Lake Gwayi-Shangani: Epic project debunks colonial legacy of barrenness

Source: The Herald – Breaking news.

Lake Gwayi-Shangani: Epic project debunks colonial legacy of barrenness
President Mnangagwa is taken on a tour of the construction site by ZINWA chief executive Engineer Taurai Maurukira (left) and Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Dr Anxious Masuka

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer

The mention of Gwayi and Shangani in Matabeleland Province evokes the colonial legacy of ruthlessness incarnated in the displacement of indigenous people from their fertile ancestral soils to arid and barren areas derogatorily called Reserves and Tribal Trust Lands.

Essence of land to Africans

The Land Apportionment Act of 1931, amended 60 times to divide land ownership between blacks and whites, allocated white settlers more than 80 percent of the land, despite being in the minority (five percent), leaving blacks with only 20 percent, even though they were in the majority.

As history recalls, Gwayi and Shangani are synonymous with aridity, deprivation and colonial subjugation. Collective memory articulates the extent to which Africans lost, and how in less than six years of settler occupation, the Ndebele lost more than 21 million hectares of land, and were confined to hot, dry and tsetse-fly ridden reserves, unsuitable for human habitation.

Research has shown that in its broader context, land is more than a geographical space. In Rino Zhuwarara’s view, land is a source of wealth, pride, identity and spiritual connectedness.

To Africans the land is considered “mother”, therefore, it cannot be sold, bought or owned (Lan, 1985); and as the abode of the ancestors, it has a spiritual link (Zhuwarara, 2001).

The loss of land, and the displacement of the African people, including the Ndebele, to such barren areas like Gwayi and Shangani was compounded by the loss of cattle, an integral socio-economic symbol to them.

Chigwedere (2001: 33) maintains that between 1893 and March 1896, the Ndebele lost “anything from 100 000 to 200 000 cattle” to settlers, which were administered by “The Loot Committee” (ibid:29). Cattle stolen from the Shona and the Ndebele were used to start the Cold Storage Commission, and “these were the cattle borrowed by commercial farmers to start their own herds” (Chigwedere, 2001:32).

The dam wall

In the broader context, therefore, to Africans loss of land equates to loss of dignity, for without their land they are naked. It is in this multifarious aspect of the land, central to the controversies impeding collective heritage in Zimbabwe, that new lenses are required to correct past wrongs.

Indeed, it is in this varied reading of the land that the Lake Gwayi-Shangani project should be situated as a direct response to colonial displacement.

Water as a human right

The search for water is the quest for life, for without this life-giving resource human existence is meaningless. There is no brutality that beats the confinement of fellow human beings to an area devoid of water as the colonial juggernaut was determined to do.

Access to water is a human right as it does not only sustain life, but also plays a crucial role in socioeconomic growth, food and energy production, and ensuring healthy ecosystems.

Section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act of 2013 recognises every citizen’s right to safe, clean and potable water and sufficient food.

To protect the people’s collective struggle and to uphold its values, after Independence in 1980, the Government of Zimbabwe put in place policy frameworks that would withstand the vagaries of time.

To tap into large reservoirs of underground and surface water (with over 8 000 dams), which Zimbabwe is endowed with, the Second Republic, under President Mnangagwa, has made the construction and accomplishment of Lake Gwayi-Shangani a top priority in recognition of the right to water.

Therefore, the colonial legacy of barrenness is debunked through provision of water, a universal right, to communities previously considered insignificant by successive colonial governments.

Realising the dream

Perennial water shortages have been bogging the arid Matabeleland North Province and causing heartaches to residents of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, for more than a century now.

Construction of the dam wall

In response to the bedeviling water shortages, the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (NMZWP) was mooted in 1912, encompassing a dam and pipeline.  However, the project has remained aground under settler administration.

Although the project got Government attention in 2016, or thereabouts, the coming in of the Second Republic saw it receiving momentous financial support and political will to solve the water crisis in Bulawayo and the surrounding communities once and for all.

Since 2019, the Second Republic has committed resources towards the construction of the dam, which has a holding capacity of 650 million cubic metres of water, making it the third largest inland water body after Tugwi-Mukosi and Lake Mutirikwi, both in Masvingo Province.

