A WAR of words has erupted in Lupane, with locals taking aim at the Kusile Rural District Council (KRDC) which oversees the administration of the Matabeleland North provincial capital, over misplaced priorities on the use of money collected from the sale of timber.
KRDC has a permit from the Forestry Commission to harvest 350 cubic metres of timber every month, which it then sells to various furniture-making companies in Lupane.
However, Lupane Youth for Development Trust’s programmes coordinator Tawanda Mazango says villagers are not benefiting from the proceeds of timber sales.
Mazango said villagers are facing challenges such as absence of facilities to easily access education, health, recreation, among others, yet the KRDC was raking in thousands of money from timber that is being harvested in the communities.
He said his organisation had gathered that the RDC had an agreement with the Forestry Commission to harvest 350 cubic metres of timber every month and sell it to companies in Lupane.
A single cubic metre of timber costs US$33 implying the KRDC rakes in about US$11 500 every month.
“School children still walk for as far as seven kilometres to school, yet the money which the council is getting can build six blocks of classrooms a year because we gathered that a single block costs US$16 000,” he said.
“It is sad that we are still poor, yet our area is rich in timber which is being sold out by the KRDC every month. The money, it seems, is now only for the big boys. The community people are angry about this.”
The biggest natural forest in Zimbabwe found in Lupane measures a total of 286 165 hectares of hard wood.
The forest comprises solid hardwood such as teak, rosewood and mahogany.
The NewsHawks gathered that due to the failure of the community to benefit from these natural resources, community members were now venting their anger through committing acts of sabotage.
Such actions include the deliberate starting of veld fires in areas with matured timber so that they disrupt the council’s bid to generate money from timber.
Mazango confirmed the development.
“They are doing what we call compensatory behaviour. They don’t care. In the next coming few years there will be no teak to talk about in Lupane,” he said.
“There is a need to create a community account where we say 70% of revenue from timber goes into it and 30% is left for KRDC administration. It used to happen.”
Sifiso Hadebe, the KRDC chief executive refused to comment.
“I cannot comment because I do not know the agenda of the people who are complaining to the media instead of coming to us. I also do not know the context under which the said community people spoke about that issue,” Hadebe said.
The NewsHawks also observed that despite the brisk commercial activity involving timber in Lupane, infrastructure such as roads is in a deplorable state.
The government has also not invested in the rehabilitation of the road that leads to Victoria Falls.
As part of measures to make sure that local people benefit from their resources, devolution was adopted as a key component of the constitution of Zimbabwe voted for in a referendum in 2013.
Chapter 14 of the constitution states that whenever appropriate, governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities which are competent to carry out those responsibilities efficiently and effectively.
The objectives of the devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities are to give powers of local governance to the people in communities.
It is also meant to enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the state and in making decisions affecting them.
According to the constitution, devolution also aims at promoting transparent, accountable and coherent governance in Zimbabwe as a whole.
The supreme law also recognises the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to “further their development; ensuring the equitable sharing of local and national resources;” while” transferring responsibilities and resources from the national government in order to establish a sound financial base for each provincial and metropolitan council and local authority.”
However, as seen in Lupane, the devolution policy is not benefitting the local people as enshrined in the constitution.