“COME here as a visitor and not as a spy,” reads a warning sign on a rusty metal stuck on to a wooden gate at a home in Nyatondo Village in the Eastern Highlands district of Nyanga.
For a moment one hesitates to enter the homestead, not sure how they would be identified – as a visitor or as a spy.
A narrow path leads to a tiny kitchen hut that smells of fresh cow dung that has just been used as floor polish. Beside the kitchen is a neat pile of firewood. Opposite the kitchen is a two-roomed hut with a small shining verandah.
Everything at the homestead appears to be in order and one would expect to find an adult at the home. But that is not the case.
Running into the yard from the garden is a small boy dressed in a torn navy blue pair of jean shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt in the chilly weather. The boy is 14-year old Tichaona Mubako, an orphan in Ward 19 in the Sedze area of Nyanga, who has been staying by himself since the age of 12.
A Form 2 pupil at Nyajeza Secondary School, Tichaona began looking after himself after his parents succumbed to HIV and Aids-related diseases. Living by himself, doing the house chores, tilling the fields, maintaining the garden and protecting his late parents’ property has become a normal way of life for Tichaona.
“Sometimes I am scared of staying alone,” Tichaona said. “When night falls, I get my friend who stays close by to come and spend the night with me, but most of the times I am by myself.”
His mother passed away in 2004 while his father died two years later.
Initially they were eight in his family, but now his only closest relative is a married sister who is also struggling to make ends meet at her in-laws’ home.
Tichaona is one of many beneficiaries of aid provided by humanitarian agencies in the country. He had been receiving aid in the form of food, school fees, clothes and moral support.
But since the ban of the NGOs on June 4 by the government on allegations that they were using humanitarian aid to campaign for the opposition MDC, Tichaona’s normal supply of basic goods was cut.
He represents thousands of other children across the country, orphans and physically and mentally challenged, who were affected by the NGO ban that was only lifted by the government last Friday.
The National Association of Non-governmental Organisations (Nango) in a statement this week commenting on the lifting of the ban and the new reporting mechanisms for NGOs and PVOs, said the whole process was selective and excludes thousands of organisations either registered as trusts or universitas as well as those registered as PVOs, but not doing humanitarian, development or welfare work.
While the MDC and Zanu PF are fighting over who gets the most powers in a proposed unity government, children have been silent victims of the political impasse.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), one of the major programmes affected by the ban was for orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC). The project initially reached 185 000 OVC through 26 NGOs before the suspension of their operations. This was scaled down to 20%.
Unicef records also show that 100 000 children live in households that are headed by children as a direct result of the Aids epidemic.
Before the lifting of the ban, Unicef regional director Per Engebak said orphans were the country’s most desperate citizens. He said “1,3million orphans are suffering like never before” since they were denied access to health care, HIV support, education assistance and food.
Though the government lifted the ban last week, normal operations of humanitarian agencies will take a long time to resume.
Narrating his ordeal, Tichaona said he was left to look after himself by relatives following a disagreement over the inheritance of his parents’ property.
“My grandparents in Masvingo wanted me to live with them and sell everything that my parents left. I told them that I did not want that, instead I wanted someone to come and stay with me, but they refused. It’s now two years since I last saw them,” remembers Tichaona.
As he prepared for the third school term, Tichaona aims at working hard to improve on his grades.
“I don’t remember what position I was last term,” he giggles. “But I passed four subjects out of eight and I am good at mathematics, science and Shona. I wish I could get food and clothes. There were people who used to give me these things but they just stopped. I also need maize seed and fertiliser to prepare for the rainy season,” he said.
Volunteer caregiver Sympathy Munemo who works with Family Aids Caring Trust (FACT) and helps orphans around Sedze area, said a number of orphaned children like Tichaona were greatly affected by the ban on NGO operations.
Munemo said: “There are roughly 100 orphans who fend for themselves in this area after their parents passed away due to HIV and Aids. As a home-based caregiver, I have known Tichaona since his parents fell ill. He has been a strong and hard working boy but he greatly needs assistance.
“The past months have been difficult for us to help some of these children. Sometimes we would go out of our way and give them the little food we had at our homes. The children have been getting assistance from the circle’s social support but the help is limited, some of these NGOs have been helping a lot.”
Gladys Makombe, a healthy-looking woman who has been living positively with the HIV virus for 17 years and actively involved in home-based care in the Panguwawa village under Chief Hwata, said the ban had increased the shortage of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), food and access to health kits.
She said: “We no longer have access to health kits. As a result, we are subsidising them with empty sugar packets, which are slowly becoming scarce and sometimes we have to do the cleaning with our bare hands which is not healthy. We did not harvest much last season and we have been relying more on NGOs for food and it (the ban) has made it difficult to feed our patients,” said Makombe.
“The shortages of ARVs in government hospitals and even among some of the NGOs have been my greatest concern. Some agencies would help us to access the very few ARVs available. The inconsistency in the supply caused by the ban affected some of the patients we looked after. We however have our own garden with different kinds of herbs that we use to treat ourselves.”
Young Tichaona and Makombe are victims of brash political decisions which have become the hallmark of governance in Zimbabwe. The two have survived this moment of madness by politicians but many did not.
By Wongai Zhangazha