BY MARKO PHIRI
When Zimbabwe’s government started running a bus system earlier this year with fares on average one-third lower than those of private bus companies, Thandekile Gama was excited.
The 33-year-old hairdresser had grown tired of paying up to $3 (less than 10 U.S. cents) every time she took a trip within Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest city, so the new bus system with fares capped at 50 cents seemed like a gift.
But that gift came at a cost: Gama said the more affordable fares have led to overcrowding on the government-owned buses, putting her and other women she knows at greater risk of sexual harassment and assault as they travel.
“The buses are crowded, as would be expected, but there are creeps who ride the buses to fondle women,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “You just feel a hand feeling you up and then disappearing.”
Reports of harassment and rape on public transportation are on the rise, said Auxillia Sibanda, an assistant inspector with the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), at a public meeting in July.
She did not provide specific numbers, noting that the statistics were still being compiled.
World Bank figures show about one-third of Zimbabwe’s 16 million people live in urban areas, and that its urban population is growing about two percent annually.
Across the country, rapid population growth has led to increased demand for public utilities, including transport, according to legislator and women’s rights defender Tabitha Khumalo.
But authorities did not anticipate the impact of that demand on the safety of female commuters using public transportation such as private and state-run buses as well as unlicensed “pirate” taxis, she said.
The government re-launched the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) buses in January, several years after the state-owned company’s fleet was grounded following a litany of problems that included millions of dollars of debt and allegations of government corruption.
At the time of the re-launch, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Zupco was part of the modernisation of the national transport system and assured the nation that there would be “adequate security” to protect passengers.
Zupco’s acting CEO Everisto Madangwa said in a phone interview that those security measures include assigning at least one police officer to each bus, “to ensure passenger comfort and safety”.
Madangwa declined to directly respond to the accusations of sexual harassment on the company’s buses, but said the government regularly adds to the fleet to both meet demand and decrease congestion on the buses.
He added that the company plans to grow from the current 500 buses to 3,000 countrywide, without specifying a timeline for the target.
Madangwa could not provide figures for how many passengers use the Zupco buses daily, but noted that the bus system has been popular from the first day it started running.
Gama and other passengers say much of that popularity stems from the low fares, which provide some financial respite for a population struggling through crippling inflation and shortages of bread, fuel and hard currency. (L8N24G1OY)
Female passengers have long been subjected to whistles, crude comments and groping on buses, Gama explained, but with so many people using the Zupco system, the harassment has become more aggressive and invasive.
“The sexual harassment has become too much, but (these) buses are the cheapest,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation as she stood in a long queue to board a Zupco bus.
“We just have to brave it.”
A 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 1,000 women in five of the world’s biggest commuter cities – London, New York, Mexico City, Tokyo and Cairo – found 52 percent cited safety as their top concern while using transport.
For Khumalo, the problem of women’s safety on Zimbabwean cities’ public transport systems is a “recent phenomenon, seen after the entry of government buses and proliferation of pirate taxis”.
She and a group of other female legislators have lobbied the government to set up a database of sex offenders “as many of these perpetrators are repeat offenders”.
In general, said Khumalo – who also serves as the national chair of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – the government could do more to protect and support survivors of sexual violence.
Figures released in 2018 by the Musasa Project, a women’s rights group, revealed that up to 50% of rape cases in Zimbabwe go unprosecuted.
Lawmakers are currently drafting a bill that proposes a mandatory minimum of 60 years for the rape of anyone under the age of 12.
FEAR OF REPORTING
Bulawayo police spokesman Abednico Ncube told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that police were doing everything they could to ensure women’s safety on public transportation.
But the congestion means officers “cannot monitor each and every passenger”, he added.
Ncube advised anyone who experiences sexual harassment while riding on a bus to report the incident immediately after it happens.
“It is important for victims of indecent assault to attract the attention of witnesses as soon as they feel violated so that police can effect arrests,” he said.
But there is a problem with that advice, said Gillian Chinzete, project director at the Institute for Young Women’s Development, which supports women’s participation in political processes.
Women in Zimbabwe are often reluctant to report harassment for fear of not being taken seriously, she said.
“There must be training of the police on how to deal with cases of public violence against women … as a way of instilling confidence in the victims,” said Chinzete.
Gama, the hairdresser in Bulawayo, agreed, saying that she and other women she knows have learned to live with being groped on the bus.
Because to go to the police, she said, is to risk being ridiculed for reporting a “petty crime with no known perpetrator”.
“It’s difficult as it is to report rape,” she said.
“Imagine trying to report being fondled by a hand you did not see.” – Thomson Reuters Foundation
Lubangwe villagers walk over 30KM to access nearest clinic
BY LWANDLE MTHUNZI
Access to primary healthcare remains a major challenge to communities in Lubangwe resettlement area in Hwange where the nearest clinic is more than 30km away for some.
