NKAYI district in Matabeleland North province is probably more in the news for gruesome murders, rape and an array of misdemeanours than for development-related issues.
Politically, the district is divided into two zones, the north is controlled by MDC-T and the south by Zanu PF. There is no known economic activity despite the area being endowed with vast timber plantations.
Infrastructure development is lagging behind when compared to other districts and the main commercial activities at the business centre include bottle stores, general dealer shops, a guest house and a bank. The Bulawayo-Nkayi road has been under construction for close to 20 years now and mobile reception is terrible.
Recreational facilities are virtually non-existent and unemployment levels are very high among the youths as they spend time roaming the business centre’s thriving bottle stores.
However, all that is set change as the centre is due for a major facelift as the Nkayi Rural District Council (NRDC) plans to embark on an expansion project that would include constructing a business centre and a low income residential settlement.
The expansion project falls under Ward 29, but locals have raised concern about evictions to pave way for the expansion drive.
The expansion project, expected to cover a 20km radius from the current district business centre, has stirred controversy with a section of villagers claiming that they were never consulted about the move.
Villagers said they were being forced to relocate without any clarity on compensation by either the RDC or the government.
Under the project, industrial zones, low and high density suburbs and recreational facilities are set to be constructed under the master plan. Former NRDC chairperson and councillor for the area Kufakwezwe Ncube told Southern Eye in Nkayi on Wednesday that the project was legal and above board. He said aggrieved villagers were free to peruse the council master plan.
“Several stakeholders meetings, including the traditional leadership, were held and will continue to be convened,” he said.
“We consider the project as a major development for the NRDC. It’s above board.
“The Surveyor General’s office is being engaged to advise us on the direction the centre will expand to.”
Ncube said in February, he had submitted reports from all village heads in the district to council and no objections had been raised.
“We asked all village heads to have meetings with their subjects on the project and asked them to prepare reports,” he said.
“Issues such as how to handle graves were raised and I have already submitted them to council.
“Zimbabwe is a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and provision of housing is a key issue.
“With the project, many people would have decent accommodation. This will reduce the housing waiting list which stands at slightly over 2 000.”
When asked about compensation to affected villagers, Ncube said “preference” would be given to villagers with brick houses and not mud and pole huts, but “eventually everyone would be accommodated in the long run”.
“With regards to compensation, all modalities are in place. In fact, the Rural District Council Act is clear on land acquisition,” he said.
Section 78, which deals with compulsory acquisition, states that council may with the written consent by the minister concerned, compulsorily acquire land or any right over land, with or without buildings, whether inside or outside the council area for the purpose of executing any work or undertaking authorised by the Act.
NRDC chief executive officer Zimbabwe Ndlovu was said to be out of office on Wednesday.
Ncube said in the long run, other wards such as 19, 20 and 22 would be affected by the expansion project and locals stood to benefit from jobs that would be created as a result of the expansion. However, villagers told Southern Eye on condition of anonymity that the project was being forced on them.
“We have never heard of any meetings called to discuss the issue. What we hear is that all people with homesteads within the 20km radius would be relocated,” a villager said.
“This has raised confusion. How will council deal with our graves? Are we going to be compensated and what criteria would be used? We have seen council officials pegging land at the aerodrome directly opposite the district hospital.”
But Southern Eye saw several notices about meetings pasted on shops and trees around the business centre. Another villager said parcelling out stands at the aerodrome site would greatly affect disaster management for council.
The villager queried: “In case of a serious disaster such as floods, how will the government or council evacuate villagers using helicopters when the only aerodrome has been converted into a township?”