‘Rural infrastructure to drive national development’ 

Source: ‘Rural infrastructure to drive national development’ | The Sunday Mail

‘Rural infrastructure to drive national development’

In August 2021, President Mnangagwa appointed Mr Christopher Shumba as Permanent Secretary of the District Development Fund (DDF).DDF is a quasi-Government department under the Office of the President and Cabinet responsible for development and maintenance of infrastructure, water supplies, roads and provision of tillage services.

Our senior reporter Leroy Dzenga (LD) sat down with Mr Shumba (CS) to take stock of DDF’s plans going forward.

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LD: You have been in office for a number of months now, how would you describe the current state of DDF?

CS: DDF is a key national institution that is meant to look after socio-economic infrastructure throughout the country, in relation to the rural setup. We make sure that every community is able to link up with the rest of the country.

Since my appointment, I have travelled across the country and we have seen several areas of concern. There are communities where bridges have been swept away by heavy rains; where roads have been badly damaged.

It is the role of DDF to ensure that all those roads are repaired, re-gravelled and reconstructed. Beyond the rehabilitation works, we realised there are areas where we need to create new roads to link up communities with the rest of the country.

We have identified communities that are struggling for water and we are in the process of ensuring they have the critical resource. Some of these water challenges were brought about by flooding.

For example, in Mbire, Mashonaland Central, boreholes were submerged by Tropical Storm Ana.

We are in the process of planning to flush the boreholes.

LD: Government is in the process of implementing the National Development Strategy 1. I would like to find out the role DDF has been playing in implementing the strategy?

CS: The National Development Strategy 1 is a blueprint that was developed by the Government to ensure the realisation of Vision 2030. Our role at DDF is to make sure there is sufficient infrastructure across the country, especially in rural communities.

This will ensure that those who produce and want to link up with the national economy are able to do so meaningfully.

It is of no use having a productive farmer across the river when there is no bridge to link them with the market.

I could give you an example of people in Mutoko, who produce tomatoes. Those tomatoes have to move fast before they go bad.

Because of that, all the bridges, roads and other linkages have to be in perfect condition, and that is what we are working towards.

There is also a water element in the work we are doing to support the NDS1. We are working to bring water to rural communities and in some urban communities. On several occasions, we have been called upon to provide water to struggling urban local authorities, because they have not been able to provide people with clean water.

If the President directs us to move in and drill boreholes and give people clean water, we will do that. NDS1 really is about making sure that everybody takes part in building Zimbabwe and growing our GDP, so the provision of infrastructure is key.

As we speak, the President has directed us to drill 35 000 boreholes so that each and every village in the country gets clean water.

The boreholes will also support horticulture activity in the villages to ensure people are productive and earn a living.

LD: What would you say was DDF’s biggest success over the past year?

CS: We have succeeded in the construction of roads, provision of water and in identifying areas where attention is needed. We have been engaging communities, getting to understand their immediate needs, because some issues of concern may fall under the radar. For instance, we went to Gokwe and saw that there are many broken bridges.

Some of them were just culverts that needed just a few bags of cement.

We immediately sent cement for the work on the bridges to commence. We have also been working together with parliamentarians, listening to concerns and also looking to find out where we can collaborate to improve infrastructure in communities.

LD: What are your short- to long-term goals at DDF?

CS: Our short-term goal is to ensure that all rural communities get potable water. We also want to assist in urban areas, where there are challenges with access to clean water. We also need to quickly fix broken bridges as a matter of priority. Before even working on the roads, it is necessary that we work on bridges. A bad road can be navigable, but a bad bridge can disconnect communities.

We also want to expand the services we offer. We have ferries that take people from Kariba to fishing camps in Bumi Hills and to the communities in Nyaminyami. These ferries are important because they move people and fish in Kariba quickly and at the same time, they have tourism potential. Right now we are working on refurbishing two ferries to add to the one, which is currently plying between Kariba and Bumi Hills in Chief Mola’s area.

