BY BOKANI MUDIMBA
VICTORIA FALLS — The Covid-19 pandemic has remodelled livelihoods, with some citizens engaging in risky activities to eke a living and provide for their families.
In tourism communities, Victoria Falls residents mainly lost their jobs beginning last year when the country effected the first 30-day lockdown.
Shylet Buta says losing her job as a waiter at a local hotel left her with no option but to engage in smuggling goods from neighbouring Zambia.
She says the trade is a matter of life and death.
“I used to be a casual waiter at a hotel, and that gave me enough to take care of my son as I could buy food, clothes, pay our rent and send him to school. We were among the first group to have our contracts terminated in April (2020), and since then, I have been surviving by the grace of God,” Buta says.
Buta rents a single room with her son, who is supposed to start Form One.
Her son was one of the many in Victoria Falls whose school fees were being paid through a bursary sourced by a local tour operating company from tourists, but the donors have pulled out due to the pandemic. For Buta, selling second-hand clothes was the only fallback plan.
However, she has to risk contracting Covid-19 or drowning in the Zambezi River.
The government recently relaxed some lockdown restrictions, but borders remain closed, meaning tourism is still grounded.
“A friend introduced me to the salahula (second-hand clothes) business. She told me they were crossing using canoes in Chisuma, and for some time, I was hesitant because I am scared of deep water,” says Buta.
“I later told myself I had to do it because my son has to go to Form One. The risk of crossing the flooded Zambezi River is better than dying of hunger and my son failing to go to school,” Buta says.
Zambezi River is at its highest as water inflows have increased significantly to more than 1,209 cubic metres per second compared to the same period last year (677m3/s), according to the Zambezi River Authority. The Rafting Association of Zimbabwe (RAZ) says such water levels are dangerous even for guided rafting.
“Naturally, we would have closed rafting because sailing the river downstream the Victoria Falls is dangerous with this level,” said Skinner Ndlovu, RAZ chair.
*This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a nonprofit news organisation that produces hard-hitting, hyperlocal reporting and analysis for the southwestern region of Matabeleland.