Neglected Binga district gets a polytechnic college

The Zimbabwean government is constructing a polytechnic college and nurses’ training school in one of the country’s most remote districts.

The often-forgotten district of Binga has for decades voted mostly for opposition parties, in protest against the country’s ruling ZANU-PF party that has not done much to bring essential services to the area 42 years since the late president Robert Mugabe’s party came to power after independence from colonial rule in 1980.

Home to most of Zimbabwe’s Tonga and Nambya minority groups, the district sitting on the edge of the mighty Zambezi River is affected by chronic poverty and reduced access to higher education. This has given rise to social ills such as child marriages and other challenges including food insecurity, frequent waterborne-disease outbreaks and increased mortality resulting from HIV/AIDS.

Five years after coming to power following a coup that ousted Mugabe in 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is now seemingly trying to change the narrative in the country’s most marginalised district.

Affirmative action for locals

Mnangagwa’s so-called ‘Second Republic’ has launched massive works in the area including revamping a major irrigation scheme, launching a fishery programme for locals, and upgrading roads and health facilities.

It has now shifted its attention to access to higher education.

In April 2022, Mnangagwa visited the area and told villagers that things in the district would never be the same again. He has directed key government ministries to swiftly implement all pending infrastructure projects in Binga. These include the construction of a vocational training centre, the building of a new border post with neighbouring Zambia, as well as borehole drilling and the setting up of a nursing school at Binga Hospital.

Mnangagwa said that since Binga has not benefited from the country’s agrarian reforms that saw white farmers losing their land (because the area did not have many farms), new initiatives such as the higher education initiatives were being used to empower locals.

A new polytechnic is set to open its doors in September 2022 as makeshift premises are being developed into a new building. Construction of the Binga Nurse Training School is set to commence in due course after a local company was awarded a tender to do so.

Binga’s district development officer, former teacher Land Kabome Siansole, told University World News that the higher education institutions will be open to everyone, but there will be affirmative action for locals who have been disadvantaged for years.

He said the Ordinary Level pass requirement for higher education entry may be waived for some courses, except at the nursing school. Other affirmative action options could be considered for locals who want to pursue nursing.

“We will cater for everyone from all tribes, but there will be affirmative action for those who come from Binga. We have not only Tongas, but there are also Nyanjas and Nambyas who have been marginalised. The girl child in the rural set-up is also marginalised. They cook, fetch water and firewood, and do household chores. They are disadvantaged,” Siansole said.

Will the initiatives be sustained after the election?

Political commentator Raymond Majongwe told University World News that the initiatives being witnessed in Binga are synonymous with Zimbabwe’s electioneering season.

Zimbabwe is set to hold general elections in 2023, with President Mnangagwa facing a rejuvenated opposition amid an economic implosion characterised by record inflation and a poorly performing currency.

Majongwe said that judging from previous practice some of the projects may not be pursued after the elections, but it remains to be seen if Mnangagwa is borrowing from Mugabe’s playbook.

“Elections trigger such initiatives. We are happy someone has remembered there are people in Binga. However, we pray the builders will not disappear soon after the plebiscite,” Majongwe said.

The first ever San students recently graduated from local Midlands State University as Zimbabwe’s government pushes to spread access to higher education to minority tribes.

The San students were offered work by the university for their fees because they come from poor nomadic families which would otherwise have made higher education beyond their reach.