ESCALATING poverty in the Arda Transau resettlement area has forced many girls out of school and into early marriage, surveys reveal.
This comes after nearly 1,200 Chiadzwa households were relocated to Arda Transau to make way for diamond mining in 2010.
The settlement is about 40 km north of the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
Arda Transau is a former domain of the public entity Agricultural, Rural and Development Agency (Arda).
It is located at Odzi, about 32 km west of the town of Mutare in Manicaland.
Records provided by the Ministry of Mines in 2013 indicated that Arda Transau measures 12,000 ha and has a capacity to accommodate 1,800 families out of the 4,300 that were to be relocated to Chiadzwa.
However, only around 1,200 households have been relocated as families in Marange resisted the exercise due to broken promises to fund income-generating projects, compensation, food distributions and jobs by mining companies. .
The area has since been flooded by illegal miners from across the country operating along the Odzi, Mutare and Tsambe rivers, which are endowed with gold deposits.
Aerial mapping of the settlement obtained from Google Maps shows that the rivers meander closely along Arda Transau, making the community the main provider of accommodation for miners.
Squeezed by poverty, villagers rent rooms to miners, while women and young girls sell goods, such as firewood, cigarettes, alcohol and food to support their families. .
It is during such interactions that women and young girls fall prey to miners.
Surveys supported by the Information for Development Trust (IDT) – a non-profit organization that helps the media investigate poor governance – have found high numbers of girls dropping out of school.
Many young girls are victims of rape while others are forced into early marriages.
Twenty-year-old Theresa Dzoma (not her real name) is one of those unfortunate victims.
Dzoma was 15 and in grade 3 when she dropped out of school in 2017 after her family failed to pay school fees.
She resorted to selling sadza to miners to support the family.
“In 2018 there was a big gold rush in Odzi and there were a lot of gold miners here (Arda Transau).
That same year, I left home and started living with an miner, who came from Chipinge,” Dzoma said.
She was then 16 years old.
By law, the legal age of marriage and cohabitation in Zimbabwe is 18.
Dzoma’s partner was 28, making the union illegal.
Dzoma said she never enjoyed the abusive two-year marriage.
“He would come home with his friends drinking (alcohol) and get offended when they talked to me and beat me.
The police station became my refuge,” she said.
Although Dzoma separated from her abusive partner in 2020 and is now back home, she not only regrets the precious time lost, but also a wasted childhood.
“When I look at my old classmates, they’re either in college or working decent jobs, but all I have is a failed abusive marriage and a bad record at home,” a- she lamented.
Due to financial constraints, Dzoma is unable to return to high school.
In fact, her younger sister was also forced to drop out of school at the age of 15 in 2020. Dzoma’s case is just a tip of the iceberg of social ills plaguing the young girl. Arda Transau.
Its fate is common in a country destroyed by economic turmoil and in areas besieged by gold miners. Statistics collected from the provincial offices of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education revealed that a total of 440 dropout cases were recorded in the three schools of Arda Transau between 2017 and 2021.
These are Chirasika and Wellington Primary Schools as well as Transau Secondary School.
The secondary school has 500 students, while the two primary schools have approximately 1,900 students.
Data analysis highlights that Transau Secondary recorded 258 (58.6%) dropout cases alone while the rest came from the two primary schools during the reporting period.
In addition, female students constitute 44.7% of the overall dropouts recorded over the past five years.
National figures released in June 2021 by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation indicated that school dropout cases reached an all-time high of 840,000 learners in 2020 across the country, compared to a national enrollment of nearly six million.
A 2020 report titled Longitudinal Study of Dropout and Survival in Zimbabwean Schools by Unicef and the Government of Zimbabwe cited poverty as the main driver of dropout cases and early marriage.
Elderly women in Arda Transau said poverty had robbed girls and young women of their future and dignity.
“Our girls are going there [to sell wares to panners] but they come back with pregnancies. We don’t know what to do as parents.
We even have cases of our daughters-in-law ending up running away with miners.
“But most of the cases are of school girls running away, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many have run away, some as young as Form 2 (14-15) and these marriages don’t last.
Most of the girls went home,” said Doreen Kambeni, indicating that some of the girls were raped.
Doreen is one of 14 wives married to Kaiboni Kambeni, father of 80 children, of the apostolic sect Johane Marange.