To heighten the realisation of the dream, the Treasury allocated $4,5 billion for the project in the 2021 National Budget. This was aimed at ascertaining sustainable livelihoods in the Matabeleland region, rendered perennially arid.

The project is being funded by the Government through the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) and implemented through the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA). A Chinese company, China International Water and Electric Corporation (Pvt) Limited, is the contractor responsible for construction works, while ZINWA is the project manager.

At 70,2 percent completion, the dam located in Hwange District, about six kilometres downstream of the confluence of the Gwayi and Shangani rivers, a tributary to the Zambezi River, is envisioned to feed into the upcoming cropping season.

Completion of the dam will see the laying of a 252 kilometre pipeline from the water source to Bulawayo. The construction of another 122km pipeline linking the dam to the Zambezi River, will complete the NMZWP project.

The construction of the dam wall requires US$8 million per month, although ZINWA has come up with measures to cut down on costs. These include a roller-compacted concrete gravity dam that relies on its weight for stability. Also, in the construction process, cement is being substituted by fly ash, a waste product from coal combustion.

The dam wall will have an ogee-shaped overflow and a 200-metre long spillway, while the maximum depth of water will be 59 metres.

Who are the beneficiaries?

In the broader sense of development, all Zimbabweans are beneficiaries of the massive Lake Gwayi-Shangani project, because it feeds into the national agenda of achieving an empowered upper-middle income society by 2030.

The infrastructure development pillar, enshrined in National Development Strategy 1, is the foundation for the realisation of shared dreams in which inclusive economic transformation is fostered. This is why President Mnangagwa has been unwavering in his drive for high impact projects that leave no stone unturned in the people-oriented developmental trajectory.

In the first instance, the Lake Gwayi-Shangani construction, as part of the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, has provided employment to scores of locals as 11 contractors have been engaged to work on the 252km Gwayi-Shangani-Bulawayo pipeline.

It is set to directly benefit hundreds of thousands of citizens in Bulawayo, Binga and Lupane districts, among others in the proximity of the proposed pipeline.

To residents of Bulawayo, the relief will be overwhelming, since a piping system that will enable the city to receive 220 megalitres per day is being laid out. This will be above the city’s daily water requirements of 165 megalitres.

Tenders are being allocated for the construction of a new water treatment plant in Cowdray Park, Bulawayo, as part of the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project.

Once the project is completed, the city’s supply dams in Matabeleland South Province will be weaned off, and channelled towards other needy areas.

Therefore, for Bulawayo residents seasons of water deficiencies, like colonialism and its machinations, are already in the past. It is envisaged that the lake will supply uninterrupted water to Bulawayo for the next 80 years.

As has been alluded earlier on, water permeates human existence, for it goes beyond sustenance of life to also foster socioeconomic growth, food and energy production, and ensuring healthy ecosystems.

Youths, women and the vulnerable from communities along the pipeline are not going to be eager watchers as the water haul passes through their villages, no!

They too will benefit as the Government has identified 10 000 hectares of irrigable land in the Hwange, Lupane and Binga districts of Matabeleland North Province to enhance food security.

This slots in with the Government’s efforts to capitalise on the country’s 365 000 hectares of arable land suitable for irrigation as a way of empowering communities, ensure food security and eradicate poverty.

The environs along the 252km pipeline from Gwayi to Bulawayo will soon become a luxuriant greenbelt, with flourishing irrigation projects demystifying the colonial footprint of barrenness.

With over 39,6 million hectares and complementary agro-climatic conditions, Zimbabwe can sustain over 23 types of food and cash crops plus a multiplicity of livestock species.

Hence, farmers in the vicinity of Lake Gwayi-Shangani, and along the pipeline will draw water for their livestock, in addition to cropping.

Furthermore, the project will see a 10MW hydroelectric power station being established on site, thus boosting electricity generation for locals.

In addition to downstream economic activities, the Gwayi-Shangani Dam is anticipated to boost the tourism sector.

It is, indeed, a drawcard in the developmental matrix of Matabeleland North Province, and speaks to President Mnangagwa’s philosophy of leaving no one and no place behind as Vision 2030 beckons.