The Herald (Harare)

6 December 2012

Zimbabwe: An Unforgettable Valentine

For many people, Valentine's Day is a day to cherish and remember. It is a day when people go out of their way to show love and affection to their loved ones. But for a 14-year-old Kadoma boy, Elisha Gumbo, February 14 brings sad memories, that he battles to erase from his memory.

It is the day he stopped living "a normal life" after an accident resulted in him losing both his arms.

What started as an ordinary day for Elisha ended in tragedy last year when he stepped on live electricity cables left exposed by Zesa workers.

The then Grade Seven Mupamombe Primary School pupil was coming from Westview in Kadoma, where he had gone for extra lessons.

His hands were to be amputated a day later at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, after doctors concluded that they were "useless" as they were badly burnt.

Apart from losing both hands, Elisha also suffered severe burns on his legs, face, back and arms.

He narrated his ordeal to The Herald.

"I saw a lot of people using a certain path and decided to use it as well. As I approached a group of people who were in front of me, I tripped and stepped on some Zesa cables, which had fallen and had been left unattended," narrated Elisha.

He added: "I did not know what happened afterwards until a few days later when I regained consciousness."

The live wires that resulted in the accident had been left unattended since 2007.

Elisha said he now depends on his mother for "everything".

He is bitter with Zesa and stormed their Harare offices in September this year, seeking an audience with the power utility's management.

"I travelled all the way from Kadoma without the knowledge of my mother.

"Despite the pain that I have gone through, the management instructed the security personnel at their offices to throw me out," a sobbing Elisha said.

"I wanted to find out what they were doing with my case but they decided to chase me away."

His mother, Emmaculate Gumbo, said all her dreams have been shattered by the incident as she had high hopes for Elisha.

Elisha has since stopped going to school despite attaining 11 units at Grade Seven.

"He was such a bright student and attained 11 units despite not going to school for the better part of last year.

"He only attended class in January and the first two weeks of February and was in and out of hospital.

"He then proceeded to write his examinations and by the grace of God, he managed to come out with something," Mrs Gumbo said.

Because of his disability, Elisha cannot secure a place for his secondary school education.

"A lot of secondary schools we approached have refused to enrol him because of his condition," she said.

The mother of two added that she now does almost everything for Elisha.

"Apart from eating, Elisha has got to bath and needs to go to the toilet. All this needs my attention," she said.

"I am with him wherever I go and I even take him to women's gatherings at church because there is no one to take care of him at home."

Zesa only paid for some of Elisha's medical bills and has refused to pay for the artificial hands he needs.

Left with no other choice, the family has decided to take the legal route to force Zesa to "at least do something" for him.

"We approached them (Zesa) to negotiate a way forward because it is not Elisha's fault that he stepped on neglected live electricity cables.

"At first it seemed they were willing to assist as they told us to bring three quotations for the artificial hands.

"We brought a quotation of US$48 000 but the best pair of artificial hands was going for US$276 000. The hands have got different functions," added Mrs Gumbo.

Mrs Gumbo, who is unemployed, said Zesa indicated that the artificial hands were expensive and they should find cheaper ones.

"The ideal artificial hands are found in countries like India," she revealed

Elisha's father is diabetic and sells wood for a living.

"His father works in Lupane and he also needs money for his medication.

"At the moment, nothing is happening because we have to raise the US$200 needed by the lawyers to pursue the case. It is our hope that one day God will open the way for us," Mrs Gumbo added.

This is just one of the many cases of people who have become disabled through accidents caused by Zesa's negligence.

Zesa has found itself in a messy situation as victims demand compensation.

Last week, six people from Chiwaridzo Farm in Bindura claimed over US$2,6 million in compensation from the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company for the severe burns they sustained when the power utility negligently switched on a high voltage line they were working on.

Paradzai Mupandenyama, Prince Chinembiri, Kudakwashe Kapfunde, Orchard Kanjado, Clemence Shawu and Alexio Tembo -- had been invited by ZETDC to erect electricity poles in their area when the incident occurred.

They sustained injuries that kept most of them in hospital for more than six months.

During the criminal proceedings, ZETDC pledged to compensate the victims, but reneged on the promise.

Several other people have lost their lives after being electrocuted by naked cables over the past two years.

Last year, a commuter omnibus conductor was electrocuted while a passenger was severely burnt after they fell into a ditch with live electricity cables in Mbare.

In June this year, Rural Electrification Agency employee, Mr Stephen Kativhu, was electrocuted while connecting electricity to Tsinga Primary School in Mutoko.

In April, Takudzwa Nyandoro, a Grade four pupil at ZRP Tomlinson Depot Primary, was electrocuted by exposed cables while playing with his brother.

While some have been injured, and some dead because of Zesa's negligence, the power utility should own up to their promises of assisting the victims of their negligence.

On December 3, 2012 Zimbabwe joined the world in celebrating the International Day of the disabled and it is "forgotten" people like Elisha, who should be remembered.

The commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, provides an opportunity to address the exclusion of persons with disabilities by focusing on promoting accessibility and removing all types of barriers in society.

It also serves as a reminder that disabled persons are to be treated with respect and fairness like all other citizens of the world.

Over one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world's population, live with some form of disability.

Persons with disabilities, "the world's largest minority", often face barriers when they want to participate in societal activities.

These barriers can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment or to information and communications technology (ICT), or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes or discrimination.

In conclusion, persons with disabilities do not have equal access to society or services, including education, employment, health care, transportation, political participation or justice.

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