By Kundai Marunya
AN old AVM bus roars from a busy Mbare Musika, blaring a throaty horn as it announces its departure.
It squeezes through the tight loading bays, stops every now and again to avoid hoardes of people flocking the terminus in a last-minute rush to the rural areas.
Heads pop out of the bus windows as families bid each other farewell to a fulfilling rural holiday experience, where boys are taught to be men and girls trained to keep well-knit social values.
From swimming, farming, cattle rearing, hunting and a good old family gathering that bridges gaps between extended family members who have since relocated to different urban centres in search of employment. This is one beautiful memory many Zimbabweans who grew up before the new millennium still savour in their minds.
Those brought up in this era knew the importance of rural development; first as homes where you unwind with family after busy times in urban centres, and then as an important fabric for social cohesion.
They would build decent accommodation, not only for their comfort but to develop the areas they would finally come to rest upon retirement.
Some would even build shops and other businesses, creating centres of commerce in the most remote parts of the country.
Government, through the District Development Fund (DDF), made sure there was a functional road network to allow easy access.
Meeting people at their points of need, several Growth Points were established in every district to avail crucial services for those who opted to live in the rural areas, those who had retired and those who wished to drive the rural economy.
At these centres, banks, postal services and markets for farm produce, among other essentials services, were found.
In the rural areas, families invested in livestock which acted as a store of wealth, as they could be sold if the need arose.
Livestock were also crucial in food production, as they were used as draught power, at the same time providing food products, such as milk and meat.
In this era, according to Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) spokesperson Richard Taylor back in 2014, of the two million tonnes of maize produced by Zimbabwe, more than half was produced by black small-scale farmers in the villages.
Fast forward two decades later, a movement towards rural rejuvenation has emerged, with a flair that brings envy even to those who still cling to urban life.
From mansions that match and surpass those in the affluent suburbs of urban Zimbabwe to sourcing clean water, bringing about the luxuries of urban centres to the rural areas and, above all, producing agriculture products that are contributing to Zimbabwe’s food self-sufficiency.
The late Genius Kadungure was one of the people at the forefront of the movement, building a multi-million-dollar mansion in rural Domboshava, some 60 km north-east of Harare.
Ginimbi, as Kadungure was affectionately known, brought flair to the once remote village, hosting top international celebrities, including rhumba icon Koffi Olomide and Nigerian afro-pop star Davido.
Several local musicians have gone on to record music videos at the mansion, while exclusive parties have been hosted, attracting the rich and famous to the area.
Domboshava has since seen a surge of interest, with many decent homes built.
Domboshava resident Muchaneta Mlambo said she was attracted by affordable land.
“I moved to Domboshava three years ago, having bought land at a very affordable price,” she said.
“I have always wanted to own land for poultry projects but plots in peri-urban areas were beyond my budget so I opted for rural land instead.”
Mlambo said she has since started a poultry project to supplement her income.
“It helps that Domboshava is close to Harare where I work as an accountant, so I go to work every day from my new home,” she said.
“I breed roadrunner chickens and ducks. I also recently started breeding goats to supplement my income.”
Mlambo is originally from Mberengwa.
Her parents moved to Harare in the early years of independence, where she was born and raised.
Working as a corporate executive, she and her husband severed ties with their rural area, and build a life in Harare where they would raise their five children.
“My parents only left us a house in Tynwald,” said Mlambo.
“It is not big enough for all of us and for me to carry out my projects.”
Mlambo has since re-established the link with her rural home, hoping one day soon to return and claim her ancestral land and launch different income-generating projects.
Domboshava is not the only place that has attracted urbanites seeking rural land, as Seke Communal Lands, Goromonzi, Wedza, Beatrice and Chihota have also attracted thousands of people.
Apart from those who seek land for agriculture, many people are attracted to rural areas close to urban centres, especially Harare, as residential areas set up during the colonial era can no longer accommodate the ever increasing population.
Even the land that was subsequently allocated by urban councils after independence has not been enough to fulfil the rising demand.
Demand for land has seen the rise in property value, forcing residents to seek alternative dwelling places.
This has seen the emergence of land barons working in cahoots with traditional leaders to parcel out land in violation of the law.
Wedza Residents’ Development Initiative Trust (WERDIT) executive director George Makoni said traditional leaders are cashing in on increased demand for land.
“Wedza is close to urban areas, namely Harare, Chitungwiza and Marondera,” he said.
“The prices of land in the above-mentioned areas are quite excessive as compared to the cheaper ones in rural Wedza.
“Traditional leaders are selling land in what is widely known as ‘sabhuku deals’ at very affordable prices in their villages.”
Land in rural areas is owned by the State, but traditional leaders have been abusing their powers as overseers of land under their jurisdiction, selling it to unsuspecting homeseekers.
Makoni said traditional leaders are not following dictates of the law in land distribution.
“Traditional leaders are abusing the custodianship of the communal lands which is granted to them by the Constitution under the Traditional Leaders Act,” he said.
“Government should take a leading role in educating people, especially traditional leaders, that there are procedures which should be followed in selling land in communal areas. For instance, the consultation of the Village Development Committees (VIDCOs) and the Committee of Seven.
“The authorities should then work with the law enforcement agents to bring to book all the village heads who unconstitutionally sell land in their jurisdictions.”
Government has warned chiefs, headmen and village heads against the sale of State land.
Four village heads from Dema have since been convicted after appearing in court for selling stands in undesignated places.
According to a recent media report, the Director of Communication and Advocacy in the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, Gabriel Masvora, said they conducted capacity building workshops within the country’s eight rural provinces to conscientise traditional leaders on their role.
“The sale of State land is illegal. The duties of a village head are spelt out in Section 12 of the Traditional Leaders Act 29:17 and do not include land allocation,” said Masvora.
“The land is allocated by the rural district council concerned after the submission of names of those who want communal land to the council and a resolution is then made.
“Our Ministry carried out capacity building workshops from May 2022 to April 2023 at all the eight rural provinces in every district and the meetings were attended by chiefs, headmen and village heads.
“The duties of each traditional leader were explained and illegalities were spelt out. Chiefs and headmen supervise village heads, and where the rampant sale of land occurs, they are empowered by the law to recommend dismissal.”
Masvora’s Ministry continues to work with traditional leaders to ensure that rural development is done in a legal manner.
The rural renaissance movement continues in all parts of the country.
It has since become common to find a mansion in areas deemed remote.
Escaping overcrowded communities, the heavy noise, air pollution and unbearable rush-hour traffic, urbanites are trading the busy life in towns for a quite but equally lucrative life in rural Zimbabwe.
After installing boreholes with clean running water, and solar systems that can power household appliances those who have embraced rural life see no reason to come to town.
Government, through different initiatives, including the Rural Electrification Programme and working with funding partners to sponsor irrigation schemes, broiler out-grower schemes and availing money for projects through the Zimbabwe Women’s Bank and the Youth Empowerment Bank is also significantly contributing to growth and development of rural areas.