By Nokuthaba Dlamini
Scores of families in Binga’s Nsungwale area that were displaced by floods early this year are trooping back to their old homes despite the risks of another disaster.
180 families have been living in temporary shelters since flooding of the area on the confluence of Sibwambwa, Sikanda and Nemakonde rivers on February 11 2020.
Experts recommended their relocation to higher ground amid fears that floods would become perennial due to climate change.
Villagers, however, say they are returning to their homes partly because they felt abandoned by government and for cultural reasons.
“We will rather die there than to abandon our forefathers’ graves and stay at another village,”said Nsondo Mudenda.
Mudenda said he was already reconstructing his homestead that was swept away by the floods.
One person was killed and several domestic animals were swept away by the raging water.
Early this year Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs inister Richard said government had identified alternative land to resettle the villagers to avoid another floods related catastrophe.
Mudenda and fellow villagers, however, do not trust the government to keep its promises to compensate them once they agree to be relocated.
They cited the 1950s relocation of the Tonga people that were moved from the banks of the Zambezi River to make way for the construction of Kariba Dam.
“They promised our fathers fertile lands, beautiful homes and electricity once power generation started and up to date all that has not been fulfilled,” Mudenda said.
“We want to stay here because there is easy access to water for us and our livestock compared to the area where they want to relocate us to.
“If it means dying here protecting our history, then let it be.”
Mudenda said since the families were displaced by the floods, they had received little assistance from government.
He said the government’s attitude towards their plight showed that it would not be able to render them any assistance once they agreed to be relocated.
“We are angry because after the floods, the government was quick to indentify land for us without any monetary assistance,” Mudenda added.
“So they should leave us to rebuild our homes and to take care of our departed relatives’ graves.”
Sixty three year-old Taboka Nyoni, who said she lost a homestead and her only five goats, said she preferred returning to her destroyed home to look after her late husband’s grave.
“That place has so many memories for me and relocating to another village is out of the question,” Nyoni said.
“I have started rebuilding my homestead with the help of my children, who live somewhere else.”
The elderly woman said the area identified by the government for their resettlement had poor soils and was not suitable for farming.
Nyoni said the proposed resettlement also had a lot of wild animals, which made it more dangerous than their flood prone village.
” So I feel being here is much safer for me,” she added.
Former Binga North Member of Parliament Prince Dubeko Sibanda defended the displaced villagers’ decision to return to the flood plain, saying they were neglected by the government.
“These mothers and fathers, including their children, were dumped by the government at those tents and there have never been any follow ups,” said Sibanda, who was recently recalled from Parliament by the Thokozani Khupe- led MDC-T.
Sibanda added: “They were suffering and many times they were without food and no access to hospitals.
“As a result of the neglect they started picking themselves up and returned to their damaged homesteads.”
The former legislator accused officials from the government’s department of social welfare of stealing food provisions meant for the flood victims, which they resold in neighbouring Gokwe.
Sibanda said the starvation caused by government neglect forced flood victims to retrace their footsteps to their damaged homes despite the risk
s of being caught up in another flooding disaster.
“They are starting to rebuild their destroyed homesteads waiting for the next floods to destroy their homes and take away their lives, but they find it better there than being isolated at the camp,” he said.
Moyo, however, claimed that those leaving the temporary camps were criminals that wanted to take part in poaching activities.
“They have left the camps where we put them just to engage in illegal activities like poaching in parks,”Moyo said.
“Government identified land for them so they can build homesteads but they kept resisting saying that they wanted to rebuild their homes that were destroyed by floods.”
The minister said the building of new homesteads would begin once the national lockdown to slow down the spread of Covid-19 was eased.
“We have plans to fund them once this lockdown is over in order for them to move there permanently, but they are resisting and this is why they have left,”Moyo said.
“But this is not what we want them to do as the government.”
Meanwhile, climate change experts said the resistance by Binga villagers showed there was need to educate communities that were prone to natural disasters on adaptation means.
Doctor Keith Phiri from Lupane State University said Binga villagers needed to be persuaded that living in their old village was no longer safe due to climate change and they need to relocate for their own safety.
“When you are dealing with communities that are resisting relocation to avert climate change disasters, the first step is to seek buy-in from gatekeepers like religious leaders, village and family heads,” Phiri said.
“You can have workshops and educate them about such issues so that it becomes easy for the rest of the community to understand the need to relocate.
“Otherwise if that groundwork is not done, they are not going to respond to any suggestion to relocate or any strategies on climate change.”
Wellington Madumira, a programmes manager at Zero Regional Environment Organisation, said many factors should be considered when relocating victims of climate change disasters, including whether the proposed resettlement areas were habitable.
“You might find that most of the victims survived on agriculture, but where they are being relocated to the land may not be habitable and it does not have adequate water sources,” Madumira said.
“Climate issues require all of us to work together rather than going there with your own solutions.
“So there is need to make sure that there is capacity building among communities so that they understand what climate change is and its impacts based on studies from other countries then together you can come up with solutions than to impose them.”
In the past few years, several communities in Zimbabwe have been hit by floods, which experts say are induced by climate change.
In March last year, hundreds of people were killed in Manicaland after Cyclone Idai hit the province.
The floods also displaced thousands of people.
Several families in Matabeleland North’s Tsholotsho district are still living in temporary shelters after they were displaced by floods over two years ago.