Roselyne Sachiti Features Editor
a few weeks ago, people in the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam flood basin in Masvingo led normal rural lives, regulated by seasonal changes. This farming season looked promising with good rains which increased prospects for a bumper harvest and promised to make hunger in this drought-prone area a thing of the past.
Then disaster struck.
The Tokwe-Mukosi Dam flooding, which has affected over 1 500 families, has altered the lives of the communities here, most probably forever.
And typical, in this instance of disaster, the fates of man and beast are tied together.
Villagers, once proud and carefree owners of their homes, now live like refugees and depend on handouts.
Gone are the hopes of a bumper harvest: their maize, pumpkins, sorghum, groundnuts and cucumbers have all been washed away.
Their temporary home at Arda Chingwizi in the Nuanetsi Ranch, Triangle, about 150km from their original homes, is the very picture of a refugee camp in a war situation.
About 150 to 200 families were coming into the camp per day, he said.
At the transit camp, a blanket of blue and white tents covers the farm as each family allocated a spot immediately starts setting up “home”.
Cattle, goats, turkeys and chickens take their spot next to their owner’s tents.
The tents are too small, household property and people cannot all fit in.
Belongings of lesser value are kept outside while valuable property that can be damaged by rains is stored inside.
People do not want to lose anymore valuables; they have suffered enough and will do whatever they can to preserve what remains.
They also want to create enough space for everyone to sleep.
Women prepare meals in small pots on fires outside.
Others do laundry, several queue for water while children play at a temporary recreational centre set up by an NGO.
The thick hot air, mixed with increased smell of human waste from toilets, is hard to miss for newcomers.
This transit camp is a hive of activity with movement of man, beast, truck and scotch-cart carrying people and livestock.
Police record all new arrivals and direct them to village heads who are disbursing food rations.
Each family gets 500g dried beans, 2kg flour; 2kg sugar; 2 litres cooking oil; 500g salt; a packet of candles, 1kg kapenta, 20 litre jug and a water container, two mosquito nets, two blankets and a duvet, a packet of sanitary pads or cotton wool.
However, every household gets an equal amount of food which is expected to last a week.
For those with bigger families, this is a drop in the ocean.
Most families have an average of six people and the packet of beans they get only last them one meal.
They can’t get some more; there cannot be the usual borrowings from neighbours who are sailing in the same boat.
They are new to the area and do not know their neighbours.
Without alternatives, some say they now mix sugar with water and serve with the sadza, as relish.
Others have started slaughtering goats and drying the meat, but the meat does not last since it is only boiled in salt and water.
Even the latest consignment of sugar beans delivered by the Zimbabwe National Army from Bulawayo is not enough.
Life is hard; more so for the disabled, pregnant women and children.
Isiah Taruvinga, who lives with disability and lived in the Chekai area in Chivi, lost all his extra sets of crutches and the only one he has is now broken.
He also lost his orthopedic shoes in the floods and remains with only one pair.
He is in for double tragedy.
“I now eat sadza and sugar because I do not have any vegetables. Only one day, we were given game meat but only a few got the small portions, it was not enough for everyone,” he says.
Mrs Somina Gwirinde, another displaced villager, said everything happened too fast, she only escaped the floods with a 50kg bag of maize.
“Since I arrived last week, I received 20kg of maize and 1kg of beans and kapenta. All that should feed my seven children and myself.
“We have no other food, what we are receiving is not enough. At home, we would eat mangoes, groundnuts and roasted maize in between meals, but here there is nothing. Our children are hungry and Government should help us. They should immediately start moving us,” she pleads.
She shares her small tent with all her children, her husband remained in Chehuku, awaiting transport to ferry their cattle to Chingwizi.
When calamity struck, her home and those of many other villagers had been assessed.
However, they could not relocate since their money for compensation had not been processed.
Many people are bitter at their losses, and they say so, and blame God and Government.
In particular, they point to the delay in relocating them from the area before the construction of the dam.
“We were told water would not reach us as we lived a distance from the dam, but we were unfortunate as it came from both sides,” she says.
Simon Zidakara (66) from Nemaushe, Nungirai Village, should be retiring now, but has to start life all over again.
He lost everything he had.
“I lost nine 50kg bags of maize and three bags of sorghum. Today I depend on food handouts. Why has God forsaken us?” he worries.
His wife Margaret Dakara (55) does not blame God, but man.
She believes the Zimbabwe National Water Authority is to blame.
“They told us not to plant anything and we defied them. I think they did something to make us leave. I cannot understand how we could have our house flooded when the dam has no water, where then did it come from?” bewails the mother of 10.
She and her husband were unfortunate not to have received their relocation money.
Thirst amidst floods
Water and sanitation issues are a major challenge. There are over 70 pit latrines, but they are inadequate.
More “toilets” were being dug on Saturday afternoon, The Herald witnessed.
Most of the toilets are dirty, and human waste could be seen on the floors. The pits are shielded by a small black plastic.
Women dread to go there as the plastics are sometimes blown by wind, denying them privacy.
Also, at night, there are no lights in the toilets, explaining the reason why human waste is found on the floors every morning.
Only a few got solar-powered lights provided by Econet which has also set up a booster to ease communication woes.
The disabled like Taruvinga find it hard to use these toilets.
On the other hand, water being provided by humanitarian actors, is rationed and the water points are virtual “war zones” as women and children jostle to collect water.
DA Chamisa said: “We have about 17 tanks of water carrying 25 000 litres against the 90 000 litres required per day to cater for everyone.”
Even the heavily pregnant Chengeto Masocha from Chekai has just discovered that being pregnant is no golden ticket to skip the water queue.
