23 February 2014

Zimbabwe: Flood Victims' Loss Beyond Measure

Photo: Nehanda Radio
Tokwe Mukosi Dam cracking following heavy rains

LOSING a home along with a lifetime's collection of belongings robs an individual of their self-esteem and sense of worth.

For thousands of displaced Tokwe-Mukosi villagers, who are currently staying at a Zimbabwe Red Cross Society transit camp in Chingwizi in Nuanetsi Range in Masvingo, hope has become pie in the sky.

Many of them proudly acquired property over many years through much toil and sweat and losing it was not only about value, but about the property defining their identity.

Their first bed when they got married, a two- piece costume that a woman got from her husband as a thank you for bearing him a son; the long, winter overcoat that a man received when his only daughter got married, all such items had more sentimental value than the monetary worth.

But along came a big flood wiping away all these fond memories.

Pictures that captured their lives, from the cute baby photos to the graduation day, were all swept away in the angry masses of water.

"These clothes that I have on, are the only ones that I have left," said one Effort Chibaya, a father of two.

During a recent visit by The Standard to the disaster area, the whole camp was in a sombre mood, with many still trying to come to terms with their loss.

Hardest hit was the older generation who might not have the opportunity to start again. Many sat around looking dejected with far away looks on their faces.

Even the sight of the many foreigners, including journalists milling around the camp with cameras, failed to excite them.

The putrid smell of human excreta did not seem to bother them at all.

They seemed to have resigned themselves to fate and were just waiting for it to take its course.

For many, it was like the end of their existence. With their fields all gone, they will definitely need assistance until the next harvest.

"If we get land, we will start again but before the harvest we will still be beggars," said Chibaya. "I am the head of my family and for me to be receiving handouts is not ideal at all."

The women around the camp were a sorry sight. As is common, women want to bath on a daily basis, but the lack of clean water meant that they had to go for days without bathing.

"We have not had a bath in a long time and it becomes worse when you are having your period [menstruation]," said one woman, who was among a group of young women who sat around plaiting each other's hair.

Children too have not been spared from this disaster. Those of school-going age were hardest hit, especially those in the examination classes like Grade 7, Form 4 and 6.

"I miss my friends and I don't know when I will see them again. I want to go back to my school where they know me," said little Rutendo from Chehuku school.

Although the government has assured the villagers that they will be relocated, many are still not convinced.

"We heard that there is no more land and we might be here come year-end. Even if they do get us land, will it be suitable for farming?" said an old man who was gathering twigs.

It remains to be seen if the authorities will indeed honour their promises. So far, the government has received widespread criticism for failing to adequately deal with disasters of this magnitude.

Locals who spoke to The Standard in Masvingo said they felt that the government had failed the victims of floods.

"Years ago they said they would relocate the villagers but it seems they were doing it in slow motion," said one Martin Nherera.

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InFocus

Floods Hit Zimbabwe Villagers

Tokwe Mukosi Dam cracking following heavy rains

Thousands of people living along the Tokwe Mukosi dam basin continue to suffer after water, escaping from cracks in the dam wall, flooded the river that flows towards villages. Read more »