12 July 2012

Zimbabwe: Death of a Border Post

Mukumbura Border Post, that little unassuming outpost separating Zimbabwe and Mozambique by the mighty river of the same name in the northeast, is in big trouble.

The trouble is not because of any shaking off of the idyllic rustic outlook - call it sleepiness - which has made the place generally free of the beehive activities that usually characterise many border posts.

The border post is generally not noted for much cross-border traffic between the two countries.

Where such traffic has been recorded, it has been a pittance of any meaningful economic activity as the main business has been the shuttling of fish from the Mozambican side to the Zimbabwean end where heavily salted breams and kapenta from a fishing camp some kilometre away into Mozambique are a delicacy and a source of business.

It could be added, though, that a significant proportion of the fish trade does not come through the official border channel but find useful the porous state of the border and into Zimbabwe.

Now the border post is slowly but surely counting its certainly numbered days.

Picture this: The various buildings and structures making the border town generally face the southerly direction -- in the direction of the breathtaking Mavuradonha mountain range and where the road linking Mukumbura to the rest of the country is.

This visage of Mukumbura comprises many small businesses that would make any rural business township -- from grinding mills, bottle stores, general dealerships, vending stalls and flea markets.

Here, on the dusty compound, man and beast mingle freely with stray domestic pigs, making a particularly strong presence as they forage and scavenge for food.

There are also various civic offices generally facing the southerly direction -- where the people live.

However, on the very back of these amenities, a steady destruction is gnawing at the border post.

Mukumbura River, choking with siltation but unrelenting in its ephemeral riverine tumults, has for the past years been involved in heavy lateral erosion, pushing its banks wider into Zimbabwe.

Now the situation is dire.

When The Herald visited Mukumbura last week, it witnessed how the border post is sitting on a very precarious edge.

The perimeter fence separating the two countries has been washed away.

Where there used to be a water tank pump and tank remains three skeletal metal pipes suspended in the air whose hollowness rings loudly in the wind.

Faced with the gaping eroding monster, Zinwa last year had to abandon its offices at the border to set shop in a nearby village.

Now the old offices, stripped of their roof and habitation, look desolate and moribund.

More could be following with the civic offices facing the same fate.

And Hamunyare Maponga, councillor for the area, is a very worried.

"The tank that was removed used to supply the Police Support Unit base, the clinic, the community, the schools, the Ministry of Transport and the immigration department.

"Now we are facing water problems. We had to dig a deep well at the clinic and another one for the township.

"The deep well at the clinic has been installed with a borehole pump with the help of German-Agro Action this year," she said.

According to Clr Maponga, things started going bad in the mid-1990s, as a result of streambank cultivation on both sides of the border.

The river was heavily silted and it often resulted in flooding, with a nearby Mozambican settlement coming worse off.

"Then the Mozambican authorities brought a grader and changed the course of the river. They opened the way for flooding and erosion on the Zimbabwean side,"

she said.

The result has been disastrous; not least its potential to stoke cross-border conflict.

A Zimra official who has spent only a year at the border post has seen so much in such a short time to fear for the worst.

"In two to five years all these offices will have been destroyed," is his dire prognosis.

"When I came here last year," he says as he demonstrates, "the wire here was standing and there was a huge tree that has now been washed away.

"Things can only get worse," he said.

It would have been, already.

"At this point we are standing," he continued, "the erosion had been steep and the road impassable. We had to make use of 60 bags of cement to allay the erosion."

The makeshift bridge looks good, for now, though only a four-wheel-drive vehicle will suit it best.

However, around the makeshift bridge, the destruction is unrelenting, a fact not helped by the loose, sandy soils that make the area.

The Zimra official also implored Government to seriously consider erecting a bridge over Mukumbura River, whose impassability has dwarfed the potential of the border post, which is closer to Tete in Mozambique than Nyamapanda, for example.

He says some officials once came to inquire on the feasibility of the same but they are yet to report back.

Clr Maponga revealed that although the Environmental Management Authority once came to the area, it has not come back to arrest the situation.

Realising the menace, the community has now initiated measures to try and stop the land degradation.

The people have been planting water plants on the bed of the silted river, taking after their Mozambican counterparts who have managed considerably, to roll back the environmental scourge.

"We want authorities to help us with a plant 'vativa' which will be effective.

"We also need a grader to change the course of the river so as to avoid the lateral erosion," said Clr Maponga.

A group of youths, under the banner of Youth Build Zimbabwe, has been taking part in the initiative.

Zvamuri Kuridza, a youth officer, says it is necessary to address the situation as a matter of urgency.

Otherwise, things could turn nasty.

Clr Maponga shudders at the worst prospects.

"We have 30 general dealers, seven bars, five grinding mills, seven welding projects, four carpentry projects, and a flea market with 40 traders and many vendors," she revealed.

"All these businesses will die if the situation gets worse."


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