MASVINGO — Clutching the few belongings she managed to salvage, Gogo Shandu Makumucho trudges in the rain while the scotchcart she has hired to ferry her goods to high ground squeaks as it sputters in the mountainous plains of Jahwa village near the Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam.
Makumucho, who hardly remembers her age, is vacating the place she had called home for the past six decades due to flooding.
She has hired the scorch cart for $15 for the six-kilometre journey to Zunga transit camp.
After staggering for a few meters, she turns and gazes at her homestead, sees that the floods have covered her late husband’s grave.
Tears roll down her wrinkled cheeks as she kisses goodbye her home and the property she failed to salvage before the floods enveloped her village.
She is among thousands of villagers in the dam’s flood basin who had to be forcibly evacuated by soldiers to transit camps awaiting resettlement in the Chingwizi area in the Nuanetsi Ranch.
Several other villagers have been camping by the roadside for days in the rain at Muzvidziwa bus stop, about 85 kilometres from Masvingo along the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway while others are at Gunikuni and Kushinga transit camps.
There is no safe drinking water, no toilets or food. They just live in the open.
Government has declared the flooding a national disaster and extended its begging bowl to the international community to meet the humanitarian needs of the villagers to avoid a disease outbreak.
“Apart from my structures, I lost all my livestock and other household property due to the floods . . .We are also being made to move while it is raining.
“Where were they (soldiers) when it was not raining and the floods had not yet caused havoc to our places? We wonder what crime we have committed for the government to wait until we have lost almost everything,” Makumucho said.
She says while the government hinted that the villagers were going to be moved, they were yet to be compensated and the place they were being moved to resembled a bush as there is nothing to cater for proper human habitation.
“We wanted to be resettled, but in a proper manner and after the government had compensated us. Now we are being moved in a huff as if it is our crime that our village was flooded. We were very co-operative with the government,” she said.
Several other villagers around the dam’s basin area had to be hurriedly moved due to flooding after the heavy rains caught the government flat-footed.
The government wanted to move the villagers in batches over a period of time, but the heavy inflow into the dam has caused flooding, according to officials.
The evacuation had its own challenges such as lack of fuel, few vehicles to transport the villagers, forcing people like Makumucho to resort to hiring scotch carts.
While some like her were lucky to grab a few belongings, others were marooned and had to be airlifted by an Air force of Zimbabwe helicopter with only what they were wearing.
That one helicopter was also overwhelmed as several families needed to be evacuated.
Masvingo provincial administrator and chairperson of the Tokwe-Mukorsi taskforce Felix Chikovo said 20 000 families are in the dam’s flood basin, but 2 415 families would have to be immediately evacuated as the water was fast approaching their homesteads.
Chikovo said only 7 000 families had been moved — some initially before the flooding. He attributed the delay to lack of funds.
“Only 896 people were compensated. We were awaiting the money from Treasury,” Chikovo said.
Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo — who toured the transit camps on Monday — said government was appealing for $19,7 million to cater for the needs of the affected people.
They need food, tents, medicines, construction of social amenities and drilling of boreholes where they were being resettled.
At the handover of some donations on Wednesday at Chingwizi in Nuanetsi Ranch — a dry area where there are unreliable rainfall patterns with the only farming taking place being cattle ranching — some villagers who were moved in lorries complained that they were “dumped” in the bush.
“We are worse off here. Our original place was better, but we have no option. We will have to build makeshift shelter because we do not have money for reconstruction as we are yet to be compensated,” said a woman who chose to be anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Sugar producing concern Tongaat Hulett donated beans, mealie-meal, sugar, candles and matches, while Masvingo-based wholesaler, Norman Richards also donated 1 000 bags of 10 kg mealie-meal, 6 000 packs of beans and 2 000 packs of salt.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) also donated tents, plates, sanitary pads, pots, soap and water treatment chemicals.
A four-men cabinet taskforce present at the function tried to charm the villagers, but the charm fell on deaf ears.
“The problem is over . . .You are now in Canaan because you are going to get land which other people were targeting. You have been loved by God and the ancestors,” said Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, who first chanted Zanu PF slogans.
The area also falls under Bhasikiti’s constituency and the move was seen as a way to secure votes in the next elections, but observers blasted him for looking for political clout out of a crisis.
Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, who was also present at the handover of donations, however, admitted that government was caught off-guard.
“We were expecting a slow increase of water in the dam. We wanted to move people slowly over a period of time.
“However, we had to move them now as there was no time. We know it has not been easy, but the case is now a matter of life and death, so we chose the former, even though you face difficulties . . . This is now your new home. We know you were living somewhere, but be brave and accept it,” Sekeramayi said.
Sekeramayi promised compensation for the villagers as well as construction of social amenities, but could not give a time frame as to when the work would start. But the villagers were grumbling with anger as they could not swallow it.
While the completion of the Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam would create a green belt by bringing water for irrigation to people downstream, attract tourists as well as oil the lucrative sugarcane industry in the province, the villagers believe such a development has been a curse. They say they are the sacrificial lambs and demanded to be allocated irrigation plots as they are downstream.
“We are the forgotten, cursed population. We have been sacrificial lambs. Only God knows,” said Makumucho.
The dam has a water-holding capacity of 1,8 billion cubic metres. On completion, it will become the country’s largest inland water reservoir.