“THEY came, they saw and forgot about us.”
This sounded like a chorus of a popular song in Mapili and Mbamba villages under Chief Mathuphula in Tsholotsho in the aftermath of floods that ravaged the district destroying homesteads and leaving dozens of families homeless.
Government officials visited the affected areas in all terrain 4X4 Toyota Landcruisers, among other vehicles that can navigate through rugged terrain, to assess the damage, but since then, no help has been forthcoming and the villagers feel abandoned.
When a Southern Eye crew visited the area on Tuesday, one villager jokingly said: “I thought you were government officials bringing some aid.”
Since the visit by government officials weeks ago, villagers said they were still waiting for the promised assistance.
“I don’t see us receiving any kind of assistance. They (government officials) just went under,” Elinar Mpofu of Mapili said.
Mpofu said her property was destroyed and her two bedroomed house gave in to the deluge.
Gwayi River snakes through the villages and villagers said the incessant heavy rains resulted in the river overflowing its banks and flooding their homesteads leaving an untold trail of destruction.
A number of homesteads were razed to the ground and crops swept away as the flood waters cascaded across the cultivated fields.
“We were promised blankets and food by the government officials who came, but to date we have not received anything,” Mpofu added.
In contrast, there has been a stampede by the government and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to assist flood victims displaced by the breaching of the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam wall.
The government declared the flooding in Masvingo a national disaster and sent an SOS (save our souls) for urgent assistance. It announced that about $20 million was required in Masvingo for emergency medical supplies, shelter, food, logistical support, clinics, food, tents and clothing.
State-owned cellphone operator NetOne and the privately-owned Econet were not left out and are currently leading fundraising efforts.
“SMS the word HELP to 100 and be charged 20c which will go towards the Tokwe-Mukosi disaster relief. You can make a difference,” the SMS message NetOne has been sending to its subscribers appealing for assistance for the Masvingo floods victims, reads.
Econet launched “Operation Kubatana-Kubatsira Tokwe-Mukosi”, under which it joined the government and NGOs in mobilising assistance to alleviate the hardship visited on the community living in the dam’s flood basin.
Econet urged Zimbabweans to donate non-perishable food items, clothes, blankets or any materials that could help flood victims at any Econet shops countrywide.
The Namibian government sent in helicopters to assist in rescue operations during Tokwe-Mukosi evacuations.
Not only have donations been pouring in for the Masvingo victims, but Civil Protection Unit (CPU) director Madzudza Pawadyira told Southern Eye the organisation was in the process of building six primary schools and two secondary schools for the victims in their new resettlement area.
However, no mention of Tsholotsho has been made in this relief mobilisation.
The government, NGOs and companies seem to have completely forgotten that Tsholotsho villagers too were badly affected by the floods.
Villagers in Mapili said while thousands were affected by floods in Masvingo, they also wanted government to assist despite their number being a fraction of the Tokwe-Mukosi victims.
“All that we are saying is that victims of floods cannot be recognised by their numbers,” a Mapili village headman Obert Ngwenya said.
“We are all victims and people here need the very same assistance that those in Masvingo are getting,” Ngwenya said.
Mapili villagers held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss ways of lobbying for assistance for flood victims in their village.
“We have people in our community who need shelter, blankets and food assistance, especially if we consider that hunger is looming after the floods destroyed our crops,” Ngwenya added.
CPU provincial chairperson for Matabeleland North Latiso Dlamini recently indicated that the organisation was assisting flood victims in Gariya and Sipepa in Tsholotsho North.
Affected victims in Gariya and Sipepa were moved to Jimila Primary School which was turned into a temporary holding camp. But Mapili and Mbamba villagers said assistance never reached them.
They summed up their cries saying they had been forgotten by the government and other stakeholders.
“We have been forgotten. I wonder why they even bothered to come here to assess the damage. To most of us, the floods caused damage and assistance is needed,” a villager, Mqondisi Ndlovu, said.
Ndlovu said what pained him the most was that he used to sell part of his farm produce to the Grain Marketing Board, but since his crops were swept away, he had been left with virtually nothing to feed his family with.
Analysts, however, said the villagers should not blame the government but their leadership.
Khanyile Mlotshwa, a post-graduate media studies student at Rhodes University in South Africa, said with proper representation, government would heed calls for assistance.
“I think it has to go back to their representation . . . (leadership) to push for the unfortunate situation in their constituency to be declared a national disaster,” Mlotshwa said.
“I think the people of Tsholotsho should not point a finger at the government because they cannot see it (the government), but should ask their leaders whom they can see and even manhandle if necessary,” he said.
“Maybe their leaders felt it didn’t warrant to be declared a national disaster because of the challenges or disadvantages that come with that status. I remember (former Water Affairs minister) Samuel Sipepa Nkomo refusing that Matabeleland be declared a water disaster area or something like that; and he had his reasons.
“I think before accusing the government of anything, the villagers should seek dialogue with those who represent them to understand things better lest they be called cry-babies,” Mlotshwa added.