Cyclone Idai: Lessons about self-reliance

Nobleman Runyanga Correspondent
In mid-March, Zimbabwe together with Malawi and Mozambique fell victim to the violent and destructive Cyclone Idai which killed hundreds of people and left thousands displaced in these three southern African countries.

The disaster befell Zimbabwe at a time when she is in the throes of rebuilding her economy following nearly two decades of regression under former president Robert Mugabe’s policies and go-to-hell diplomacy.

This placed Government in a very difficult position as it is normally expected to swiftly move in with all the requisite funding, manpower and equipment necessary to handle a calamity of this magnitude.

Those who are quick to seize events to criticise from comfortable armchairs had a field day. So too did those who seek to wring political capital even out of such sad situations.

Notwithstanding the generous assistance from various countries and global organisations, Zimbabwean individuals and corporates demonstrated unparalleled love by giving in various forms to the disaster cause.

The country is going through a rough patch economically and, consequently, most people do not have much to spare, but they still found something from their closets, purses, pockets and pantries to donate to the victims of the cyclone, most of whom had nothing left except for the clothes on their backs.

Companies went beyond the perfunctory corporate social responsibility initiatives and donated abundantly.

The unity in adversity which was demonstrated by most progressive Zimbabweans as Government tackled the challenges brought by Cyclone Idai is very instructive on how we can deal with challenges as a nation.

It proved that it is possible to put aside our differences and deal with problems at hand.

It also indicated that where we have folded our hands in the past and expected Government to do everything, we can team up and provide our experience, assets, labour and time to solve some of our challenges, with Government providing guidance as was the case in Chimanimani.

Companies such as Border Timbers did not have to wait for the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing to cart coffins from Harare to bury the dead. It made use of the timber at hand to provide coffins for the burial of the dead on time.

Yes, those who love to criticise came out guns blazing, blaming Government for burying cyclone victims in what they termed crude coffins.

Those with a spirit of gratitude and appreciation will forever be grateful to companies such as Border Timbers who chipped in at a critical time with what they had to save the situation.

Last month, Lafarge Cement invited artisans such as architects and engineers to help in its Rebuild Chimanimani and Chipinge project under which it is set to supply unquantified cement for the reconstruction of infrastructure in the affected areas of the two districts.

Despite being literally encamped in Chimanimani for weeks now, companies such as Econet and Old Mutual have teamed up with others such as United Refineries, Cassava Smartech, Liquid Telecom, Miracle Missions and Vinal Investments to come up with the Reboot Fund initiative to mobilise financial resources to the tune of RTGS$100 million to rebuild the lives of the over 250 000 people who were affected in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces.

They are also looking at rebuilding the over 2 000 houses which were destroyed or partially destroyed, 144 business as well as the 48 schools that were destroyed among other needs.

These initiatives have brought to the fore the lesson that as Zimbabweans, we do not always have to wait for Government to tackle our challenges. Yes, there are limitations in terms of which challenges society can initiate solutions.

There are challenges which communities cannot tackle owing to issues such as legislation, but where societies can do their part such as moulding bricks in preparation for Government or donor-funded school classroom projects, that is the way to go.

The Reboot Fund brings to mind other similar projects such as the Save Our Hospitals initiative, which was set up by journalist and filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono last month to spearhead the resourcing of Harare, Parirenyatwa, Mpilo, Chitungwiza and United Bulawayo Hospitals.

The initiative, which is being led by people such as former Harare Mayor Ben Manyenyeni, retired Anglican Bishop Chad Gandiya, London-based HIV specialist Dr Charles Mazhude, lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and banker Pindie Nyandoro, is mobilising hospital consumables for the five referral hospitals.

Instead of taking to Twitter in ivory tower offices to criticise Government for the challenges facing the people of the provinces affected by Cyclone Idai or the shortage of drugs and consumables in hospitals, the companies and citizens involved in the Reboot Fund and the Save Our Hospitals initiatives realised that they can do something to assist.

They are prepared to roll up their sleeves and serve the people together with Government.

One is not surprised that United Refineries is involved in the Reboot Fund. This is because its chief executive officer Busisa Moyo is sold to the notion that society in general and industry in particular should not wait for Government, even for certain things which they can do by themselves.

When other industrialists were beating a path to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s door for foreign currency to import raw materials, Moyo said that in his industry, what was required was not foreign currency, but soya beans.

Yes, Government was funding the growing of soya beans to boost supplies to both oil expressers and livestock manufacturers, but he knew that industry could also come in and do its bit to secure raw materials without having to press the RBZ for foreign currency at a time that the central bank has other pressing areas of need such as fuel and medical drug importation.

United Refineries, therefore, teamed up with funding partners last year to roll out the Soya Bean Alliance Outgrowers’ (SOBAO) programme, which has so far registered 3 300 hectares as of this season, against a target of 7 500 hectares.

The company is working with stockfeed manufacturer, National Foods, and financial institutions such as Agribank, CBZ Bank and FBC Bank.

The foregoing cases amply demonstrate that we can do more as a nation if are prepared to work for our country, instead of waiting for Government for everything.

Yes, we need investors, but they should find our companies prepared to work by already doing what they can instead of waiting for them.

United Refineries’ initiative ensures that the company remains operational and investors are likely to be prepared to invest in a company which is operational than one that ceased operations long back citing lack of foreign currency.

The same applies to communities. Donor and Government programmes would yield better results if community members are prepared to put in some work in projects in their areas.

When it comes to the challenges that we are facing as a nation, no one should be more committed to solving them than ourselves.

International credit lines and other forms of assistance will make it easier to turn around our economy, but in the absence of our own work, the assistance will not do it all by itself for us.

This behoves us to support initiatives such as the Reboot Fund, the Save Our Hospitals and others materially, financially and even with one’s expertise.

It means participating in those grassroots projects in our neighbourhood as it is the collective sum of such initiatives that we move our country and nation forward.

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