In the Middle of Nowhere: Case of People of Sakoma and Manjolo Villages in Thyolo
Dwelling along a boundary of two parliamentary constituencies was meant to reciprocate developments galore, be it good road networks, bridges, water points, schools, markets, health facilities and other essentials.
Sadly such is not a song being sang by the people of Sakoma and Manjolo villages under Traditional Authorities Thomas and Bvumbwe in Thyolo district as since time immemorial, no administration has taken a firm stand in addressing their plight.
This is the community lying just some 15 kilometers from Bvumbwe trading center and about 22 kilometres from Thyolo boma.
These are communities that are being forced to use longer routes to access basic social services and dig deeper into their pockets to ferry their agricultural produce through Thunga to the nearest Bvumbwe trading center or Limbe in Blantyre. Such is the case as the road to the area has never been upgraded climaxed by lack of bridge at Nkhame river.
Village headman Singano of T/A Thomas believes such a predicament has befallen them due to their location as parliamentarians for both Thyolo North and West keep pushing the responsibility to the other.
When Nkhame river banks burst during the rainy season, Chief Singano reports that expectant mothers delivered at the said bridge on their way to Makungwa health center at Bvumbwe as another health facility-Masenjere, lies in Chikwawa district.
Similarly, Singano says that people living with HIV from the area, fail to access treatment due to the same, adding that a lot of lives have been lost in the quest of crossing it.
According to the traditional leader, education has not been spared from the challenge either as secondary school-going students from the area fail to attend classes in schools which are on Bvumbwe area as the other nearer Community Day Secondary School is located down the East bank in Chikwawa.
He laments that "we are always helpless during the rainy season because of the absence of the bridge at this river. It's sickening because just like others elsewhere, we do pay taxes as well and that lives continue to be lost when people dare to cross to Bvumbwe, Nkhame estate or Limbe. We cannot even access our grave despite numerous assurances from those vying for a political office."
Gogo Angela Tembo from Manjolo village shares the chief's frustrations, adding that they are being penalized K15,000 for aiding home baby deliveries as per village by-laws aimed at encouraging hospital deliveries.
"When it's raining but a woman is due, we are left with no choice but to do it our way. My plea is for the authorities to construct the bridge no matter the source of funds," she pleaded.
Echoing Tembo's sentiments is Cecilia Malikebu of Singano village who says the bridge issue has been used as a campaign tool since the dawn of multiparty democracy.
Meanwhile, as a way of embracing a mindset change enabler of the Malawi 2063, a long-term national multi-sectoral vision for the country, people in the area took it upon themselves to start constructing the road which passes the river.
Thomas Civic Education Coordinator (ACEC) for National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE Trust), Nyadani Maseya believes sensitizing communities on mindset change towards development is key in attaining Malawi 2063 aspirations.
Nyadani attests that through the enabler, people can identify challenges in their areas and try to find readily available resources to participate in the development interventions which benefit their lives.
"In respect to mindset change enabler of Malawi 2063, we noted some of the problems affecting us and embarked on voluntary construction of a 15 kilometers Manjolo-Sakoma-Bvumbwe road and planting trees along it to conserve the environment. Now the main challenge is lack of the bridge at Nkhame river which requires our leaders to come in with our taxes," he said.
He, however, admits that it is a process for everyone to understand and participate in initiatives without remuneration and public resources from the government, hence reluctance from some people in the villages.
Chairperson for Liu la Nzika Limveke project from Sakoma village, Inkosi Bvumbwe, Benson Muhirima, says they mobilized the communities from both sides to participate in the road construction initiative after noting that efforts to seek help from duty bearers are yielding no results.
Muhirima has meanwhile expressed the community's determination to complete the road project whose phase I of clearing commence in October 2022, but they want their leaders to construct the bridge at Nkhame River.
He claims that they have been trying to engage the past governments from Kamuzu time to the Masaf project of Bakili Muluzi, to construct the bridge at the river, but to no avail.
"It's sad that we have lost a lot of lives here. This is the case when several members of parliaments from both sides have on several occasions visited this place and promised to construct the bridge, but none fulfilled the pledges," Mahirima expressed the pain of losing his uncle who was washed away by the river.
He explained that the construction of the bridge will also bring a lot of economic benefits to the people in the area, most of them cabbage, carrot, and onion farmers.
Member of Parliament for Thyolo West, Charles Mchacha who has served the area for close to 20 years, promised to support them but indicated that the project is very big and requires enough resources, approximately K100 million.
"That's a good initiative and I will support them, but that place is huge and needs time and enough resources not just a single Constituency Development Fund (CDF)," he said.
On his part, Ephraim Naija, who is the Parliamentarian for Thyolo North has underscored the importance of the bridge and pledged to construct it by the end of this year.
Naija pledged: "We are aware of the need to construct a bridge on that river. And plans are underway to mobilize resources so that we can construct that bridge this year."
National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE Trust) was tasked to spearhead the mindset change enabler of the country’s development blueprint, whose Thyolo District Civic Education Officer, Moses Kaunda has lauded the communities for being patriotic and embracing the change.
But Kaunda has called on the duty bearers to help with the bridge at the river in the area.
"It is indeed a very welcome aspect of mindset change where people have begun doing things on their own without waiting for assistance from elsewhere. The only challenge that maybe they cannot manage, is the bridge, so we are appealing to various leaders especially elected leaders through to development committees to take up the initiative," he said.
As that is not enough, the community members are planning a mock wedding on 30 July this year to raise funds for buying 300 bags of cement to construct waterways along the road, according to Nyadani Maseya, the organizing chairperson.
The people of Manjolo and Sakoma villages in Thyolo are the epitome of mindset change upon realizing that the lack of the river has delinked them from critical social services, they started doing something, it's now time for the leaders to spare some taxes and help them.
This has also demonstrated that Malawi 2063 would be possible only if everyone plays his or her role.