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Zimbabwe: Tonga fishermen cut off from Zambezi lifeline (IRIN)

The Tonga people in Zimbabwe’s Matebeland North Province have for generations depended on fishing for food and income. But government levies are making their lives increasingly difficult.

Salani Nyirenda is a village headman. The 69-year-old from Binga South District says: “Government must allow us complete freedom to fish from the river. We must also be … [allowed] … to set up vegetable gardens along the river, and there is [a] need for irrigation schemes along the Zambezi … There is so much poverty here.”

The area is too dry to grow crops successfully, but rich in mineral and timber resources. Local communities catch bream and kapenta in the Zambezi River. They eat the fish and sell them to local people or commercial buyers from as far away as Harare, some 500 kilometres to the east.

The Tonga used to enjoy unlimited access to the Zambezi. But the government began charging levies to fish in the river two decades ago. At first, the fees were small and the authorities were relaxed. But fees have increased over the years.

Kudakwashe Munsaka is the director of Siabuwa Development Trust, an NGO that works on local issues. The Trust has been lobbying the government to develop the area’s rich natural resources, which include indigenous timber and deposits of coal, gold, tantalite, uranium and diamonds. But nothing has come of their efforts.

Mr. Munsaka says: “This leaves the Zambezi River as our only salvation … there should be unhindered access to it, but the … levies [are] driving poverty levels up.”

Anyone wishing to fish with nets or rods must pay $5 U.S. per day. Mr. Munsaka asks, “Where can the villagers get the $5 a day to pay to fish when almost all of them are living on less than a dollar a day?”

Commercial fishers from urban areas now dominate fishing on the Zambezi River. They can afford to pay annual fees of over $10,000 U.S. to local and national authorities because they sell their catch in urban areas at higher prices than local fishers.

Some locals fish without paying fees, or outside regulated fishing times. If they are caught, they often have to pay fines they cannot afford. The Parks Authority charges poachers $20, and fines those with unlicensed boats $50.

Many locals complain of being victimized by corruption even when they pay levies. Tracy Munenge belongs to the Zubo Balizwi Trust, a women’s fishing co-operative. The 34-year-old mother of two says, “The parks and council officials leave you to fish and, at the end of the day, take whatever you [have] caught, saying you were poaching.” A Parks Authority spokeswoman denies that their officials are corrupt. She says, “We are operating within our mandate.”

Francis Mukora works with the Zimbabwe Community Development Trust, an NGO that campaigns for members of disadvantaged communities. He says that preventing the Tonga from fishing the Zambezi contradicts government policy to empower its citizens.

Mr. Mukora adds: “This fuels poverty and food insecurity while depriving [locals] of highly nutritional but affordable food. While other people have been given farms [through the land reform program], people from Binga must be empowered through adequate access to the Zambezi.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Zimbabwe’s Tonga Fishermen cut off from Zambezi Lifeline, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/report/100670/zimbabwe-s-tonga-fishermen-cut-off-from-zambezi-lifeline

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