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Marooned and Forgotten: The Story of Tonga Villagers

Lack of health services has forced Binga flash flood victims to flee their temporary camps as they fear COVID-19 infection. Image by Lions Club of Wankie Lwendulu

BY LIZWE SEBATHA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | OCT 16, 2020

In the aftermath of floods, a global pandemic has worsened the plight of the Tonga community in Binga whose access to healthcare is just a pipe dream.

BINGA (The Citizen Bulletin)— “Only God has kept us alive,” says former Binga legislator Prince Dubeko Sibanda as he laments the poor state of the district’s COVID-19 preparedness.  

The district has only one COVID-19 isolation centre situated at Siyabuziwa clinic. The only COVID-19 treatment centre for patients diagnosed with the virus is located in Bubi and Victoria Falls, hundreds of kilometres away.

Binga’s biggest ward, Chinonge, has no clinic, and villagers are forced to walk as far as 25 kilometres to access the nearest health centres, some of which are run by unqualified village health workers.

So bad is the situation that Binga flash flood victims housed at Nsungulwe area have fled tents mounted for them by the government as they fear COVID-19 infection due to lack of health care services at the facility, Sibanda notes.

The experience of displacement is not new to this community.

Binga, home to the Tonga people, was established in the 1950’s when villagers were forcibly moved to the area from their ancestral lands in the Zambezi River banks. Their removal was ostensibly to pave way for the construction of the Kariba Dam, a project funded by the Federal Power Board, now the World Bank.

They were promised fertile lands, homes and electricity upon construction of Kariba dam, but to date the Tonga, who identify strongly with the Zambezi River, calling themselves “Basilwizi” — the river people, have no power and have limited access to health care services amidst COVID-19.

The district boasts of a thriving fishing industry, and is home to hot springs and a beach on the shores of Lake Kariba with the potential of generating enough revenue to fund community development projects.  

In February, flash floods hit Nsungulwe village, destroying homes, killing livestock and crops, leaving villagers at the mercy of the government and donor agencies.

Homestead completely destroyed in Nsungwale, Sinakoma Ward in Binga after heavy floods in February this year. Image by International Organisation for Migration

Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs minister Richard Moyo denies accusations that the central government has failed Binga with resources to launch an effective COVID-19 fight saying the district did not record any deaths.

“That there is only one isolation centre to cater for two constituencies does not mean that we failed the district. Rather, we should be celebrating that the district did not record any COVID-19 related deaths owing to the government’s massive awareness campaigns,” Moyo says.

Sibanda argues that the central government does not deserve any credit as the ‘fear’ of infection amid lack of health care services resulted in villagers ‘moving away from anything that would expose them to COVID-19’.

“If they (authorities) cannot fix a simple mortuary at Binga hospital, what more could they offer in the fight against COVID-19…there is nothing except that God kept us alive as a people…”
Prince Dubeko Sibanda, former Binga legislator

According to Section 76 of the country’s Constitution, every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to access basic health care services, including reproductive health. The United Nations further defines the right to health in Article 12 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states that.

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Chinonge ward councillor Richard Mwembe says the majority of villagers have given up on the government ever constructing health care facilities let alone COVID-19 assistance citing several unfulfilled promises over the years.

“We have identified a site at Tobwe and Muunde where we plan to pull resources together through financial resources or otherwise to construct at least two clinics,” Mwembe says adding that villagers in the ward are forced to walk to Kariangwe, Pashu and Lusulu – all more than 25 kilometres far to access health services.

“This has been in the pipeline but as you know, poverty levels are high in Binga and villagers do not have any money hence no construction has started,” Mwembe adds.

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