IT TOOK me nearly 900 kilometres to travel to the place my father was born. For me, the journey to Binga was personal and began as a child. It was a place I imagined. My father’s birth certificate which mentioned his place of birth as Binga had always been an identity map of a curious geography I longed to explore and interact with.
We are originally from the east in Chipinge. How did my grandparents end up in nowhere land? My grandmother, who is now in her early 80s and fondly known as Gogo Mutema, recalls “Binga being in the bushes.” There were no tarred roads in the area but a patchwork of dusty roads. It was a colonial hinterland. Gogo Mutema had two kids; my father and his sister who was not lucky to live beyond two, as she succumbed to malaria. My grandfather was one of the black construction workers to build the first community structures in the Binga area.
But this particular trip was facilitated by Zubo Trust, an inspiring local non-governmental organization, run by women from the area. Coordinator of the project, Rosemary Cumanzala, who is generally known as ‘Mother’ by the women’s collective always ensured there was someone to drive me around the area.
Zubo Trust enables local women to sustainably manage their resources, have greater participation in community development, and overcome lack of access to financing, increased exposure to social, cultural, political, and economic opportunities to ensuring secure livelihoods. In doing so, Rosemary Cumanzala and her team unlock Binga women’s potential as catalysts for improved conservation and development, ensuring improved fisheries management and more resilient communities.
Zubo women are history makers. They were the first females in southern Africa to own a fishing rig in the Zambezi River and formally entering a male-dominated industry after being provided with a rig, equipment and skills training from UN Women. Legend has it that it is the first time since the 1960s that women from the baTonga have been able to fish at all.
Although historically it was traditionally the baTonga women who fished using zubo baskets, aspects of their matri-lineal culture changed when the group was displaced by the construction of Kariba dam. Their access to resources reduced and their participation in community fishing ended. But that is no longer the case.
Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people rely on small-scale fisheries for survival, nearly half of which are women. These fisheries are often the cornerstone of communities, serving as the the main source of food and income, and their success of failure implies the same fate for those that rely on them.
Apart from fishing, the women do many other community projects – basket weaving, market gardening, and producing baobab products such as mahewu, yoghurt and drinks. The projects are spread across villages in Binga and I was taken to see them on location. This unique opportunity allowed me time to spend time with the baTonga communities and learn about their ways of life and their environment and culture, to celebrate and respect traditional rituals and wisdoms.
Binga, which is situated along the southern bank of Zambezi River, is known for high temperatures and culture-conscious people. For some reason, most of us, have participated in giving the place a bad name by perpetuating stereotypes of a place that does not exist but we tell of a place we imagine exists.
However the remoteness and isolation of the district, its low and erratic patterns of rainfall makes crop farming unviable and food insecurity a perennial problem. Meaningful economic opportunities therefore in the district are hinged on sustainable utilisation of natural resources, particularly fishing from Lake Kariba and the local plants like baobab, marula and ilala palm.
These projects have strengthened the capacity of the targeted Binga women on sustainable utilisation and conservation of natural resources. The Zubo women are producing baobab mahewu, yogurts, juice and jam for both domestic consumption and business purposes. More than 130 women benefit from sale of marula kernel. 100 rural women are into ilala weaving and their products are heading to Ongwediva Crafts Fair, Namibia this August. These projects are all contributing to Binga women’s increased income and capacity to contribute to family needs such as paying school fees especially for the girl-child.
Binga Rest Camp became home for the duration of my stay in the area. It’s a place imbued with history and one of the earliest tourist facilities to be built on the banks of the lake and my late grandfather is one of the men who stacked bricks in its construction. It was started by two brothers in 1961 who also became the first to start commercial crocodile farming in southern Africa, if not in the world.
For a long while, Zimbabwe was a leader in southern Africa in the field of wildlife conservation during the period 1960 to 2000, specifically in protected area management, community-based natural resource management and the development of the private sector as key producers of wildlife outside of the state protected areas. This was brought about by the 1975 Wildlife Act, which gave landowners the right to utilise wildlife on their own land. This revolutionised the wildlife and tourism industry.
Unfortunately, mobile signal is still a matter of chance in Binga. Telecel hardly reaches. Netone and Econet can be accessed in spots. And ZBC has hardly broadcasted in Binga since the 1980s. I remember on the stereo there were crackling sounds, then a Zambian radio station would start playing – and this is not because residents enjoy it more than local stations. They simply can’t access Zimbabwean radio and TV signals.
It is no secret that Binga has been distanced from most activities in the country. The district is a sleeping giant in tourism because there have not been enough efforts to package the area as a tourist centre like its nearby cousins – Hwange, Kariba and Victoria Falls. Binga is however endowed with a variety of natural resources, which can be exploited to the advantage of local people, especially women and girls who constitute at least 52% of the population in the district.
A week was not long enough to experience the place and I long to be back in Binga for another dance with the place.
Follow on twitter: @tinsmush