The locals here love soccer. Some business people from the area who are based mainly in South Africa and Beitbridge town, sponsor football tournaments, with the various teams supplied with modern kits, including colourful jerseys, football boots and soccer balls.
The teams traditionally play knockout tournaments, with the whole community participating as supporters of their various teams. The winning team gets some money and silverware from the sponsors. Men, women and children go to the dusty football pitches to urge on their teams. Soccer provides an outlet for the entertainment-starved population.
A carnival atmosphere greets one at the tournament where, as early as 7am, locals are flocking to the football pitch, with babies strapped to the backs of mothers, who cannot miss the entertainment for anything. The crowd gets bigger as the kick off time approaches. Various wares are also being sold at the grounds.
Vendors here make a killing. Some have brought cooler boxes and small freezers with drinks and freezits. Others are selling maputi and other foodstuffs as well as imported liquor for revellers. The South African rand is the only medium of exchange here and the local currency is virtually unknown.
As the game gets underway there is a deafening din from the spectators, with cheerleaders from both teams singing songs, dancing and chanting slogans as a morale booster for their favourite teams. The tournament is played in sweltering heat but the players seem unperturbed by this, less still their supporters. There is a lot of hard running on the field of play and skills on display in this remote area would make Premier Soccer League scouts spoilt for choice.
Nothing brings the people of Chabili closer together than soccer. It is as if the whole village is gathered at the Chabili grounds for the tournament. This is an activity held every year especially during the December holidays. The tournament is held over a number of days and local vendors make a lot of money during the period.
Most people here work in South Africa and a number of cars in this area have GP number plates, an abbreviation of Gauteng Province in the neighbouring country.
Chabili, like many other parts of Beitbridge district, is very hot. It is a land of scorpions and snakes and it is not advisable for people to sleep on the floor without shaking the blankets and making sure there are no scorpions clinging to them. Some scorpions are poisonous and have a deadly sting that can send one to an early grave.
With delay in the rains across the country, many cattle have died as a result of drought in most of Matabeleland South including Beitbridge. This is a bitter pill to swallow for most villagers as their cattle are their wealth, and the majority of them sell their beasts to send their children to school. A report in The Herald says at least 16 000 beasts have succumbed to drought in the province as water bodies are fast drying up. At Chabili coming across a rotting carcass of a cow or other livestock is commonplace. However, this area is better than most areas in the district, as there is still some vegetation, mainly in the form of short grass near dry streams and rivers and thorn bushes which are a favourite of goats which thrive in the area.
The availability of water for everyday use is not a problem as the area has a number of boreholes, but most of the drinking water has a salty taste that takes getting used to.
The distance the people of Chabili have to walk to the nearest clinic will soon be reduced as a state of the art clinic has been constructed a stone’s throw from Chabili Primary School. The clinic, I am told, was constructed by villagers, with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) providing the building materials. Government then took over, providing painters, carpenters, builders and plumbers from the Zimbabwe National Army.
A spirit of belonging to the community is evident in this dry district, whereby people come together in their numbers for a common cause, such as football. The people here worked together in the initial stages of building a clinic and such initiatives are to be encouraged.
However, more needs to be done to encourage children in this area to go to school. French poet, novelist and playwright, Victor Hugo said “he who opens a school door, closes a prison.” One might add, and drives away society’s social ills, including early marriages which are reported to be among some of the causes of dropping out of school for some learners in this district.