Despite challenging economic conditions confronting rural communities in Zimbabwe, the Afrochine Chrome Smelting continues to improve the quality of life.

With over US$ 1 billion investment, the Afrochine Chrome Smelting pinned its hope on infrastructure development through its mining projects across Zimbabwe to create much-needed jobs to improve the socioeconomic status of civilians in the Chegutu rural district.

According to Dan Zvobgo, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Chegutu Rural District Council, livelihoods have improved since 2012, and the pool of employment opportunities provided by the chrome smelting giant has saved lives and bridged the socio-disparities.

“Parents can now afford to send their children to school, digital literacy has improved with rural communities affording ICT devices, and improved health care service delivery because of the chrome smelting project,” .

Dan Zvobgo

Zvobgo says during his tenure at Chegutu Rural District Council, the Afrochine Chrome Smelting project bestowed to the advancement of rural communities since adoption of Zimbabwe’s land reform program .

This collection of stories reveals how Afrochine Smelting project has taken a lead to implement  socio-economic development programmes to better the lives of citizens in the under-developed rural areas in Zimbabwe, particularly in Chegutu and Ngezi rural districts.

A diverse workforce hail  from impoverished backgrounds many of them being children of displaced farmworkers from the failed tobacco estates in the Chegutu and Ngezi rural districts.

The Zim chrome giant’s employment drive,is a noteworthy SinoZim investment since 2000.

James Manzou , ambassador and permanent secretary for Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, Chinese investments continue to contribute towards the economic goals that shape Zimbabwe to be an upper middle-class economy by 2030.

“The Chinese government has played a pivotal role in the development of our country. Zimbabwe’s mining industry is soon approaching the multibillion-dollar status”.

James Manzou

Most of the economically active population in Mashonaland West Province were left stranded and jobless, following  displacement of farm workers after  land reform program was institutionalised.

Many of them were languishing in poverty and living off subsistence farming in the residential farm compounds. Only a handful classwas advantageous to secure accommodation at the compounds, while the majority had to look for rural settlements to live with their families without any source of income.

Only Zimplats, the platinum mining giant, was operational in the province which mainly employs highly skilled labour. Ex-farm laborers stood no chance to get employment within the platinum giant.

80km away from Harare, in the heart of Selous – a farming region with tobacco estates, Afrochine smelting a subsidiary of Tsingshan Iron and Steel Group of China invested to the tune of $125 million in a Chrome Smelting project in the region.

Afrochine’s investment created a socio-economic impact that paved way for access to health care, rural infrastructure development, access to digital technologies and education. These areprone  areas in where Chegutu and Mhondoro locals in Mashonaland West Province received support from the Chinese project.

In as much as owning a cell phone, television set and radio are not much of an achievement for the urban dwellers in the millennium – this reporter got to appreciate the digital and socioeconomic gap that exists in Zimbabwean society.

Zncj.org roped in to reveal a series of stories that highlight how access to information is a lifetime achievement for a man to be able to send their daughter to complete high school. These are the impactful events that turned around the lives of hundreds of Zimbabweans.

Through the Chinese investment’s massive job creation, beneficiaries in the surrounding rural community of Chegutu district can now afford solar energy, ICT gadgets, brick and mortar cottages – it is a remarkable improvement for the well-being of the under-developed communities.

The year 2012 was the breaking of a new dawn for displaced farm labourers who were languishing in poverty. The chains of poverty had been broken and zncj.org  followed and uncovered how the chrome smelting project managed to create socioeconomic impact in the rural districts, permanently changing the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans for a greater good.

These are the stories, of displaced farm workers who had a second chance improving their lives.

 

Grant William, a 31-year-old man who took it upon himself to enhance the livelihood of his family

Grant grew up as an orphan child in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe in a remote village of Chipinge. Chipinge is one of the rural areas where, investors did not prioritise technology, education, and modern transport.

Grant William at Virginia Estates Compound in Selous Chegutu

Chipinge communities survive on subsistence farming and batter trading. The Ndau people from Chipinge are often classified as  witches and wizards, they are also are partially excluded from  economic activities.

