By Mhlomuli Ncube in Beitbridge

‘We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it.” These famous words of Robert Baden-Powell keep playing out after a visit to the Tshikwalakwala Irrigation Scheme. It is a beautiful green parch of lush forests and rich grass that seems to give life to its environment albeit for the wrong reasons altogether. It is livestock that are grazing here which tells that the script written is for a wrong storyline. Where one expects to see huge production fields that tell the story of a successful irrigation enterprise, the place has been reduced to a forgotten and decaying grazing land. Huge thorn trees and other indigenous trees seem to be a symbolism of mockery where green vegetables, flourishing crops and other crops must be thriving. One raises emotion in that this is nothing other than a simple story of neglect.

A huge 65-hectare irrigation scheme right on the fringes of Beitbridge tipping into the fertile and wet Limpopo Valley, Tshikwalakwala lies forgotten and wasted despite its history of having been a key food basket for the region. There is nothing except decaying infrastructure to show that this was once a mighty irrigation facility. Established in 1963, this facility is reported to have been a food production hub before and after independence. It churned out food for the district and beyond all year round. The infrastructure is evidence that here lies a place that was once a might production machine.

Over the years, the story changed. The irrigation scheme relied on three pumps, but now only one is in working condition. However, besides just being an old time machine whose condition is said to be fine, it is also lying idle. The other pumps have since packed up and there is no hope they will be revived one day. The situation has been further worsened by Cyclone-induced floods, says the irrigation scheme chairman Mr John Kibi Muleya:

“Only one pump is still working. The others have packed up and they are also very old. It is impossible to imagine servicing them or even trying to get new parts. The people just gave up when we couldn’t get help to revive the facility,’’ said the visibly sad villager.

Giving up; the people certainly did. As they did so, they seem to have put aside certain facts that the irrigation scheme was an important part of the lifeline here. Over 208 families used to benefit here and Tshikwalakwala irrigation kept Beitbridge supplied with foodstuffs all year round. Nobody seems to regard that as a fact anymore as the villagers struggle to even answer basic questions of why they have allowed this forest to grow and replace well-prepared fields which they say they once had.

As this visible result of neglect has reduced the rich fertile and ever-green valley into a wilderness of no hope, there is one young farmer Mr Nelson Sibanda who has not lost hope. He is still one of the people who believe something can be done. To him, it is not yet late to revive Tshikwalakwala Irrigation Scheme.

“The villagers have tried without success to mobilise resources for the irrigation scheme. The project was a source of livelihood for villagers in wards 1, 2, 3 and most parts of Beitbridge East. If we get support from government and other partners, we think we can bring it back to full production,” says Sibanda. 

The hope that Sibanda has is the same emotion exhibited by Beitbridge Senator Honourable Tambudzani Mohadi who has raised a red-flag calling out for help. The member of the Upper House of Zimbabwe’s Parliament says the situation has reached a crisis level and considering the current food situation due to drought, there is no option but to mobilise resources and revive Tshikwalakwala.

“I am pleading for help in any form to revive this irrigation. The reality is that if Tshikwalakwala is rehabilitated, it results in a completely different situation in terms of Beitbridge food security,” she said.

The huge decaying national treasure is certainly a game changer in food matters if it is revived. But the question is on where and who will start the process?  The only working pump which uses 6 000 litres of diesel to irrigate 20 hectares is still in working condition. One assumes this could be a starting point. The other fact is that the villagers definitely do not need money but axes, shovels and picks to clear the land and make it ready for cultivation.   Under normal circumstances, the scheme used to be put under maize, wheat and soya beans cultivation phases. And just lying not so far from the Limpopo the water table is definitely not far and an all year round supply is not a pipe dream for it is achievable.

However, for now Tshikwalakwala Irrigation Scheme lies in decay. And as it does so; it simply stands as testimony of the repercussions of neglecting a livelihood-centred project of national importance.

*Mhlomuli Ncube is a ZBC News Reporter based in Beitbridge. You can e-mail him on [email protected]