Arriving at Khalanyoni Business Centre in Plumtree, Mangwe district in Matabeleland South about 200 kilometres south of Bulawayo, one is greeted by a huge election billboard of a beaming President Emmerson Mnangagwa portrait.
Among the boldly stated campaign messages on the billboard are the promises for better health, education and infrastructure development.
Installed a few metres apart is a slightly smaller poster of Zanu PF member of Parliament for Mangwe Obedingwa Mguni whose campaign message reads “fight corruption, re engage, develop and create jobs”.
While the people in the area overwhelmingly voted for Mnangagwa and Mguni, the promises of a better life as announced in the campaign messages are yet to be felt, so they say.
To the villagers, the messages of a better life as promised in the billboards which are still standing tall and solid at the heart of the business centre, have remained just but that almost six months after the election.
A nearby Hobodo Clinic has been running without electricity for the past two years after power utility Zesa Holdings reportedly ignored the fault that affected the power line.
Roads have remained an eyesore with the dusty roads becoming more difficult to use especially during the rainy season.
The majority of youths and adults in this community are still skipping borders to work in South Africa and Botswana, a destination of choice for millions of African migrants fleeing wars, hunger and poverty.
Mnangagwa narrowly beat his closest rival MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa in the July 30 harmonised election to earn the ticket to lead the politically and economically depressed country for five years.
However, unlike in other parts of the country where the campaign materials like billboards have vanished, at Khalanyoni, the big posters appear to mean more than just an election campaign.
Ironically, a Grade 1 pupil at the nearby primary school Hobodo does not relate to the portrait of Mnangagwa that he sees daily by the business centre.
“My president is Jacob Zuma,” says young Simelane while some of his age mates giggle as they also looked not sure of his response. Suddenly another one quips, “it’s Robert Mugabe.”
While it may sound incredible or what someone may dismiss as ignorance or a joke of the year, this is a real story which depicts the extent of marginalisation, in the broader Matabeleland region in Zimbabwe , 38 years after independence.
This is an area that has never been connected to either the radio or television signal or the telecommunications networks.
Children growing up in this area have not listened to any local radio station, a development which has literally cut the entire community out of developments taking place in the country.
This has seen them listening to neighbouring South African and Botswana radio stations. Similarly, network providers had for years literally failed to ensure their signals strongly reached the area, forcing many to resort to neighbouring network service providers like Mascom and Orange from Botswana.
However, the communities now have Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) to thank after it erected a base station just adjacent to the business centre.
The development according to Potraz director general Gift Machengete is a milestone achievement to the Khalanyoni community.
“Through this facility an increasing number of individuals, SME’s healthcare facilities and schools in and around Khalanyoni are joining the information society-directly benefiting from and contributing to the national economy.
“Today, the people of Khalanyoni can transact in the comfort of their homes, they can make voice calls , chat, tweet and partake in all forms of social media, indeed they can enjoy online life…,” Muchengete said.
But despite, the new development, from the look of things, the community seem to have accepted that they are not only second citizens in their country of birth but they are “foreigners”.
This can be judged by the way of life and beliefs which are clearly connected to South Africa and Botswana.
Wait until you intend to buy something from the shops — brimming with all sorts of basic goods now scarce in the urban areas.
For a visitor this is where one is bound to accept that Khalanyoni is a business centre wrongly situated.
Here all the price tags are in rands in all the shops. The South African currency rules the roost here.
Everything else is rated according to the rand.
“Here we charge in rands and $1 bond is equivalent to R5,” Sibonokuhle Moyo, a shopkeeper tells the Daily News on Sunday.
“This is how we operate here, I don’t know in other places, but what I know is that most communities around Plumtree and Bulilima and Mangwe strongly rely on the rand and pula,” she says.
The use of rands has, however, mostly affected the civil servants like teachers, nurses and police officers in the area who earn their salaries in local currency as they are now forced to convert it to rands so as to be able to trade easily.
“Our salaries have long been eroded because we have to buy the rands on the black market using the bond notes.
“It’s just hard staying here though we are now used to it,” said a female teacher who refused to be named.
But for ward 16 councillor Molly Ncube, something has to be done to address all the challenges that are being faced by the Khalanyoni community and its hinterland.
“This area has largely been neglected. Imagine we have power lines that were connected long back but we have no electricity.
“Some power lines have fallen and they have remained unattended,” Ncube said.
“The booster is going to go a long way in connecting us to other parts of the country.
“Our network was very poor here to such an extent that we were relying on foreign networks.
“You switch on your radio and the stations you get are Botswana and South African radio stations which is something bad,” she said.
Turning to the use of rands, Ncube said: “We have complained about it, because what we don’t know is where these people get their products they sell in the shops.
“But if you look at some products in the shops they are local made but they still sell them in rand. I think government should do something”.
A local businessman who refused to be named said they were just responding to the needs of the community.
“As business people here we only try to address the demands of the community. It’s not only here where rands are being used but most parts of Plumtree and it has been a tradition, because we get most of our products from across the border,” he said.
Rudolf Miler Ndebele Khalanyoni village head praised the unveiling of a base station in the area, a development he said was a milestone achievement for the Khalanyoni community and surrounding areas.
“We have gone for a long time without connectivity here that’s the reason why most of the people here have been relying on Mascom and Orange networks to make calls,” Ndebele said.
He also decried the use of rands, something he said was hindering progress in the area.
“I think the network issue is now a thing of the past, though we still hope local radio signals will soon be sorted.
“The other issue we want addressed is the money issue; we need local money to be used when buying goods and groceries. We have the bond but it’s useless here because the rand has taken over,” he said.
Chief Hobodo, however, said he has since engaged the government over the challenges they have been facing as a community.
We recently met president Mnangagwa and we told him all our challenges and he promised us that our problems will soon be a thing of the past.
As for the use of rands, we have tried to talk to the business people here as local leadership but nothing really came out.
“I don’t know who gazetted that rands should be used. I think it’s something that needs urgent attention such that our people will not continue to suffer,” he said.