Katanga, Norton’s seeming capital, has a corner that encapsulates the myriad ills and travails of this small, energy filled but struggling town.
There is the belligerent noise of commuter operators hustling for passengers; their many Japanese imports blocking any orderly driving; the strong sour stench of fish, both fresh and fetid fuming in the afternoon heat and the huge numbers of people ever moving but never abating.
It’s a constant picture of action, movement and stagnation. In the increased motion nothing seems to be changing.
Norton is a dream dying under its own effort.
In 1994 when Norton was granted municipal status it had so much hope ahead of it.
With two water bodies, Lake Chivero and Darwendale, large tracts of farming land, a huge pulp and paper mill and only 40 km from Harare, it was well –set for the future.
Fast forward to 2022 Norton is a pitiful location with pockets of modest growth and potential while everything else is mildewing under the national fungus of a dead economy.
The white farmers are long gone replaced by mainly A1 farmers whose 20 hectare allocations have been eaten away through corruption, leaving many with just 6 hectares for both farming and residency.
The District Lands Officers and traditional leaders have seen to that, illegally selling large tracts of rural land to outsiders who are building sleazy double storeys in the boondock.
A journey through the rural parts of Norton is a sapping crawl into a weathered community with struggling ambitions and faded history, nothing much is going on.
The roads are dusty with patches of tar left over by the long gone white farmers and the travails of farming by the subsistence farmers are not producing much.
During a community meeting with town legislator Temba Mliswa the old farmers lament about the intruders.
“You have to help us Honourable as our pasture lands are being taken away by people coming to build houses.
“Our land is gone,” they say.
Back in the urban parts the same theme, with a different storyline, is playing out in the many new locations where developers have sold land and disappeared.
Kingsdale. Knowe. Marshlands. Tankatara. Damofalls.
A host of the new locations that were supposed to herald the rebirth of the old town are themselves labouring in stagnated development.
A variety of developers such as Eddies Pfugari in Knowe, Maparahwe Properties in Kingsdale and Adore Gold in Marshlands simply sold the land and carried away the money.
The new locations have no roads, no water, no sewer and so many court papers.
For Marshlands it’s nearly 30 years of endless meetings, frantic agreements, signed papers, court cases and nothing happening or changing on the ground.
Private developer Maparahwe Properties is reportedly set to carry out more evictions and demolitions in Kingsdale, Norton today. Early this month it demolished more houses in the area over disagreements over payments with residents. pic.twitter.com/KtAm9lTEzH
— OpenCouncilHRE (@OpenCouncilHRE) August 2, 2022
It’s the thematic, much motion and no progress motif all over again.
In Knowe, which is supposed to be an affluent suburb with areas carrying monikers such as ‘Diaspora’, the situation is the same.
Development is a common term and an absent feature.
They have taken the developer to court but have themselves taken each other to court too, fighting over their community organisation.
It’s complete mayhem.
The disaster would not be complete without the machete gangs.
Norton is a mining town with vast deposits of gold which have continued being explored formally and informally.
The informal mining sector regularly produces the machete gangs.
These groups of drug ingesting young men have been known to frequent bars in areas such as Katanga and Calfa where they frequently engage in barbaric and murderous fights over anything and nothing.
You can be machete-d for ogling their girl or not buying beer!
3 people were attacked last night by machete gangs in ward 7 Norton. I assisted by providing transport and initial treatment. These people need funds for X-rays and further medication. If there are people who can help please contact Clr Chililo on 0773074150. pic.twitter.com/xKzRUAzpaC
— CHILILO D (@Chililo7Douglas) May 18, 2022
“As soon as we learn that there is a group of these guys in the bar we always make sure that we change the drinking place or even just go home.
“Whenever their fights break out, it’s scary what they can do. If you are lucky they will simply ‘slap’ you with the sides of their machete,” says Simon Petros, a young man from Norton.
Soldiers have been deployed before to deal with the issue but, since it is essentially a creation of the poor national economy, it remains a present and existential danger to the town.
Reckless City Fathers
Amidst all this, the city fathers at Norton Town Council (NTC) have themselves been indulging in their own adult effrontery; corruption, negligence and downright incompetence.
Currently all the councilors have pending court cases over corruption allegations.
They allegedly went against a Ministry of Local Government directive in selling each other stands at reduced prices.
The Town Secretary Kizito Muhomba is on suspension, a former Finance Director went out in a shady cloud and there is no synergy between Council and the legislator, Temba Mliswa.
All 12 Norton Councilors were arraigned before the courts this week on charges of abusing office. Only one Cllr, Tino Mafusire (@ZANUPF_Official-PF), wasn't arrested as he wasn't part of the Full Council meeting which came up with the resolution.
— OpenCouncilHRE (@OpenCouncilHRE) July 17, 2022
The MP accuses NTC of having a propensity for the illegal in its conduct.
“My bone of contention with the councilors has always been about having things done in a proper manner. It’s nothing personal as I don’t want to be a councilor myself.
“Even this case which has resulted in the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) arresting them, I raised it way before,” says Mliswa.
As the town awaits to hear the outcome of the case, many roads lie bare, many taps dry and the evil of machete gangs lurking in the shadows.