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Nkayi: Inaccessibility Of Cellular Connection Leaves Villagers Isolated

Nkayi villagers argue that network challenges hinder their participation in all electoral processes. Image by iStock

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FEB 2, 2022

As an adaptation strategy, villagers have devised a system where they alternate visiting the network booster to make calls, and reply to SMS on behalf of others.

NKAYI (The Citizen Bulletin) — Traveling from Nkayi Centre to the villages deep in the district is refreshing as the surroundings become natural and welcoming to visitors.

But looking at the mobile phone, one cannot miss that telecommunication network signals which keep lowering as one travels deeper into Nkayi South.

The network signals wax and wane for no logical reason until they eventually disappear.

But to Sean Ncube of Hombami village, this is nothing amiss.

For the past 10 years of living at this village, Ncube has learnt to live with poor telecommunication signals in the area.

“I sometimes don’t see the essence of having a cellphone when I know for sure that it will be of no use in the village.”
Sean Ncube, a Hombami villager in Nkayi South

“The network here is so bad that we have to travel to the shops where there is better signal coverage.”

It is the same in Nkayi North where villagers face communication network challenges.

To communicate, villagers have to walk more than 10 kilometres to where there is a nearest booster.

As an adaptation strategy, villagers have devised a system where they alternate visiting the booster to make calls, and reply to SMS on behalf of others.

Another villager Zenzo Mlilo expresses displeasure on the dreadful sandy long journey to the network towers to make calls.

“Regardless of communication network challenges, most of the villagers still own cellphones but the situation is not pleasing here in Hombami,” Mlilo says.

“We have realised that we need to send a few people to the booster or near villages with better network coverage. But, generally the network is bad. The government must act on this known legacy problem.”

A teacher who cannot be named for job security reasons says teaching in wards 22 to 25 schools in Nkayi South is more of a punishment.

“Mostly, we are here because of work. But we hardly communicate with our families back home in Bulawayo,” the teacher laments.

A number of Nkayi villages have remained off the communication radar at a time the country is preparing for 2023 elections, a period requiring information on electoral processes leading to the polls including on voter registration.

Villagers think their challenge needs urgent intervention to enable them to participate in all electoral processes, a basic right as enshrined in the constitution.

Speaking to The Citizen Bulletin, Nkayi South legislator Stars Mathe expresses the same concerns.

“Yes, we are facing network challenges in Nkayi South, especially in wards 22, 23, 24 and 25,” Mathe says.

But Mathe is optimistic that the communication network challenges will be resolved ‘soon.’

“The ministry responsible for Information Communication Technology (ICT) is working on putting up measures to install network boosters in the affected areas considering the introduction of e-learning due to COVID-19,” she adds.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe states that every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas.

This becomes the responsibility of the government to put up necessary infrastructure for people to access information, and also communicate.

Tsitsi Masengure, a lawyer at Justice for Children (JCT), says no citizen must be left behind on access to information.

“Having communication and internet communication is in the best interest of every child including those in Nkayi,” Masengure explains.

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“They must have access without discrimination. Actually the more the community is empowered and accessible, the more children access opportunities which brighten their future.”

Last year, 52 new base stations were commissioned by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe’s (POTRAZ).

All of the country’s mobile network operators (MNOs) (NetOne, Econet and Telecel) contributed with Econet putting up the most.

The new base stations include 2G installations, 3G base station installations and new LTEs.

But Nkayi still cries out for network coverage to bridge the communication and information gaps, particularly for marginalised communities.

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