George Maponga Masvingo Bureau
It was anguish, grief and sorrow as flooding rendered Tokwe-Mukosi villagers homeless and hunger stricken. The year 2014 will go down in Masvingo’s history as arguably the most trying in post-independent era following the relocation of over 3 000 families from Chivi district after flooding in the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam basin in March.
Heavy rains that pounded southern parts of Masvingo precipitated flooding in the Tokwe – Mukosi Dam that saw rising water threatening to sweep away the dam wall.
Government’s disaster preparedness failed the litmus test as thousands suffered the entire rainy season as political bickering also affected food relief programmes.
The floods submerged homes and destroyed property, leaving thousands of families homeless and destitute.
There were also fears of widespread flooding downstream of the dam putting at risk lives of nearly 60 000 villagers.
Although Government quickly reacted by spearheading relocation of families affected by rising water in the basin after President Mugabe declared the flooding a national disaster in March and appealed for $20 million from international organisations to mitigate effects of the unfolding humanitarian crisis, more still needed to be done.
The contractor at Tokwe – Mukosi Dam, Salini Impregilio introduced 24-hour shifts at the dam site where workers worked non-stop to raise the wall and stop water from spilling and overrunning the dam.
Sadc countries, Mozambique and Namibia chipped in with financial and material support to expedite evacuation of drought-ravaged families from the basin to higher ground complementing work that was being done by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to save human life, livestock and property.
Within a short space of time hundreds of flood victims had been evacuated from the raging flood waters in the basin to transit points like Zifunze, Kushinga, Gunikuni and Zunga in Chivi and Masvingo districts that were set up to temporarily house them.
The flood victims stayed in classrooms together with their belongings forcing several schools around the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam to stop conducting lessons, in the process affecting children.
Over 2 000 school children were forced to abandon classes after more than 10 primary and secondary schools in the basin were obliterated by floods.
The infrastructure toll was high in Nyajena and Gororo communal lands as the floods devastated roads, clinics and bridges leaving a huge developmental scar in the areas.
Over 18 000 livestock comprising cattle, goats and donkeys were also moved to safe ground during an evacuation exercise that saw tractors and scotch-carts being used to move humans and their household property as small vehicles and lorries could not access some areas where people were.
Private companies, NGOs, church organisations and private individuals made donations in cash and kind to feed and shelter the flood victims as the country united to mitigate the plight of fellow Zimbabweans in their moment of need.
The flood victims received tents, food items, clothes, blankets and other essentials while other countries like China chipped in with $500 000 to help the Tokwe-Mukosi flood victims.
All the families who were in danger from the flood waters in the Tokwe-Mukosi basin were safely evacuated without a single loss of life and by end of March the process of relocating the flood victims, their property and livestock from transit points to Chingwizi holding camp about 150km away in Mwenezi district started.
Government provided more than 40 lorries to relocate the families from transit points to Chingwizi temporary camp that was opened to accommodate them. Successful relocation of the over 3 000 flood victims and their livestock to Chingwizi camp created new problems as the temporary camp became overcrowded.
The camp dwellers at Chingwizi were forced to grapple with shortage of toilets and water, sparking fears of disease outbreak.
The families were forced to rely on water from canals that irrigated the adjacent sugar cane fields at Mupapa plantations.
However, problems of water shortages soon became a thing of the past after a Masvingo-based NGO, Batanai Hiv and Aids Services Organisation (Bhaso) together with Oxfam commissioned a $100 000 water purification plant at Chingwizi in June.
In the meantime, Government led by the Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, was also busy negotiating with the camp dwellers to leave the overcrowded camp for more spacious permanent plots in the Nuanetsi Ranch.
A fresh challenge emerged as the families stuck to their guns vowing to stay put at the camp demanding compensation to the tune of $9 million for their homes submerged by flood waters and damaged property.
A delegation of Cabinet ministers led by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa visited the camp to assure flood victims that Government was running around to secure money to compensate them.
The flood victims dug in vowing to stay put until they were compensated and by the beginning of July the situation in the camp was no longer tenable owing to shortage of toilets that forced some of the families to resort to the bush system.
Besides fears of disease outbreak at Chingwizi, camp dwellers increasingly became restive after discovering that Government had pegged only one-hectare plots for them as opposed to the four hectares they had initially been promised.
At the end of July Minister Bhasikiti was forced to leave the camp in a huff by boisterous flood victims who started heckling him and officials from the Ministry of Health and Child Care after tried to convince the camp dwellers to move to permanent plots to avert a health disaster.
Minister Bhasikiti also stoked tension at the camp after telling the flood victims that money initially set aside to compensate them had been used to pay civil servants salaries.
The situation at the camp worsened as the flood victims became more belligerent and militant while pressing for compensation.
Things came to a head in August after the camp dwellers chased away officials from the Mwenezi DA’s office camped at Chingwizi together with some police details stationed there.
Police reinforcements were called from Chiredzi and Triangle police stations to contain the situation and some of the flood victims responded by torching two police Defender vehicles and beating up police officers before burning two rifles.
About 30 villagers were netted in the police blitz at Chingwizi and Government took advantage of the heavy police presence to move flood victims to their one-hectare permanent plots at Nuanetsi Ranch.
Government built Nyuni Secondary and Primary School, Tokwe-Mukosi and Chingwizi Primary to cater for school children in the area.
Work on a new and bigger clinic also started in August with artisans from the Zimbabwe National Army involved in the actual construction while the National Aids Council provided funding.
Over 30 boreholes were also drilled to supply water to the families at Nuanetsi who also received food rations from the World Food Programme for four months until the end of September when the Department of Social Welfare took over feeding operations that will last until the families have harvested their own crops next year.
It is envisaged that Tokwe-Mukosi Dam water will lead to a jump in sugar cane production in the Lowveld by 15percent while also creating a conurbation stretching from Chiredzi to Rutenga.
Plans are already at an advanced stage to set up an ethanol plant at Nuanetsi ranch that will have to employ over 5 000 people directly.
Tokwe – Mukosi Dam is also poised to become a major tourist attraction owing to the dam’s sheer size and topography.
Masvingo and Chivi rural district councils that jointly manage the dam are currently looking for $300 000 to craft the dam’s management plan that will influence land use patterns around the facility that is set to economically transform Masvingo by making the province Zimbabwe’s irrigation hub.