Lubangwe Railway Farm 55 resettlement was established in 2000 during the country’s land reform when scores of villagers, mostly families of war veterans, were settled in the area.
Government did not construct schools and clinics and old farm buildings were converted into learning facilities.
While some schools are now available as a result, although far away from some villages, the communities remain with no health facility which makes access to health a major challenge.
The worst affected are pregnant women and people living with chronic diseases such as HIV and TB who have to regularly get their monthly allocation of life saving tablets.
Edwin Nyoni, head of village 1 said had it not been for village health workers mortality could be high for people with chronic illnesses.
“We don’t have a clinic and people walk 25km to 30km to Ndlovu clinic because most have no money for transport. We risk our lives through the wildlife infested bush to Ndlovu hence we appeal to the government to help us establish a clinic nearby. We have village health workers who assist to reduce mortality and prevent home deliveries by making sure pregnant women and the chronically ill are assisted to go to hospital,” he said.
In village 2 villagers are patiently waiting for the opening of a clinic after a building was identified for use as a health facility.
The structure has no electricity and water, said village head Joseph Munsaka.
“They promised to bring some nurses to use a building that is lying idle. They said they want to connect water and electricity and we hope this will happen soon to save lives,” he said.
Gilbert Munkuli said sometimes health authorities visit with a mobile clinic at the nearby Nyongolo primary school.
He said some of his villagers walk more than 30km because they have no money for transport making access to health difficult.
“It is more than 30km to go to Ndlovu Clinic and health workers sometimes come to Nyongolo Primary School to give tablets especially to the chronically ill. Those with money sometimes hire cars but some die at home or fail to go to hospital which worsens the burden of diseases such as TB,” he said.
Because of proximity to Hwange coal mining town where most people in Hwange worked at the Hwange Colliery Company, the burden of TB is high around the district as many families have lived in Hwange town at some stage before retiring to the rural areas.
Nesi Mpala of village 2 appealed to the government to open a clinic to save chronically ill community members.
“The clinic is far and people who seek medical attention suffer, with pregnant women and those with chronic diseases the worst affected. People living with HIV and Aids are better because health workers come to give them tablets but those with TB have to go to the clinic and struggle to travel because transport is expensive. We wish the government can give us a mobile clinic so that TB patients and pregnant women get help,” said Mpala.
Government is working on a national health policy whose vision is to ensure primary health care is accessible to all communities although the plan has been in the pipeline for many years.
Health is a critical human right and key to attainment of Sustainable Development Goals.
VFWT partners with Mvuthu villagers to tackle human-wildlife conflicts
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
The Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust (VFWT) has announced that they have secured funding to work with the communities of the new scheme of herding cattle, amid growing concerns of human-wildlife conflicts in the Mvuthu’s jurisdiction.
This was announced by the VFWT Community Liaison officer Bongani Dlodlo on Tuesday at a village assembly meeting in the Mvuthu area.
He said the scheme aims to reduce the continuous attack of the domestic animals, mainly the cattle by predators such as the lions.
The organisation will actively involved in various environmental issues in the area, including the introduction of mobile bomas years ago, making of chill dung to deter elephants among other rehabilitation projects.
“This will be a programme to run for three years, where we are going to create mobile kraals where the whole village, those who are willing will bring their cattle there and we will hire some willing community members above 22 years of age to look after them during the day and night,” Dlodlo said.
“We are trying to reduce the problem of your livestock getting killed and while under this scheme, we shall ensure that they get treated whenever they present some symptoms of not being well and we will also vaccinate and feed them so that they can increase the value in the market whenever you want to dispose of some of them.”
Dlodlo also added that this will be done throughout the year.
“During the off-cropping season, we will be rotating them from one field to the other so that we also mitigate the issue of poor soils this community is faced with. By this, we hope that even your yield will improve for these coming years.”
Although some at the meeting met with skepticism, Dlodlo insisted that the villagers were not under duress to let go of their cattle and that the preparatory planning and strategies to be adopted were going to be done together with the communities.
Fears were around the issue of religious beliefs around the rearing of livestock.
Other concerns were around the issue of having to walk long distances to milk cows and even having them to perform some day to day chores such as the fetching of firewood.
According to the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers, cases of human-wildlife conflicts have been increasing since 2016 by over 216 percent and Mvuthu villagers have often paid the price without compensation.
Others also queried about what will happen if their livestock gets attacked while with the hired herders and Dlodlo responded: “We will not be paying for any compensation because ours to try and help this community, but because the herders and the place of herding will be chosen by you, we hope that this will be a holistic community project where you can always check on what is happening as we work together.”
