Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
THE high cost of electricity is forcing many women in Gweru to illegally fetch firewood from nearby forests.
They fetch it, often twice weekly, for own use or for sale. This is common in Mkoba 18, Mkoba 15, Mkoba 14, Mkoba 20, Senga, Southdowns, Mtapa, Ascot and Mambo where women especially wake up as early as 4AM to go into the forest and farms around the city to collect firewood mostly for cooking.
They brave many dangers. Recently one of them who had gone early to fetch firewood alone was found dead.
At the same time, the Forestry Commission has raised a red flag over the surge in deforestation of farms and forests around Gweru. They are saying deforestation is leading to environmental degradation and upsetting the natural ecosystem.
Mrs Mitchell Nyathi of Mkoba 14 said for electricity worth $400 to last a month, they restrict power purchased at the beginning of the month to lighting and powering a few electrical gadgets minus the stove.
She uses the firewood she collects for boiling water for bathing and cooking.
“I’m coming from the forest to collect firewood and we do that two times a week. It’s tiring but we have no choice because Zesa is expensive, worse we now have it all the time meaning more consumption and more expenses. You see, I purchased about 250 units for $450 and that is expensive for me. So, for the units to last a month I have to use firewood to boil water and cooking. Now we are in winter the firewood goes towards warming us,” she said.
This, Mrs Nyathi said, is the same challenge faced by other residents in Gweru who are forced to use wood fuel to prepare meals.
She wakes up at 4:30AM, two times a week and walks about 8km to fetch firewood for cooking because at her house, like many others in the area, they can’t afford enough electricity.
“We need electricity for the fridge, lighting at night, ironing, home entertainment and other things minus the stove. We don’t cook using the stove because it uses a lot of electricity and the 250 units from the $450 won’t take us to the next month,” said Mrs Nyathi.
Ms Emilia Makena of Mkoba 19 said the first units she purchases at the beginning of the month do not last the whole month.
She said she is forced to look for firewood herself or buy it from vendors who have sprouted across Mkoba suburb.
“In a suburb like mine, there are several houses where firewood is sold but it is expensive. Four small pieces cost $35 and it’s better to go to the forest,” she said.
Forestry Commission Manager for Midlands province Mr Rodrick Nyahwai said they had been conducting raids at farms, impounding scotch carts, vehicles and firewood in the process.
“There is a surge in firewood poaching in farms around Gweru. We have reports from the farmers that people are coming to poach firewood while other people are saying they are buying firewood from the farmers themselves. So, we have a big challenge in terms of firewood poaching which is causing deforestation in and around Gweru farms. We have embarked on raids with the police and Environmental Management Agency (EMA). The farmers as well are now cutting down trees on their farms and selling firewood without permits to the people,” said Mr Nyahwai.
He said a number of people were fined for illegally gathering firewood.
“Our limit level three fines, which is $500, for movement without permit of forest produce. The firewood we confiscate, dispose and the money goes to the State,” he said.
Mr Nyahwai said they have impounded five donkey-drawn scotch carts, a 30-tonne truck and a push cart from the people they found selling or carrying firewood without permits.
“The major challenge we hear from the people is that of expensive electricity and therefore they resort to using firewood. Unfortunately, the micro climate in farms is affected but because of the electricity challenge they continue poaching. We are trying to have an integrated approach using EMA and the police to conscientise the people about the adverse effects of poaching,” he said.
There are also dangers which these women face when they go to the forest to look for firewood.
Midlands provincial police spokesperson Inspector Joel Goko said they are investigating a matter of sudden death involving a woman from Mkoba 14 suburb who was found dead after she had gone to a forest to look for firewood.