Home » General » Enterprise in Post-Flood Desolation [opinion]

Tents inscribed with names of funeral parlours are usually associated with death and grief. From different weather elements, they shelter mourners bidding farewell to a loved one.

In Chingwizi, Nuanetsi Ranch, where Tokwe Mukosi flood victims are temporarily housed, a huge Doves Funeral Services tent is used for something totally different.

It is a sanctuary of hope.

The tent has “retired” from the funeral business and now a workshop for 60 members of a sewing cooperative formed at the transit camp just three weeks ago.

It shelters cooperative members from the sweltering heat, temporarily “blanketing” them from the many challenges at Chingwizi.

It has also been “housing” their 10 sewing machines.

School uniforms, which seem not to have any buyers as yet, hang from the “belly” of the tent.

Demand for the uniforms is still low despite about 2 000 pupils at the newly set up Mlalo Primary and Secondary school attending classes wearing different kinds of uniforms.

Parents do not have any money yet, they say they are waiting for their compensation from Government.

If anything, other possible customers numbering 3 000 school children are also not in school and their uninterested parents have never asked for the price of the uniforms.

A few months back, fate dealt them a dark deck of cards when all they wanted was a winning hand in life.

It wasn’t in the cards — the floods were and they altered their lives to almost destitute. But under this tent, each sunrise comes with hope.

Jason Chiveza, the cooperative founder, was staying in 9B Chief Shumba area in the Tokwe Mukosi basin.

He has been a tailor for as long as he can remember, perfecting his craft by taking a course in dressmaking.

Before disaster struck, he plied his trade at Gunikuni shops. It was good business.

“I specialised in sewing school uniforms but also did other things as required by customers.

“All my children were in school, I could afford the basic needs in life.

“I had enough to eat and life was just normal,” he remembers.

At Chingwizi he found life abnormal — food, water shortages, and other social problems topping the list.

He did not know what to do with the 10 sewing machines he used back home and were now piled up in a corner of his small tent.

In his free time, he moved around the settlement which now hosts 3 000 families and observed women and men either spending time in queues, meetings or just sitting waiting for a new day.

This compelled him to do something, resulting in the birth of the Chingwizi sewing project.

“When I announced that I would start a sewing project 60 men and women both young and old joined.

“I just invited anyone whether they had any sewing knowledge or not.

“I pitched my idea to the local leadership who thought it was brilliant and allowed us to use the big Doves tent for the project,” he reveals.

Of the 60 cooperative members, 50 are women and the remainder men.

Youths make the bulk of women in the cooperative.

“Most of the people do not even know how to sew. We are patient and have been teaching them at each stage. They do not pay a single cent for the lessons. I do it out of love and also as a way of helping each other through our misery,” he adds.

He says, “We are also doing our part and pushing the indigenisation and empowerment drive championed by President Mugabe.

“If people put all their effort in the project, we shall be empowered and at least forget our worries.”

The project, he adds, will be done in their free time.

They have a solid work-plan, he reveals.

“Every member and the community will also realise that the future is bright. We were told that we shall be planting sugarcane which does not require a lot of time. So after farming, they will also come for lessons,” he added.

When the project flourishes, possibly in a few months, they plan to have a share structure, where each member will own a certain percentage, according to Chiveza.

This, he says, will make each person work hard since they have a sense of ownership.

They say they require more sewing machines, the 10 are not enough.

To make matters worse, some of the machines are not functioning properly and need regular repairs.

At least Chiveza can do some temporal repairs and temporarily manage the situation.

“We have a timetable when people now know when they should come. We teach 10 at a time,” he adds.

He also says they need materials in form of cloth and threads.

“We want to sell the school uniforms for US$5 a set so that every child goes to school. The same uniforms cost US$8 elsewhere,” he adds.

He also uses his funds to replace needles which are easily broken by his students.

So far, he says, government has given them a bale of elastics for their project.

He reveals he wants more support from Government, this time financial, so that they can teach more people and push their noble project ahead.

“Well wishers can also provide anything from materials to machines that use electricity. The ones we have are not proper for young girls, they take away their virginity,” he claims.

They also want to buy solar panels and inverters to power machines.

He also wants weaving machines so that the elderly women can weave jerseys.

The Tokwe Mukosi disaster has taught them that the future is never predictable.

