WHEN Takemore Mufuya from Chimanimani’s Veremu Village in ward 21, woke up on 14 March 2019 around 10pm, she heard heavy sounds from the nearby mountain and thought several haulage trucks were driving down the road but she wondered how it was possible, given that it was raining.
The dust road was slippery whenever it rained.
When she opened the curtain, she saw what seemed to be recurring lightning strikes in the thick darkness but wondered why there were no thunder reverberations accompanying the lightning.
At that point, the rains were pounding even harder.
A few minutes later, her neighbour knocked violently while enquiring why Mafuya and her family were still inside their house when some nearby homes had been swept away by raging waters of what was to be later known as Cyclone Idai.
The noise she was hearing was coming from mudslides and heavy boulders descending from the mountain.
What she had thought were silent lightning strikes were actually flashes from big rocks knocking against each other as they descended the mountain at high speed powered by rain and heavy wind.
“I quickly grabbed a blanket, wrapped my youngest child and carried her on my back and held another kid with my hand. My husband then hand-held our six-year old child and went out to start escaping. When we were walking towards the higher land, the soil had already loosened and it seemed like earth was going to swallow us,” Mafuka explained during a recent workshop held in Mutare organised by the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) led by Farai Maguwu.
The workshop was organised in conjunction with CNRG’s TaCCET partners to commemorate the deaths and losses incurred four years ago by Chimanimani community members during Cyclone Idai.
TaCCET stands for Tackling Climate Change and Energy Transitions Project (TaCCET-Zim). It is a climate justice consortium whose members are: – Reyna Trust, Environmental Buddies, MACRAD, Young Entrepreneurs Trust, Green Governance, WONECA and CNRG which plays a coordinating role.
Mafuka continued narrating : “We kept on walking and we finally reached the police station where people had gathered. After a short while we were told to start escaping as the place had been surrounded by water. A rope was laid for us to use in crossing from the police station. I held it tight but while in the middle I was swept away and fell on my back with my body going on top of the child I was carrying. We were swept for several metres and my child was separated from me and washed away.”
“I kept praying while being washed away and after some kilometres I got stuck in a bush. I remained there the whole night until the next morning…” she said before breaking into tears.
After she broke down, Mafuka’s colleague then revealed to the workshop participants that besides losing her child, she also lost her husband that night and their bodies were never recovered.
The NewsHawks has since learnt that in spite of the increasing severity of the climate crisis, there is no dedicated fund in Zimbabwe to support psychological programmes for the survivors of disasters such as Cyclone Idai.
Additionally, disadvantaged people did not receive adequate assistance to adapt. There has been no trauma healing for the survivors.
The communities still believe there is a gap since some individuals are still battling the trauma.
Need for psyco-social support
Hilda Tendeukai (23), from ward 15 Ngangu Village, Chimanimani, the epicentre of the cyclone, also expressed the need for psycho-social support.
“When Cyclone Idai devastated Chimanimani, I lost my best friend who was close to me, and I was traumatised as a result. We had shared dreams that were destroyed. The cyclone also washed away our livelihoods. Because of the storm, I missed a few weeks of school as a student, which reduced my studying time and negatively impacted my grades that year,” Tendeukai said, adding: “Psycho-social support is still needed. We still fear any weather phenomenon that looks like it’s going to rain. We feel much must be done along that line for us to mentally recover from the effects of the cyclone disaster and move on with our lives.”
Families of victims, survivors compensation
Survivors and families of victims of Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani have since started demanding compensation from the government for the painful losses.
The families and survivors said the government ought to have protected them from the disaster, hence the need for compensation.
Although the government was aware of the impending disaster, nothing was done to evacuate the people to safe places. Even during the disaster, no help was rendered to rescue people. Women spoke of spending hours precariously clinging onto trees.
Some who could have survived in the first few hours of the disaster eventually succumbed as the relentless torrent, comprising mud and boulders, pulverised everything in its path.
Mary Chirwa (47), a resident of from Ngangu Village in Chimanimani, said she lost her husband, who was the family’s breadwinner and a nine-year-old child, hence her demand for compensation.
“I lost my child who was stuck on my back and my husband too as we tried to cross the waters using a rope. It was a very painful loss and have no one to take care of me and my children now because we lost the breadwinner. It is for that cause that I feel the government must compensate me for these lifetime losses,” Chirwa said.
Elizabeth Tashinga, another survivor of the cyclone, said she broke her limbs and had to be treated using money from her church coffers as the government did not provide support for her medical expenses.