If the two that are under refurbishment are brought into operation, they will serve this area where people are more dependent on this mode of transport compared to road.

We have Falcon Air, one of our business units, which can be used by tourists who want to charter planes, and we have three functional planes.

We want to grow Falcon Air to ensure that it also benefits from the ongoing domestic tourism drive. In the long run, we want to introduce ferries or boats in Kanyemba. That is an area that is promising to boom.

There is going to be urban development very soon there and therefore we want to make sure we have ferries that can be used as an alternative to road transport.

LD: Usually when we experience torrential rains, rural roads are affected, are there plans to ensure that these roads are able to sustain pressure from heavy rains?

CS: There are serious plans to redesign our roads. If you go to Matabeleland South, in the Siyoka area, there is a bridge that was swept away. It used to be a causeway and we are redesigning it.

We want to build a bridge which can sustain heavy rains.

It is going to be a long bridge and we are going to need a bit of finance because we want to build a bridge that is going to last. It will be similar to the Karanda Bridge in Mashonaland Central. We are getting inspiration from the Karanda Bridge and the resilience it offers.

We recently experienced Tropical Storm Ana, but Karanda Bridge was able to withstand the pressure despite the burst of two upstream dams.

LD: Still on bridges, there were reports of staff shortages in Matobo recently, where there is the construction of a bridge over Gonde River. What was causing the staff shortages and how has it been rectified?

CS: I have been to Matobo, I have been to Gwanda and I have been to Beitbridge. It seems areas that are close to borders have similar problems.

Young men and women we would have engaged for projects are drawn by the allure of better pay in neighbouring countries.

Most of our casual workers are leaving, saying the money we are paying does not match what they would get beyond the borders.

That is our main problem. However, there has also been an issue with payment delays from our side. We have since worked on that; payments are being done on time so as to minimise staff turnover. Young men and women cannot continue to go to South Africa and Botswana to be subjected to xenophobic attacks and prejudice when they can play a part in building Zimbabwe.

LD: DDF was recently allocated $500 million to undertake various projects. Where will this funding be deployed?

CS: We intend to use the $550 million to reclaim roads that were washed away by heavy rains. That is our main concern. This is why we are trying to procure cement, procure reinforcement material and other materials related to the construction of roads and bridges.

If funds allow, we also plan to rehabilitate boreholes in need of service.

LD: What sort of challenges are you facing as DDF?

CS: We have been getting support from Government. In terms of resources, we are on good footing, though money for infrastructure can never be adequate. However, adverse weather conditions have affected our work, specifically floods.

When there are floods, it is hard to go to an area and regrade the road. Equipment and graders can get stuck in the mud. We may be forced to wait a little bit until the ground is dry enough and that affects our efficiency.

We also need more vehicles. When we work on projects, there is need for continuous feedback from the province.

This means our provincial and district offices should have vehicles to allow them to give timely updates from the ground.

LD: How much of the national road network is under DDF and if you can give us insight into the bridges you are looking to rehabilitate?

CS: DDF is in charge of 25 000km of road. The other roads belong to road authorities, that is the Department of Roads in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development, while others belong to local authorities.

We are still to work on another 10 000 kilometres of new roads in the resettlement areas.

If you go to resettlement areas, you will find that people are using roads that have not been properly established, they are just earth roads. We need to gravel those roads and make sure that all the areas have good roads.

Even after working on that 10 000 km, I am sure we will still discover areas that need attention. We are currently working on 118 bridges and there are several washaways we are attending to. We have a total of 87 registered airstrips that we also need to rehabilitate.

There are 306 culverts, which need to be repaired and 83 new culverts which need to be constructed.We have 153 pipe drifts to be repaired, which have been damaged by cyclones.There are 27 gullies, which have been threatening our road network in Gokwe and Matabeleland provinces, that need to be reclaimed.

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