BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
Without even narrating her ordeal, Ndubeko Muzamba’s blood-flecked eyes told a story of sorrow and suffering.
Aged 24 and with three young children aged below 13, Muzamba said at one point she accepted she was going to breathe her last with her children.
Muzamba said she was waist-deep in the fast rising water levels as violent rains relentlessly pounded Nsungulwe village under Chief Sinakoma in Binga, Matabeleland North, early this month.
“It was terrifying… I thought I was going to be swept away with my three kids,” she said.
“It seemed like ages with my baby [aged three] strapped on the back, and another [aged four] in the front while clutching the eldest [aged 13] as we moved from one area to the next to avoid being swept away by the water, while at the same time the rains were unrelenting.”
Like many in the poverty-hit underdeveloped and marginalised district, Muzamba was left with nothing as her home was swept away during the flash floods that displaced several families and killed one.
Poverty and hunger-stricken villagers lost their belongings that included crops and household property.
Several homes were destroyed while infrastructure such as Chininga Bridge linking Siabuwa and Binga centre was extensively damaged.
The rain-triggered disaster came as the villagers were trying to recover from a prolonged and severe drought that saw the government declare hunger a national disaster.
Food monitoring agencies say as much as seven million Zimbabweans are food-insecure owing to the vagaries of weather and the climate change-induced drought.
When the rains started, villagers were busy planting, hopeful of bountiful harvests to meet their food needs.
Now millions of planted crops have been destroyed, with the affected victims facing chronic food shortages.
Petros Kembo, a village head at the Nsungulwe area, said he was helpless over how he would feed his family in the coming weeks after his five bags of maize were swept away.
“We cannot rely on food handouts we received after the floods that hit the area,” a dejected Kembo said.
Citizens of Bulawayo and Victoria Falls donated mealie meal, clothing and other basics to the flash flood victims now housed in tents where ablution facilities are questionable..
Kembo added: “My five bags of maize, planted crops, all my livestock of 40 chickens and 10 goats were also swept away.”
The pattern of unpredictable and violent rains is now becoming commonplace in Zimbabwe.
Just weeks before the Binga flash floods, the same violent rains had caused infrastructure damage in Hwange, also in the same province.
Affected villagers questioned the government’s sincerity to relocate them, and provide them with decent shelter.
Poverty is also to blame for the high prevalence of child marriages in Binga, the villagers said.
The country has ratified several conventions to end child marriages such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and the 2008 African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
In 2016, the Constitutional Court outlawed child marriages.
The ruling includes marriages under the Customary Marriages Act which had previously not had a minimum age requirement.
However, the ruling has done little to eradicate the vice where customary law has been allowed to override formal law in Binga.
Villagers here cited high poverty levels, lack of education, gender inequality and traditional customs as some of the reasons that had resulted in high prevalence of child marriages.
“It is no secret that this government treats us as non-Zimbabweans, and expecting them to provide us with decent houses as they promised is a waste of time,” said one of the flood victims who did not want to be named fearing being sidelined in the provision of shelter, basics among other social amenities.
Binga North legislator Prince Dubeko Sibanda also seemed to question government’s capacity to provide basic housing services to the victims.
This is because the government has been failing to provide permanent housing facilities in Tsholotsho where floods displaced as much as 800 families in 2017.
“I want to acknowledge that currently most of the needs of the people that were affected by the flooding have been met save for accommodation.
“As a result, the victims of the floods are still staying with relatives because there is nothing that has been provided for them to be accommodated temporarily,” Dubeko-Sibanda appealed to fellow Parliamentarians on Tuesday.
“I, therefore, propose Honourable Speaker [Jacob Mudenda] that if each Member of this House can contribute a bag of cement and one IBR sheet, we can construct at least two roomed houses for over 50 households that lost their homes due to flooding.”
The Civil Protection Unit (CPU) once again came under the spotlight after failing to relocate the villagers in time despite the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) issuing a warning about the violent storms in Binga.
Disaster preparedness and response remains dismal, post-disaster coordination is haphazard with no resources to handle the humanitarian crises that accompany such calamities, despite the cycle of extreme weather disasters becoming all too certain.
Last year, the CPU was blamed for poor disaster management after it failed to take measures to prepare for and reduce the effects of Cyclone Idai, which killed hundreds, and displaced thousands in the country.
In April 2019, Bulawayo human rights’ activist Khumbulani Maphosa petitioned the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to investigate the CPU after accusing the disaster management agency of incompetence; omission and failure after Cyclone Idai hit the country.
“From a special extreme weather fund, increasing human power and skills to handle these disasters in time and frequent and coordinated updates on possible and extreme variations of climate, the CPU needs to put its house in order when dealing with weather vagaries that are hitting home now more than ever,” Maphosa said last week.
Acting secretary for the Local Government and Public Works ministry Christopher Shumba admitted the CPU needs to be capacitated to timeously respond to such disasters.
“Long-term measures include capacitation of all civic protection organisations such as the Airforce of Zimbabwe, sub aqua unit and department of civil protection with all-weather equipment in order to timeously respond to vagaries of climate change,” Shumba said in the aftermath of the flash floods.
Until then, Muzamba said she hopes government will provide them with basics to help rebuild their lives.
“We pray that government keeps its promise to help us rebuild our lives,” she said.