Community elder Henry Mawoneke (56), who chairs the Jinan Displaced Settlers Association, said poverty and religious beliefs have not helped the highly polygamous community.
Mawoneke said most fathers struggle to support their large families.
He explained that in the apostolic sect, it is common for underage girls to be married off and for this reason cases of early marriages involving panners are not cause for concern.
However, Mawoneke pointed out that what caught the attention of the community is the high number of cases of domestic violence.
“We have tried to report some cases but it is difficult to apprehend the culprits because they are not from here and they run away easily,” Mawoneke said.
An illegal gold miner operating in Odzi, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the community continues to watch child sexual abuse in silence as poor parents are lured by the few silver coins the miners bring.
Abishel Mushawatu (22) – an orphan in the care of her grandmother, who dropped out of school aged 16 (Form 4) – said Arda Transau was no longer safe for the little girl.
“I dropped out of school after my donor stopped paying my fees. I realized that I was not safe in Arda.
I didn’t want to end up like my peers so I started working as a cleaner in nearby towns.
I used the money to pass my O and A level. But now it is difficult for me to finance myself to go to university,” she said.
Mushawatu obtained seven subjects (two A’s, two B’s and three C’s) at O-level and six points at A-level.
Mawoneke said the main source of their crisis stems from the false promises that led to their relocation.
He said they were dumped in Arda Transau where there is no way to generate income and they had to sell their livestock to support themselves.
Mawoneke said he lost 17 cattle after arriving in Arda.
Records from the Ministry of Mines revealed that the government only managed to resettle 10 villages out of the 31 villages that are in the Chiadzwa mining concession, because the former miners wronged the Arda Transau settlers.
The situation was so dire that the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), which took over from the six former miners who displaced the villagers, managed to resettle only 20 families while the majority resisted.
Arda Transau Relocation Development Trust (ATRDT) Chairman Donaldson Masvaure said their relocation was based on lies, which is the main reason why other villagers in Chiadzwa resisted.
Documents corroborated by some mining company executives at the time indicated that the companies were supposed to distribute monthly food, seasonal agricultural inputs, establish a community irrigation system and start income-generating projects for which the miners would provide a market. ready.
The community has also been promised tree planting contracts for women and employment priorities for relocated young men.
Arda Transau community elder, Elivert Gamunorwa, who was a chief when the memorandum of understanding was signed between the community, the government and the mining companies, confirmed the pledges.
However, visits to the region by this publication revealed that publicly announced revenue-generating projects never took off; a scenario that plunged the community further into deep poverty.
“All these false promises, which have been made worse by Covid-19, have left many, if not all, families in deep poverty,” said 72-year-old grandfather Gamunorwa, 11.
He said that as parents and guardians, they were no longer able to meet the needs and demands of their extended family, which led to family instabilities that haunt the girl.
“Girls going to school are now looking for older men to take care of them.
As fathers, we don’t take care of our families.
There is no food in the house so they are now looking for people to provide that and the miners are taking advantage of our inability,” Gamunorwa said.
Another elderly woman from Arda Transau, Idah Kambeni, warned that “Arda Transau is no longer safe for the girl child and there is an urgent need for interventions.”
The executive director of the Center for Research and Development (CRD), James Mupfumi, said the crisis at Arda was the result of unplanned relocations.
“And for that reason the impact on vulnerable groups like women and children is devastating because there is no income for this community since their husbands are not working,” he said.
“The promise to have secure jobs in Marange has not yet been kept; they stay in a community that cannot cultivate income.
They live on plots of 0.5 ha as extended families.
There is now an overpopulation and the resources there cannot guarantee the means of subsistence.
“And unfortunately this area is also surrounded by gold mining areas and as children and women try to seek areas to sell their wares to fend for themselves, they are exposed to gold miners and as a result Rape and sexual abuse cases are on the rise, which have led to a sharp rise in sexually transmitted diseases, early marriages and school dropouts,” Mupfumi added.
Experts have indicated that early marriage exposes girls to gender-based violence, HIV infections and other health problems and further plunges young mothers and their children into a cycle of poverty.
Simukai Child Protection, which has worked in Arda for five years, said it has assisted around 144 households with empowerment projects, vocational training, sexual and reproductive health and back-to-school funding assistance, among others.