By Tawanda Mudimu
While the rains that pounded most parts of the country came as a boon, for residents of Nyatsime this has been both a blessing and a curse.
Their lives are at risk as they have to cross crocodile-infested Nyatsime River on foot.
Daily, children have to brave themselves to cross the river at the risk of losing both life and limb in order to reach schools in the neighbouring high-density suburbs of Zengeza, St Mary’s and Seke in Chitungwiza.
So life-threatening and dire is this situation that enterprising individuals have capitalised on this situation to earn cash by charging a nominal fee in order to carry the children across the river to the other side.
When the river is flooded, some children skip classes while they wait for the river to subside.
The crocodile population in the river is believed to be on the increase, with stories of close encounters with the reptiles or just sightings.
The scary predators are known to be shrewd and deceitful since they can waylay their prey in the murky waters until they make their surprise attack.
A leading crocodile expert Grahame Webb says: “For every crocodile you can see, there are ten you can’t”.
With education being a basic right for every Zimbabwean, children have no choice but to be at school, and the only way to access school for some is often crossing the flooded Nyatsime River around this time of the year.
“I love school but I have to be brave to cross this crocodile-infested river,” said a grade two pupil, Angella Martini as she stood by the river bank pondering whether to cross or go back home.
“I am always afraid whenever I get to this river because the bridge often gets submerged especially after heavy rains.
“The council should do something about this situation or we risk losing our lives in this area.”
She hopes that one day the bridge will be repaired.
“I would be very happy if the bridge was repaired because it will reduce our danger. Children and everyone are concerned about the risk of losing their lives especially when crossing this river on a daily basis in order to attend school.
“Once it’s repaired, I will concentrate more on my studies since there won’t be any need for me to be terrified of crocodiles.”
Angella recalls one day when she failed to return home on time. Her parents were worried.
“The river was overflowing; I couldn’t dare to cross it. My parents were alarmed after they failed to reach me on my mobile phone on the day in question,” she said.
“They spent the whole night searching for me and the whole neighbourhood was baffled at my disappearance. They carried out a long search for me fearing that maybe I had fallen prey to the crocodiles. Although they finally found me, it was quite frightening.”
Every difficult situation breeds its own share of opportunists who cash in on it to make money.
Touts are now carrying the children across the flooded river for a fee.
Their presence has brought mixed feelings from parents and the children alike.
Some have praised them for their resourcefulness while others are still concerned about the level of risk.
Some girls fear sexual harassment by touts while others fear drowning if things go wrong whilst being carried.
Touts say they should not fear and that they are only helping them to cross the river and earn something in the process.
They charge 50 cents for their services and on a good day, they can make something like $20 or more.
“Remember, most of us are also parents, and what we are doing is to only help our children to cross safely so that they can be at school with others,” said one tout, who identified himself as Lucky.
“Some of the parents or guardians are too old to help the minors cross to the other side, so this is part of our social obligation and responsibility to ensure that lives are not lost either through drowning or from attacks by crocodiles.”
This problem emerged after people bought residential stands from Chitungwiza Town Council in Nyatsime around 2007/ 2008.
Promises to improve the infrastructure in the area have gone unfulfilled, with the bridge lying in a sorry state for years, thus risking the lives of many.
“Nothing tangible has come from these politicians with regards to the construction of a proper bridge. We are currently relying on a makeshift structure put up by concerned residents to help the community,” lamented one resident who only identified himself as Gogodera.
“I only charge 50 cents. I’m trying to make a living by helping children cross the flooded river. I’m saving lives, yet someone somewhere in the council offices is rocking in a leather chair doing nothing for the residents, who are the ratepayers,” said Gogodera.
“They can afford to relax because their children are enrolled at elite schools, while we the poor are sacrificing the little that we have to give our children an education and also put food on the table,” he said.
Children often miss school whenever the river gets flooded.
“The bottom line is that we need a proper bridge in Nyatsime, no stories,” said Gogodera as he went about his business of helping kids to cross the flooded river.
Chitungwiza Town Council spokesperson Lovemore Meya acknowledged that the river posed a threat but declined to give further details saying the matter was before the courts.
“We are aware of the challenges besetting Nyatsime residents regarding the construction of a proper bridge in their area. Let me explain that as Chitungwiza Town Council we cannot comment because there is a court interdict,” he said.
Sometime in 2015, a minor was mauled by a crocodile while attempting to cross Nyatsime River.
He was attempting to cross the river with his mother.
The brave mother however, managed to wrestle the monster and saved the child’s life from its jaws, a situation which raised panic in the area.
Residents are now appealing to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to put measures in place to contain the crocodile menace.
Statistics indicate that crocodile attacks contribute to human mortalities annually than most other creatures, with wildlife ecologist, James Perran Ross of the University of Florida, saying crocodile are 100 times deadlier than sharks.