Going back to the story of Grant and how he became part of Afro Chine workforce, Grant was raised by his maternal grandmother in poverty to the effect he could not complete grade 7.

It must be considered that Grant was a typical example of a depraved child who grew up in a remote, underprivileged community. He was also a victim of child labour practices before his 16th birthday.

At the age of 15 years in 2010, Grant turned his life around and became an illegal gold miner for survival.

Grant said he will travel over 700 kilometres away from his village to the gold rushes of Mashonaland-west, and he discovered the gold mining trade through his uncles as he will sneak and follow their path.

At that time, he had no hopes of going back to his grandmother since he was living a life of vice without a fixed aboard. Grant was living in the shadows of death whilst he was involved in illegal gold mining and selling marijuana for survival.

He was exposed to extreme violence and diseases in the illegally abandoned mine shafts in Chegutu -Grant had no hopes of returning home to his grandmother nor having any form of communication with her.  

This is another typical case of a depraved and broken family shamed by poverty.

“When I arrived in Mash-west, I had no means of returning home because I was always the least paid in our mining syndicated. All I got was money to buy food and squat in strangers’ houses just to see the next morning”, said the emotional Grant. told his story.

Grant suffered a great deal of homelessness before he was employed as a general labourer at AfroChine chrome smelting in Selous. It was that employment opportunity that reconnected him with his grandmother that he had lost contact with for past six years.

Today, he managed to bring his grandmother, who is 76-years-old from Chipenge to a house he built  in Selous. His grandmother now has access to medical health care and a proper shelter.

 

Christopher, whose only wish was to build and live in a brick and cement house

Christopher in his back yard, sharing his life story

Christopher explained that he grew up as a confused and depraved child.

He was born in 1988 in the deep vally rural area of Gokwe, Nembudziya in the Midlands Province,where his father left to work on the farms in the early 1990s.

Christopher was  raised in a mud hut at a family rural home that was passed on from one generation to another. .

Without a formal education, he had no hopes of leaving his ancestral rural home. Christopher’s mother a housewife – had to take care of the household while her husband toiled in the tobacco fields of Selous.

Christopher’s old hut before he built a brick and cement house

Christopher’s father lived with his family in a tiny cottage bachelor room at the farm’s compound with his family.

As the bachelor room could not accommodate the entire  family, he opted to leave behind his family and  and tried his level best to take care of his family back home in Gokwe.

Christopher’s father lost his job in the early 2000s, when the land reform programme was launched. After losing his job, hehad no source of income and was stranded far away from his family.

In no time, Christopher had to relocate to Selous and repatriate his father before his death.

“When I arrived, I decided not to leave Selous. I had to come up with a plan to take my father back home in good health…I could not just load him into a bus and present him to my mother in the sickly state that he was”, Christopher explained.

Christopher had taken it upon himself to fend for his father and restore the family’s pride by getting his father the medical that he needed.

Christopher survived as a farm labourer in the tobacco estates and became the family breadwinner whilst taking care of his ill Father. He said that at sometime, he developed a sense of quitting his job, but eagerness to fulfil his dream to build a house for his mother propelled him to continue with his job.  

Christopher struck fortune in June 2014, when the local headmen alerted the rural community that AfroChine was looking to employ locals.

“At first, I was not confident to register for possible employment since I could not read nor write. I thought those positions were reserved for the educated”, said Christopher.

After carefully considering his father’s deteriorating conditions, he decided to leave his mother and siblings at the rural home, and registered his name for employment with the local headman.

It was in the same year,  Christopher was called for an interview and employed as a loader. That was his break of dawn to start earning a salary of $250 a month.

That salary completely changed Christopher’s life and he could afford to send back his father to the village.

In 2017, he started to build a two bedroomed house with a kitchen and a dining area for his family.

Christopher’s wife entering their new solar powered home

To Christopher, living in a brick and cement house was his childhood dream and he realised that achievement through an employment opportunity  by Afro-chine smelting project.

