Nqobani Ndlovu | August 25, 2014
Vote Munda used to sleep in a bush near the Bulawayo suburb of Trenance. He lived in plastic shelters and survived by panning gold, doing odd jobs or selling scrap metal he scavenged at refuse dumps.
In September 2012, Mr. Munda moved to a permanent shelter. His family was one of the nearly 200 squatter families relocated by the Bulawayo City Council from their squatter camp and to houses in Mazwi new village, a few kilometres west of Bulawayo.
Mr. Munda recalls: “Life was a daily struggle when we started staying at Mazwi, as we had no source of income. There is no gold panning at the village like at the Trenance squatter camp.”
Joel Siziba is another former squatter. He says they had to gather and sell firewood illegally to survive at the new village. Poaching firewood carries a $20 U.S. fine or a sentence of community service.
Mr. Siziba says things were so desperate that they contemplated returning to the squatter camps. There, at least, they could survive on the gold panning that had been their primary source of income.
Albert Mhlanga is the Member of Parliament for the local constituency. He says he was touched by the plight of the former squatters, and managed to get the NGOs World Vision and Masakheni Trust to intervene by helping the squatters start a poultry project.
In late December 2013, the NGOs built three large poultry runs, and in January donated 3,200 laying hens as a start-up.
The project nearly failed. Nearly 1,000 chickens died from disease and from mineral toxicity caused by badly mixed feeds. In the first few months, government veterinary services provided little or no assistance.
But these problems have been resolved and things are looking up. Mr. Mhlanga reports, “We went out of our way to look for experts to teach them proper poultry farming methods.”
The poultry runs are solar-powered to provide artificial daylight in the early morning and evening. Hens require 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs. If day length drops below 12 hours, production decreases and frequently stops.
Mr. Munda says, “This is our new way of life. We sell the eggs to residents at the nearest high-density suburbs.” They sell a tray of 24 eggs for $4 U.S. and share the proceeds amongst the 12 ex-squatters who participate in the project.
Lethukuthula Bhebhe is one of those participants. She says, “I never thought I would be a poultry farmer.” But, says Mrs. Bhebhe, they have to fetch water from five kilometres away. There are no donkey- or ox-drawn carts or even wheelbarrows to ferry the 20-litre jerry cans of water.
She says the poultry farmers need 360 litres of water every day for their laying hens. The project is trying to persuade the donors to sink a borehole for the new farmers.
Mr. Siziba says, “It is not much, but it’s better … this is a legal way of surviving compared to firewood poaching.” He adds, “Things can only get better.”