“I feel the government must therefore compensate me for the medical expenses I incurred. I am not alone in that situation and my call is for compensation for all people affected by the cyclone. That is the general feeling in Chimanimani, but we do not know where to go to demand this compensation,” Tashinga said.
Hardlife Nyika said he owned a poultry project of 50 chickens but all of them were consumed by people who were brought to his homestead from low-lying areas.
“I never received any compensation and I have a heavy heart. It was my belief that compensation would come from the government, but I got nothing. I strongly feel that the government must compensate me for the loss of my source of income while helping fellow villagers who were fleeing from the cyclone in low-lying areas,” Nyika said.
The Cyclone Idai disaster had apparent gendered effects which saw women and girls bear the heavy brunt of suffering due to their roles in the family and communities in Chimanimani.
The cyclone left behind nothing short of catastrophic damage in Zimbabwe, tearing apart lives, submerging villages, and destroying everything, but little has been said about the gendered effects of the natural disaster.
Brave mothers perished as they tried to cross flooded rivers with their children. One woman had a child swept from her back by torrents. She was carrying one child on her shoulders while holding another who got submerged and swept away.
“The disaster really affected us as women. In some cases, during Cyclone Idai the physical strength of men allowed them to survive compared to women.
Imagine the survival possibilities of a woman with a child on her back versus a man not carrying anything.
“The burden of caring for children during the disaster hugely depended on women,” said Rachel Mutongo (42) from ward 21 in the Kopa area of Chimanimani.
“Even after the cyclone when we were put in emergency camps, the burden to provide food, and clean and safe drinking water was a responsibility of women. Imagine sharing the same tent with four children and making sure that everyone is fed and safe.”
Women had no choice but to show leadership during the ill-fated night when hundreds perished in the darkness.
One mother narrated how she led her husband and children out of the house as water reached window level. She said she slowed down her family and instructed them to tip-toe as the water-soaked ground appeared like it wanted to open up and swallow them.
In Zimbabwe, nearly 17,000 households were displaced, and an estimated 1.4 million hectares of arable land, accounting for one-third of national agricultural production, was destroyed, affecting 50 000 people, the majority of whom were women, exacerbating already high levels of malnutrition.
Erica Matimaire (56), who lives in Ndima Village in ward 21 with her grandchildren, lamented how the cyclone took away her livelihood options as she used to have a small plantation of bananas, pineapples and oranges which were swept away.
The plantation was her main source of livelihood and she has not found another source of income since then. The other option available to her is artisanal mining which is the most dominant activity in the area.
Matimaire no longer has the physical strength to engage in artisanal mining, which she also says is very damaging to the environment.
“The cyclone destroyed our primary source of income. My small plot of land, where I had been growing fruits, got flooded. This had a significant impact on me as a small-scale farmer who lived from hand to mouth. I no longer have a source of income. If I was a man maybe I could switch to mining, but the job is mostly for men due to its physical energy requirements,” she said.
“We heavily relied on the money we made from selling these fruits, which helped us support and feed our families. The few handouts we received in the aftermath of the cyclone didn’t last very long, and now we are left on our own.”
In some instances, women drenched in the cyclone waters were stripped naked and men had to give them T-shirts to cover up during the rescue efforts. These experiences left many women traumatised.
After the cyclone, some young girls dropped out of school as families prioritised the schooling of boys.
Need for exhumations, closure on disaster
Maguwu told The NewsHawks that the cyclone left those with a lower income and less social capital unable to rebuild their lives.
“Chimanimani community revealed that Cyclone Idai has left deep scars in the community and hearts of the survivors which need special attention. Broken lives, broken bones and broken dreams define the horrific tales told by the survivors.
“Many bodies that washed up in Mozambique and buried there have not been repatriated back to Zimbabwe. The affected families, further impoverished by the cyclone, have no capacity to carry out the exhumations and repatriation.
“And yet to those in authority, there is an urgency to declare Cyclone Idai a closed chapter – fait accompli!” he said.
Climate crisis awareness campaigns
Maguwu further insisted on the need for climate crisis awareness campaigns in communities.
“Most of the survivors have no idea that climate disasters are caused by human actions – to a large extent burning of fossil fuels and carbon emissions and there is a need for awareness campaigns on this. There must be discussion on loss and damage and reparations. Building back better can only happen if there is finance and it is time those who emit the most are held accountable for their actions,” he said.