IT is now over a month since tropical cyclone Dineo that was downgraded to a tropical storm hit the country on February 22 causing widespread destruction in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces leaving one person dead, hundreds homeless and a majority of areas impassable for rescue missions.
While other districts in Midlands province are now dry with people asking questions if the rainy season has gone- it is not the same for the Mberengwa villagers especially the 30 pupils stuck at Mataga and Muketi High schools since they cannot go back to their homesteads because the rivers are still flooded while bridges have been destroyed and roads impassable.
Tropical storm Dineo left a trail of destruction that saw three vital bridges namely Chizungu-Phonex, Zverenje and Chegato-Jeka bridges collapsed under strain from a flooded Mwenezi River cutting off Mataga area and Ward 25 on the border with Mwenezi District in which Muketi High School is located.
As a result, 30 pupils- day scholars who are attending school at Mataga and Muketi High schools were marooned at their respective schools because of flooding which was made worse by the destruction of the vital bridges.
According to the District Administrator Mr White Nkoma- since Mataga High School has boarding facilities, they advised the school to make room for the seven pupils and also provided food aid and blankets for the affected pupils.
On the other hand, Muketi High School has no boarding facility since it is a day school and the only alternative for the 23 pupils was to find accommodation or refuge in neighbouring villagers’ homesteads.
And that wasn’t easy, said Mr Nkoma.
For the seven pupils at Mataga High School and 23 at Muketi High School, they can’t wait for schools to close on April 6 so that they are reunited with their relatives and friends whom they last saw on February 22.
A Chronicle news crew visited Mataga High School and saw a sorry state of affairs brought about by tropical storm Dineo.
The school with about 1000 students still doesn’t have electricity meaning there is no running water because electricity is used to pump water from boreholes.
When the bridges were swept away, water systems were also contaminated; power lines swept away putting Chegato Clinic, and the two schools in compete darkness.
As a result, school authorities are forced to look for water at Mataga Growth Point some 20km away.
For the seven pupils from form one to form six, they are now tired of staying at the school living on borrowed clothes, food and time.
Speaking to the Chronicle on condition of anonymity since they are not allowed to comment by the school authorities who are in turn not allowed to comment by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, they said life has not been the same.
“I stay in ward 18 which is about 4km from my school. After the cyclone hit the district on February 22, a bridge I use to go home was destroyed and the rivers were flooded. Without any form of notice, we were told that we can’t go back home. It’s now over a month and I miss my family members. Now we are being told that we will only go home after schools close. I just can’t take it anymore,” said one of the pupils shedding a tear.
Another pupil said they had been forced to accept second hand clothes from fellow pupils before the government chipped in with blankets and food aid.
“Yes we are safe, yes we are sleeping, eating and attending school very well but the fact remains that we are here involuntarily. We miss our relatives and friends,” he said.
The Chronicle failed to reach Muketi High School because the roads are now impassable because of the floods which also destroyed bridges.
Said Mr Nkoma: “The thirty pupils that were cut off from their homesteads are still at their respective high schools. Seven pupils are at Chegato and 23 are at Muketi. The government has ordered that those at Chegato be kept there while those attending school at Muketi and had sought refuge in nearby homesteads stay there until the end of the first term. It is for their safety because the bridges they cross going to and from school namely Chizungu-Phonex, Zverenje and Chegato-Jeka bridges which are all along Mwenezi River were destroyed.”
“The bridges have seen communities being cut off from schools, clinics and this has resulted in the marooning of pupils from their homesteads. We have seven day scholars who can’t go back to their homesteads because of impassable roads, flooded rivers and bridges that were destroyed. These pupils have not been back to their families since February 22. Travelling to and from their homesteads is impossible because of the long distance involved in bypassing the destroyed bridges. So the best thing is keeping them safe at schools.”
Mr Nkoma said the government had chipped in by providing food aid and blankets for the pupils to use while under the shelter of their school and respective homesteads.
He said they had moved from villages where they had initially sought shelter.
With the first term ending on April 6, Mr Nkoma said government will continue monitoring the situation for the safety of the pupils.
“Mberengwa received so much rain this time around and whenever there are showers, water levels rise in rivers. Last week a village head called Mr Josiah Nyengere Hove was swept away by floods on March 22 and his body was recovered on March 24. This shows that the rivers are still dangerous especially for school children to cross,” he said.
Because of the damage to the bridges, Mr Nkoma said Mberengwa District had been cut off from other areas adding that villagers have no access to either health facilities or schools.
Villagers called on the government to build new infrastructure for them which include new schools, proper roads and bridges.
“We know things are not well economically but we call on the government to regard this district and other areas which suffered the same fate as ours with special treatment in terms of the reconstruction programme so that our livelihood returns to normal,” said Mr Mark Ncube at Mberengwa centre.
The Minister of State for Provincial Affairs Cde Jason Machaya said the government was working tirelessly to provide basic needs for the affected villagers and pupils.
“While Mberengwa District is still wet to today and some rivers still flooded, the situation is different from other districts in the province like Gokwe where they are now crying for rains for their crops to do well. Mberengwa has been an exception and efforts are underway to make the roads usable and to repair the bridges and government has availed some money towards that,” he said.
According to some reports, at least 251 people died, 128 were injured, 1 576 stranded while 1 985 were displaced after the floods which President Mugabe declared a state of disaster.