OPINION | Divided Dreams: Why rural community development is stalling

(pic: Chris Huber)

By Douglas Mutepaire

Rushinga, a rural district in Zimbabwe, embodies the heartbreaking paradox of a community yearning for progress yet perpetually stuck in the mire. Rushinga stands as a testament to untapped potential and unrealised dreams. Here, the promise of progress is shrouded in the mists of political discord and institutional neglect.

Despite its residents’ aspirations, development initiatives consistently crumble under the weight of political polarisation and a lack of clear vision. This article is a clarion call to the citizens of Rushinga — a call to unite, engage, and forge a path towards sustainable development, leaving behind the shackles of dependency and division.

The district, rich in potential, languishes in a state of inertia, with life plodding along in its customary rhythm. The stark reality is that Rushinga’s developmental pace lags woefully behind, reliant on neighbouring Mt Darwin for essential services. The district’s infrastructure, from banking facilities to postal services, is rudimentary at best. Agricultural potential is stymied by siltation in dams, and the absence of a tarred road to the Chimhanda growth point speaks volumes of decades of neglect. Yet, the aspirations for a developed Rushinga persist, beckoning a collective focus on issues pertinent to our current state. Amidst this backdrop, the spectre of hate speech, partisan politics, and propaganda looms large, thwarting the district’s developmental aspirations. Political affiliations become a battleground for development discourse. WhatsApp groups, intended as platforms for collaboration, devolve into battlegrounds for supremacy. Accusations fly, suspicion festers, and any attempt at constructive dialogue dissipates. The desire to establish one’s political ideology as the sole driver of progress trumps the pursuit of common ground. The potential for these digital community meetings to foster unity and development is lost amidst the partisan bickering.

Further compounding the issue is a fundamental misunderstanding of development itself. Relief programs and handouts are often misconstrued as progress, neglecting the need for sustainable solutions. Rushinga’s leadership has a critical role to play in breaking the cycle of dependence. They must educate residents on the importance of self-sufficiency and long-term solutions. Caution is prudent; fostering self-sufficiency within the community does not necessitate the abrupt termination of donor support. The harsh reality is that people here rely on handouts not out of laziness, but because crushing poverty and stark inequality leave them with few alternatives. The most crucial development Rushinga needs is institutional. Crucially, the emergence of community-led development ideas should not absolve the government and local authorities of their responsibilities. These grassroots initiatives are intended to complement, not replace, the constitutional obligations of the rural district council and central government. With the bricks of community effort and the mortar of governmental duty- this symbiotic relationship between institutional support and community action can help build Rushinga.

The path towards a thriving Rushinga requires a multifaceted approach. Firstly, fostering a culture of civic engagement is crucial. Residents must learn to navigate their political differences and engage in constructive dialogue focused on tangible solutions. Secondly, there’s a dire need for leadership that prioritises long-term development strategies over temporary fixes. Finally, harnessing the collective energy of Rushinga’s diverse voices requires moving beyond the confines of virtual platforms. Business symposiums and in-person gatherings can foster a spirit of unity and shared purpose. Breaking the cycle of stagnation in Rushinga demands a collective effort. By fostering collaboration, prioritising education, and embracing diverse perspectives, the community can finally turn the tide and translate dreams of development into a tangible reality.

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Douglas Mutepaire, a passionate educationist with extensive experience, was born in 1960 in the Rushinga district. He began his teaching journey as a temporary teacher in 1980, eventually earning a diploma in primary education from Masvingo Teachers College in 2001. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Zimbabwe and heads Makachi Primary School in the Rushinga district. Throughout his career, he has held teaching and leadership roles at schools such as Kasenzi, Katoni, Runwa, Nyamatikiti, Rusambo, and Katakura primary schools.