“I almost collapsed while standing in the queue. First you have to guard your containers and when the water is delivered, wait some more for your turn,” she says.
Another displaced woman, Mai Molly said: “Water is a big challenge for breastfeeding mothers. Diapers we are being given are never enough, we end up using nappies which have to be washed.”
Mai Lucia from Zifunzi area, Chivi, said she did not have enough nappies for her baby.
“They gave us sanitary pads and condoms, we want more napkins for our children,” said the mother of four.
She said the tent she received was too small and wants two more.
There is a makeshift clinic at the camp and the first baby was delivered last Friday.
There has not been a contingency for education as all the children here have not been to school since disaster struck.
The closest school to them is Mulali, a pole and mud one about three kilometres from the camp.
There are two small “classrooms” which are not enough for the kids.
By Saturday February 22, a total of 756 children from secondary and primary schools had registered at the satellite school.
Mr Elfas Mapanji, who worked at Zunga Primary School near the dam, has volunteered to work there despite the deplorable conditions.
He says the floods have affected schoolchildren who are now behind on their syllabus and noted that most of them were traumatised.
They had hoped to open a school, but there are no physical structures, textbooks and exercise books, desks, boards and other educational requirements.
NGOs like Plan International have reportedly indicated that they would help and have visited the site.
Authorities said by Friday evening, a total of 671 primary and 85 secondary school students had registered while the number of those going for ECD has not been established.
Only three teachers have volunteered and DA Chamisa reported that the Ministry of Education was working flat out to get more teachers.
He said they had identified a site for a satellite school and toilets would be built soon. Some NGOS have pledged six boreholes outside the camp.
Amid the problems, Mr Chamisa is appealing for help in the areas of food and accommodation.
“We are appealing for more food and tents. Each family currently has only one tent — three pieces, which have to be shared by the whole family.
“We would like three tents per family as each family has an average of six members,” he adds.
Besides food, Mr Chamisa says, they need more medicines, especially painkillers and treatment for diarrhoea.
A thought is spared for domestic animals, too. Mr Chamisa said the conditions of the animals were unfavourable.
“Some have lump skin and the disease is spreading. We fear it will continue spreading. This area is also foot-and-mouth prone. We would like them vaccinated. Also three cattle have died and one miscarried,” he said.
Registering cattle is a big issue as most people lost stock cards in the floods and cannot afford new ones that cost US$5.
Plans are afoot to brand cattle and goats so that there are no problems with animal thefts.
The 151 dogs that had arrived at the camp by Saturday needed to be vaccinated against rabbies.
Mr Chamisa says the district is prepared for disasters like these and always has meetings and plans that are reviewed every year.
“For them to come here, we had identified this place. We had planned that if we have such a challenge we would handle it like this. However, the challenges are the resources.
“NGO partners have been helping with many things and will help us achieve our plans. For example, Gold Blue has pledged two boreholes,” he adds.
He said since Chingwizi was just a holding camp, they expected the affected villagers to be there for a very short time.
But it does not seem so as no one had left the camp to move to the new homes by Sunday morning.
The challenge is that the area they are supposed to go to has not been pegged and would need to be watered from 37 kilometres out.
He said in the meanwhile, they were looking forward to pitching tents and place the people in clusters which would fall under village heads where they came from.
“We hope they will live the way they used to. We have village heads and would like them to continue leading,” he adds.
He said land to be allocated depends on the final number of people who will come.
“We were settling them at our own pace before the disaster.
“They were each getting four hectares to plant, 1 hectare irrigation and grazing area 28 hectares 32 hectares per person. We will hear what the experts will say about this issue,” he added.
Mr Chamisa said there were four doctors at Chingwizi, while the Zimbabwe Prison Services had provided 10 nurses. Local nurses are also assisting.
He explained that they were okay in terms of human resources with health officials in control of the situation while Unicef provided drugs to last a month.
Construction of standard toilets to cater for the almost 7 000 people is underway.
“On our plan, we should have toilets near each cluster. We hope the cement pledged by the Minister of Mines comes so that we quickly build permanent ones to prevent cholera,” he adds.
Mr Chamisa said the district Civil Protection Unit was considering counselling to deal with the psychological wellbeing of the hapless villagers.
But he conceded that the disabled had not yet received help.
Compensation per family has been assessed and disbursement of money remains.
Back in areas like Zunga, Chief Gororo, villagers like Kandros Maramba were by 6am on Sunday removing metal roofing sheets from their homes, some metres away from the dam peg.
Maramba, who is a village head, was assessed and received US$13 000.
He had not been shown where he would stay and thus is headed for Chingwizi.
He does not know what to expect there, but his wife is busy drying vegetables.
They have heard relish is a challenge there. All the 64 families under his leadership will go to Chingwizi.
Mr Rasmos Museva (49) and his family of Todaniso area, are living in constant fear.
They live close to the dam wall and have not been moved yet.
At one time, his wife and eight young children had to seek refuge at Kororo Clinic for five days after hearing news that the dam was about to burst.
He stayed behind to guard their livestock and property and slept in their maize field overlooking their homestead.
“Zinwa officials just told us to move 2km from here. We did not get any compensation and had stayed put. So one day we saw workers at the dam running out and thought it had finally burst,” he said.
His family is back, but they are always on the lookout.
His son always checks the water levels with Zinwa officials.
He, too, would like to go to Chingwizi.
Most cattle were locked up in kraals in the Machenjere area. The area is like a ghost village, most women and children have left, only men waiting to be transported remain.
The cattle looked depressed, they have been standing for days. Their legs are stuck in mud in the kraals and they no longer go out to graze, food is thrown inside.
In Chingwizi many people expressed hope that once the disbursements were made, they would be able to rebuild their shattered lives — on more solid ground.