Gutu, whose only wish was one day to afford to send his daughter to school

Gutu, the third son of a farm labourer. His father tilled the lands at Virginia estates, one of the biggest tobacco estates in the Chegutu rural district.

Gutu’s father lost his job as a farm labourer in 2002, after Zimbabwe’s land reform program. That is the time when things fell apart in Gutu’s family. That was a time Zimbabwe experienced a serious drought and economic sanctions from the west aimed to cripple the economy.

Gutu together with his siblings, never went to the school, and their dreams shattered because they were all raised to be farmed workers and the highest achievement was to be the chef  or tractor operator.

“When my father lost his job after the white farmer was displaced,we were left with no place to stay or an income to survive. We had to squat in the farming compound and survive on cattle herding in nearby small plots”,Gutu explained.

Gutu’s father left the family for the Makonde gold rush and never returned.

Surviving as a cattle herder in the area, Gutu grew up as a young man as he got married as a teenager, at the age of 18 years.

When he became a father to a daughter, his hope was to send his daughter to school but he was without a plan.

His life took a turn in the year 2011, when Afrochine broke new ground at the smelting plant in Selous.

Gutu received a hint from the traditional chief Ngezi that able-bodied men could register for employment.

Gutu then acquired the  job as a loader, and earned a salary in United States dollars for the first time in his life.

The cycle of poverty had been broken in his family as could now afford to provide for his wife and their daughter.

“Getting that job saved my life. I was drowning in hopelessness that one day, I will be able to care for my family and send my daughter to school,” he said. In 2012, Gutu managed to send his six-year-old daughter for Early Childhood Development. Today, Gutu’s daughter is a teenager and running her own small grocery store.

Since then, Gutu has kept his job and is forever grateful for the employment opportunity he was afforded by Afrochine.

As a man without formal education and only raised to be a farm worker, it became a  miracle for Gutu to be formally employed and to earn a salary for living.  

Gift Makwakwa, whose dream was to fully mechanise his small market gardening project

Gift Makwakwa, was also born to farm labourers. He grew up at a horticulture farm in Chegutu. His parents used to work at the industrious Dodhill horticulture farm. Gift says his upbringing was challenging as he could not finish school after his father fell sick and had to take over the reins from his father to take care of the family..

Gift had become the family breadwinner at the age of 17, with a trailer of fivesiblings behind him. The salary at the horticulture farm was barely adequate  for his family to have one meal a day.  

Their family survived on  handouts from clothing to sanitary wear for his little sisters. As time progressed, Gift developed a passion for horticulture, andhis wish was to start his own market gardening business.

Unfortunately, he was not making enough and had no savings to set forth his  own business.

In 2014, Gift managed to get a job at Afrochine to work as a loader after he was advised by his cousin toapply for the advertised position. . His life turned around,and he could afford to buy seeds and rent a small piece of land in the small plots in Chegutu.

His dream to run his self-owned gardening business came to life when Gift established his  gardening business to sell seasonal vegetable varieties.

He employed his former workmates in the horticulture culture. He also started a poultry project where he supplies the local Chinese community with duck and roadrunner chicken meats.

Although he ventured into the entrepreneurship path, Gift decided to continue with job at  Afrochine,  and he continues to work to inject capital into his side business. Gift managed to mechanise his project by purchasing a drip irrigation system for his greenhouse project.

Every morning, he supplies tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, and onions to farmers’ markets in Chegutu and he managed to realise his dreams.

“My mother is very proud of the work and progress I have made from using the experience I had at the farm. I wish my father was here to witness who I have become”, he spoke with tearful eyes.

Lynette, who is Gift’s wife has scaled up their business selling fresh greenhouse produce along the Harare – Bulawayo highway for a premium.

Lynette at her vegetable market

Lynette says, occasionally she sells an average of $50 – $80. This extra money has improved their livelihoods to the extent that Lynette is solely independent.


This investigation was supported by the Africa-China Reporting Project (ACRP) at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

 

By Richard Matthew Kawazi

Curator ZNCJ | Multi-award winning journalist 2021

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