Mrs Mashanja formerly of Zunga area is one of the volunteer teachers at the project.

She, too, was a tailor before she came to Chingwizi.

The little money she gets from sewing patches on and altering clothes is a relief to her relish worries.

“We have been getting clothes donations from well wishers. One might get an oversize pair of trousers that needs altering and some received torn clothes. So they are tricking to us for help,” she said attending to student.

Three hours of her day are spent under the big tent. The time is insufficient, she complains.

But she is happy, the money she gets each day at least buys a bundle of pumpkin leaves or green leafy vegetables from vendors who come from Triangle.

They want to minimise their dependency on food handouts, she adds.

Young men like Edmore Masimba (31), a polygamist, and student at the cooperative says sewing is the way out of his misery.

With three young wives and five children to feed, he has to quickly rebuild their life.

The food handouts he gets are never enough he has to look for more, but where is the problem.

His wives queue for supplementary feed handouts for their children and get 4kgs each.

An estimated 2 000 children under five have been assessed for nutritional status and five are currently admitted into the CMAM program ( O kwashiorkor case and four marasmus cases.)

At least their mornings are now less stressful, they will cook porridge for the kids.

A former market gardener, the move to Chingwizi has forced him to trade the hoe for sewing machine — a hard shift.

He thinks learning how to sew will help him earn some money as they wait to be allocated their new homes and given their compensation.

It will take a little bit of time, but he is on the right track.

He now knows how to thread a sewing machine and also how to sew a straight seam.

He is happy.

In a few weeks time, he hopes to learn more, his enthusiasm will drive him.

While others are joining the sewing cooperative, women like Edzerai Muzenda (28) formerly of Chivi under Chief Gororo goes to neighbouring Triangle where she does piece jobs in sugarcane fields.

She weeds 20 lines and gets US$10 whenever she is hired. But the piece jobs do not come easily, some days are bad and she returns home empty handed.

When she gets lucky, she uses the money to buy relish. It is never enough to cater for every other need. She says she is also planning to join the sewing cooperative, maybe her life will improve.

Maybe then, she will also be able to sleep properly because she has not had much of that luxury in the past month. She says she is stressed.

Minister of State for Masvingo Province, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti agrees.

He says some adults are showing extreme signs of stress because of idleness.

“You do not need to keep adults idle for a long time at a place like this. One, it is just painful for them some are showing signs of severe stress because of just sitting the whole day without doing work. Some are used to tilling their land and being engaged in one way or another. Sitting here is more than punishment of one in jail or prison. Coupled with that, when people have nothing, you have ladies complaining that they want to be closer to their husbands on daily and hourly basis. That kind of idleness is expressing itself in another way. When people are working in the fields and come back tired they know how to direct their energy. The idleness is one of our major worries,” he explained.

According to Bhasikiti, 1 800 people in level one have been compensated while others were still waiting for their turn.

He said US$8,6 million is needed for compensation.

“This is one area you will find our people complaining about because they have lost a lot of property and they have no fall back facility even if we put them in permanent stands, they need money to rebuild their lives,” he explained.

He said evaluation of homes of remaining 63 families is complete. The compensation was meant for mid June and July and allocation of resources was targeted for that period.

He said Government has challenges raising that kind of money within a month.

The money is coming from Treasury but they have asked donors to assist in other areas, he says.

He added: “As Zimbabweans and as a community we have come of age. Most support came from the corporate world, private companies, churches and individuals.

“There is little external support given here. While we are appealing to the donor community to help, I am happy local companies have been helping.”

In situations like these, one does not sleep. Even he has had little sleep since the floods displaced people.

“My first born son was admitted in hospital in Harare the very same day the Tokwe Mukosi disaster struck.

“I could not go and see him for the week and a half he spent there but I was just here. I said my wife and his siblings could do that because the danger facing people was more than that of my son who was under the care of hospital staff.

“If you do three or four hours of sleep, that is good enough. You do not enjoy sleep if you know one night you woke up midnight and you were told people are almost submerged.

That is one important thing we as leaders have to do. To be with the people and make sure you take their challenges. Most are convinced that the Government of President Mugabe cares for the people and have been day in day out serving them. Vice President Joice Mujuru came here senior ministers and all other ministers came giving them assurance and showing support.

As the sun sets in Chingwizi, the cooperative members pack up their few belongings, leaving the tent empty.

Source : The Herald