MWENEZI — A strong stench of human waste engulfs the massive transit camp with big green flies hovering all over the small white and blue tents.
Scantily dressed children run around the muddy area, oblivious of the health risk they expose themselves to.
Their parents, most of them equally barefoot, troop into the nearby bush to collect firewood, take a bath or answer the call of nature.
Very few use the makeshift toilets that are available because they are wet, slippery and too dirty. The incessant rains have not made the situation inside these small toilets any better.
A few metres away, an enterprising villager is selling soft drinks and food while another one is charging cellphones using a car battery for a fee.
Welcome to Chingwizi transit Camp in Naunetsi Ranch where thousands of families displaced by floods around the Tokwe-Mukosi dam basin have been moved to and are now accommodated in small “fragile” tents provided by charitable organisations.
They have a poorly resourced make-shift school — shunned by most of the camp dwellers on account of its distance and usefulness — and a clinic which is supposed to cater for the health needs of more than 8 000 people camped at the site.
More people continue to arrive at the camp everyday as water levels around the Tokwe-Mukosi basin continue to rise.
However, life has become unbearable for the people living at the camp. Children and women, particularly those that are pregnant are the worst affected.
Virginia Gandoweri, who is almost due for delivery, said nurses at the clinic had advised her that she would need to go to Masvingo because they feared she would develop complications since it was her first pregnancy.
But she might not be able to raise the required bus fare as most of her property, including her little savings, were washed away by floods. Needless to say, the makeshift clinic has no ambulance.
“They [nurses] are afraid that there could be complications as this is my first pregnancy and I might need an operation, so I have to go to a bigger hospital,” said Gandoweri.
Esnath Muzenda (54) said most people at the camp no longer had morals as life had become a “survival of the fittest affair”.
“Literally, it is a jungle out here. We bath in the open, and some men come to actually peep at you as you take a bath. They [men] also bath in the bush as well,” said Muzenda as she cuts a tree branch to support her tent.
She added: “The toilets are few, overwhelmed and dirty. So we find it better and safer to use bush toilets. There is no privacy here . . . we also face water shortages.”
Muzenda, originally from Gunikuni area in Village 11B, said she had to endure the burden of pitching tents and looking for poles — a task usually expected of men in traditional Zimbabwean society — because her only son remained at Gunikuni transit camp looking after their five head of cattle awaiting transportation to Chingwizi.
The widow came along with her daughter-in-law and five grandchildren.
“I have to do everything by myself . . . no one can come and help me. I have to pitch the tent before dusk or else I will sleep in the open and get pounded by the rains like what happened on the day we arrived here. There were no tents, so we slept in the open, and my grandchildren caught a cold and are all ill as I speak,” she said.
Muzenda fears that there could be an outbreak of diseases due to overcrowding. The tents are barely two metres apart.
“We are living like rats here. The place is overcrowded. The next tent is less than a metre away, it is like a refugee camp here,” she said as she wipes sweat from her brow.
Children are the most affected. Young children have since stopped attending school because they cannot walk six kilometres to the nearest makeshift school.
“They do not even know where the school is. It’s very far and there are just poles and a tent and the roof leaks when rain falls,” said Muzenda.
It is estimated that there are over 900 school-going pupils at the camp, both of primary and secondary school going ages.
Runhindi Mazhazhate (40) from Chihuku Village under Chief Nyajena, who also lost most of her property to the floods, said the villagers were staring at a health timebomb.
She appealed to the government to swiftly allocate plots to the affected families so that they could start rebuilding their lives.
“We are very crowded here and diseases are likely to break out. We appeal to government to quickly allocate us plots so that we can live a better life,” she said. “We cannot cook when it is raining, and our kids sometimes sleep on empty stomachs.”
Mazhazhate said apart from destroying her household property, the floods also washed away her promising maize crop. She also suspected that her goats were either swept away or stolen when they were evacuated.
“Our crops were at tussling stage, we could have harvested, but the floods wreaked havoc. Although we are receiving food hand-outs, it is very boring because we are limited to the same diet,” she said. “They should give us plots where we have space to grow our vegetables other than buy from vendors who are frequenting here from as far as Triangle and making a killing, capitalising on our desperate situation.”
Enoch Chipfuwa (80) from Sekenya Village under Chief Shumba said the Tokwe-Mukosi dam project, which he thought was the panacea to the hunger problem in Masvingo province, had turned out to be a curse.
Chipfuwa had a five roomed house, one of the best in the area by rural standards, but he is now living in a small tent. His wife has sought sanctuary in Masvingo town.
“I came alone because my wife and grandchildren have sought refuge in Masvingo town,” said Chipfuwa. “But I had to come for documentation processes because I feared that we would not be allocated a plot. It pains me a lot to do the cooking and washing the dishes alone, at my age. It also pains me to realise that all that I had worked for was swept away by the floods.”
Several government ministers have visited the camp with promises of a better life for the victims, but the situation has remained dire. Among them are Vice-President Joice Mujuru, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Lands minister, Douglas Mombeshora.
Mombeshora said government had started demarcating and pegging about 60 000 hectares at Nuanetsi Ranch to resettle the affected families. He said the pegging would be completed by April, if funds permitted. About US$320 000 is required for the task.
“We are looking at between 56 000 to 60 000 hectares that will be pegged and demarcated by our teams in preparation for the construction of permanent homes and other facilities for the Tokwe-Mukosi families,” said Mombeshora.