Zimbabwe Floods Leave Villagers Stranded
Musa Ndlovu, 97, Sehelo Msebele, 35, and Siphiwenkosi Ndlovu, 20, are standing at the bank of a fast-flowing river. The three women are preparing to return home after a day spent grinding maize.
But since heavy rainfall triggered by Tropical Storm Dineo, which left a trail of destruction across parts of southern Africa, damaged the bridge that crossed the Hovi River, that has meant wading and swimming through the river’s brown water.
For the women live in the village of Sibhula, a remote settlement that is home to 1,000 people, 550km south-west of the capital, Harare, and which for more than three weeks has been trapped by two flooded rivers that run parallel to it; the Hovi and the Maleme.
Malamulela Ncube, 17, steps forward as one of the women balances a sack of ground maize on his shoulder. He wades through the river to return the sack to their village.
He will do the same thing with the three remaining sacks.
As he places the fourth on his shoulder, the three women follow his lead, hiking up their skirts and dipping their shoeless feet into the river. One by one, they wade in. Joining hands, they move in a curved line that pushes against the current. At times they fall backwards into the water, but they get up again and keep on moving until they reach the other side.
Driven by desperation, the villagers must gamble with the waters, swimming against the rapid currents, to go in search of food, medicine and other basic necessities.
The army has airdropped two flood relief consignments into Sibhula which included maize grain – but the villagers must cross the river to reach the grinding mill.
A perilous crossing
The three women have each ground 20kg of maize, the country’s staple, into mealie meal. Sebele hopes to feed her family of five for up to two weeks on the cornmeal by carefully rationing it into two meals a day – porridge in the morning and sadza, a thicker, doughy version eaten as a main meal.
But once the two weeks are up, Sebele and Ndlovu say they are willing to cross the river again if the bridge has not been fixed.
“People are crying with this water, they don’t know what to do,” says Ndlovu. “The hospital and the granding mill are on the other side of the river.
“We’ll have nothing to eat [if we do not cross],” the 97-year-old adds. “It’s dangerous to cross the water like this, but there’s nothing we can do, we need to survive.”
She is aware of the risk she is taking. But, like Sebele, she feels it’s riskier not to cross.
The flooding of the rivers has also affected the community’s livelihood as many depend on subsistence farming and vending to make a living. For close to a month, Sebele, who normally sells her vegetables in Makwe Business Centre, the adjacent rural settlement on the ‘mainland’, has been unable to make a living.