Amid power cuts in Zimbabwe, food preservation made easy by grannies
BY IGNATIUS BANDA
Amid silent refrigerators spawned by crippling electricity cuts, township grannies are relying on their smarts and traditional preservation: roasting and smoking meat over fires as they attempt not to throw away food.
And this at a time more and more Zimbabweans are going hungry amid a combination of shrinking incomes and price increases.
For 79-year-old grandmother Tabeth Chisale, food and perishables, such as beef sourced by her children, fill the fridge, but she is increasingly frustrated by the unrelenting power outages.
“Recently, we went for seven days without electricity,” Chisale said
“We were informed it was not because of the regular power cuts but some thieves had vandalised the power supply,” she said, at a time there are increasing reports of the theft of copper cables and transformer oil from power base stations.
The country’s power utility has blamed erratic power supply on the vandalism of electricity infrastructure.
However, amid such a chaotic and erratic energy supply, grannies such as Chisale must find or have found ways of making the best out of a bad situation.
“Once I suspect the meat is going bad, I roast the meat over a fire, then hope that electricity will be restored in time.
“I then stew the roasted meat.
“You cannot watch the meat go bad in these trying times,” she said, her practice for many here a hard-to-understand culinary secret: first roasting meat, then boiling it
Smoking meat over a fire to preserve it has been around for centuries, but Zimbabwe’s energy crisis has reminded older generations of the practice at a time when large-scale enterprises such as butcheries are having to rethink how they do business.
Local food scientists have raised concerns about the consumption of bad or rotting food, noting that it reverses the small gains the country is making towards addressing nutrition deficits among children and the elderly.
In a country where supermarket shelves are stocked with expired food items, the practices of Chisale show the desperation of consumers, local analysts say.
For Desmond Mugadza, chair of the food science department at the Midlands State University, the answer is simple: “Avoid over-stocking perishables.”
“Food must be free from bio-hazards to ensure it is safe for consumers to eat as all food items have a shelf life,” Mugadza said.
“We should rely on science on whether food is safe to consume,” he added.
Yet the desperation of consumers such as Chisale has meant that they have sought ways to salvage their food without the support of science.
It has been a long practice here amid economic hardships that bargain hunters stock up on food and other basic commodities because of regular price increases, creating difficulties in how the food is stored in the absence of electricity.
However, the food preservation methods available to Chisale come with a downside: “The meat that I try to save doesn’t taste as it should, but it’s still meat,” she said.
In Zimbabwe, where the backyard poultry business has become the favoured source of income for the unemployed, power cuts have wreaked havoc for people such as Nelisiwe Mudimba.
“When you slaughter your birds, you pray that they will be sold before they go bad in the fridge,” Mudimba said, adding that on numerous occasions, she has had to throw away dozens of rotting chickens.
She says she has also tried smoking the chickens over a fire, feeding some to her dogs, but: “I cannot eat all these chickens.
“What’s the point, then, of operating such a business?”
These concerns come as global agencies lament the continued wastage of food when millions go hungry.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, “One-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally.
This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year, worth approximately US$1 trillion.”
While FAO says most food losses in developing countries are during post-harvest and processing levels, in countries such as Zimbabwe, power cuts have only added to the food waste crisis.
Local consumer rights groups say inflation has added to the challenges as those who already cannot afford basics face more headaches with trying to stock the little food available in their homes.
“Consumers are unable to buy basic commodities that they desperately need because of the increasing gaps between prices and incomes,” said Effie Ncube, spokesperson of a local consumer rights group.
“To prevent the unlawful sale of expired goods, two things are required. The first is to ensure thorough enforcement of the Consumer Protection Act.
Secondly, the government should address the root causes of the economic crisis that has led to runaway inflation, lack of incomes, and general price volatility,” Ncube said.
For now, Chisale and her peers continue to seek old ways to address new challenges and make their own local desperate efforts not to throw away food, albeit against their will. – IPS
Slider1 year ago
Innscor launches brewery to produce Nyathi beer
News11 months ago
Commission of inquiry findings fail to be tabled as Victoria Falls councillors fight
Tourism and Environment2 years ago
Strive Masiyiwa’s daughter opens luxury Victoria Falls lodge
News2 years ago
Victoria Falls bartender gored to death by elephant
News2 years ago
Victoria Falls’ pilot dies in helicopter crash
News2 years ago
In perched rural Matabeleland North, renewable energy is vital
Slider11 months ago
How a flip-flop cost the life of a tour guide:USA tourist narrates the Victoria Falls elephant attack
News2 years ago
Mugabe’s remains should be reburied at Harare monument, court rules