Ban hits Chingwizi’s children, women hardest

Tokwe-Mukosi flood disaster

TEARS of joy streamed down her wrinkled sun-baked face as she extended her course hands to receive a small pack of chicken pieces bought for her for $1 by a well-wisher.

Tatenda Chitagu

It is understandable for someone who has hardly had a decent meal since february when she and thousands of other Tokwe—Mukosi Dam flood survivors were packed into the overcrowded Chingwizi camp in Nuanetsi Range in Mwenezi that now resembles a refugee camp. On lucky days she eats isitshwala/sadza and beans, from the usual relish of capenta fish (matemba). So when she gets chicken portions, it is like Christmas day for her. “Our problems continue to increase by the day.

“While they started off as natural problems, our current problems we are facing are man-made,” a 70-year-old widowed granny resident there, said throwing her hands in the direction of the ruins of what was once a giant tent that housed all the food that was donated by well-wishers.

The widow is part of 18 000 villagers that are staring starvation in the face after soldiers acting on instructions from the government last week dismantled a large shed that served as storage for donated food at the transit camp and moved it 17km away where the government wants villagers to be resettled on dry one—hectare pieces of land without compensation.

“They said if we want food, then we have to move. We last had a 5kg of mealie meal a fortnight ago. But it is little as I have six other orphaned grandkids that I am looking after,” she added.

This hard-scorched-earth method by the government to force the people out of the camp follows massive resistance by the families to go to the area where they are set to receive one-hectare plots instead of four hectares they were initially promised by the government.

Another woman interviewed said their children were now succumbing to malnutrition, kwashiorkor and stunted growth due to food shortages.

“They give everyone the same quantity regardless of the number of family members. We need food here . . . our children are worst affected as they are showing signs of malnutrition. We will be staring starvation in the face if government does not change its stance.

“We wonder how we will survive given that the general consensus is that no one is going. The few that went there were once assaulted by fellow villagers for selling out,” added another woman.

At one of his many visits to Masvingo after the disaster broke out, Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo, who is the Cabinet chair on the Tokwe—Mukosi resettlement committee, upon being briefed that the villagers were resisting to move, advised Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti that they should only give the food handouts to a handful of “gullible” villagers that had complied with the government move.

Chombo said this at the Tokwe—Mukosi Dam site. And true to his word, the strategy is now being implemented.

But this threatens the lives of 18 000 hunger-stricken villagers that are housed in the camp since February after floods flattened their homes in the basin of Tokwe Mukosi dam which is still under construction.

Many of these families were never directly affected by the floods as they lived on higher ground, but were, however, indiscriminately forced out of the area by a government keen to establish a game park around what will become Zimbabwe’s largest inland lake.

The villagers also claimed that even before the huge tent with food supplies was moved, they still faced food shortages of a less serious magnitude though as some of the aid was looted.

“The government officials guarding the tents with food and donations looted some of the stuff.

“As a result, we got less food and rags from some of the clothes donated after they took the best,” another male inhabitant in the camp said. However, Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti brushed aside the allegations as malicious.

“Those are malicious reports. We have done three audits so far and no anomaly has been detected. The process is very open and transparent,” Bhasikiti said.