No villager will be displaced by Batoka project: ZRA

By Nokuthaba Dlamini

Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) has assured Hwange villagers that they will be evacuated from their communal land to pave way for the development of Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme (BGHES).

The US$4 billion power plant will be constructed in the Zambezi river basin,47 kilometres from Victoria Falls town and the power generated will be shared equally among the two countries.

Last week the Zimbabwean government gazetted Statutory Instrument 188 of 2020 setting aside land for the establishment of Batoka Township.

It stated that “Any person using or occupying the land specified in the schedule, otherwise then virtue of a right held in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act [Chapter 21:05], is ordered to depart permanently, with all his or her property, from the said land by 31st of December 2020, unless if he or she acquires rights of use or occupation to the said land in terms of section 9(1) of the Communal Land Act.”

This solicited a strong reaction from Hwange villagers who were ordered to vacate their communal land by the end of the year.

However, in a consultative meeting, officials from ZRA, which manages Kariba Dam and its catchment, allayed fears that the villagers will be evicted.

“We hired a South African company whose main office is in UK to do the Environmental Social Impact Assessment which was aimed at looking at the socio-environmental impacts, and they concluded that the 2.8 hectares of land provided to us by the government to construct the township was not going to affect any villager,” ZRA chief executive officer Munyaradzi Munodawafa said.

“No one will be relocated, and on our website people are free to go and check the mapping of the area. The development won’t be anywhere near rural homestead even from the site, the nearest village under Chief Shana is 16 kilometres apart therefore there will not be any compensation of anyone.”

Munodawafa said the findings have been submitted to the Hwange Rural District Council and Provincial offices for public perusal and input.

“Doing this, we have been engaging with chiefs, Hwange Rural District Council and villagers themselves and everyone is happy except those who are misinformed. The chiefs from both countries can also be consulted for clarity. This is an almost USD 6 billion project funded by the World Bank, and there is no way such project was going to be approved by them if it was going to leave people stranded, vulnerable and poor. Even the transmission lines between the two countries are not going to affect anyone so this is just a generic statutory instrument not meant to cause harm to the people.”

Munodawafa said the township will have retail shops, schools and health facilities.

“This is our aim and we shall design them in a similar manner with those from Zambia under chief Mukuni where no villager is also going to be relocated. We have already found the land developer and we are going to start the commissioning and construction in the first quarter of next year.”

The project was founded during the Ian Smith regime and feasibility studies were done in 1993 before being shelved.

It was later revisited by ZRA in 2012 leading to talks between the two countries to resuscitate its development.

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