THERE are no tears — just song, drink and dance as the coffin goes down the six feet tunnel. Relatives are then called to throw handfuls of red soil into the grave. A young boy — about nine years old — breaks into tears.
BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
The man being buried here is his father, Alfred Nyamadzawo, who was mauled by a crocodile in Lake Chivero last week.
This was after the career fisherman and his colleagues set off to the huge lake to cast their fishnets as usual.
As they conducted their normal business, hoping for a big catch after the recent rains, the fishermen — who had spread out to their respective points- heard a loud cry for help.
According to a witness, it took them a few minutes to respond to the distress call from a man who was being attacked by a crocodile.
“We could hear the splashes and screams, as he tried to free himself from the crocodile’s jaws,” the witness said.
Despite their brave attempt to save one of their own, the men had to watch as the marine beast took to the deep waters with their colleague between its jaws.
One of the men sustained deep cuts all over the body during the rescue effort. In a matter of minutes, there was deathly silence and the dejected men stood by the shores hopelessly.
After frantic search efforts, and two days of anxiety and apprehension among the fishermen, Nyamadzwo’s body was found floating in the water, mangled and mutilated, characteristic of the gruesome manner in which he had met his death.
For his family, this was key to the closure they needed although many questions still remain.
“We know the risk they go through, and whenever they go to the lake, we are scared, but when it happens like this, it really is painful,” said Nyamadzawo’s sister-in-law said.
As the family members openly grieve, the rest of the mourners, including other fishermen, are singing and dancing.
For them, it is just another loss, and visiting the dusty, shrubby mountainside graveyard near the Kintyre Estates in Norton to bury a crocodile attack victim is not new to them.
“Fate will come for us someday,” one mourner said. “He is gone today, tomorrow it could be me. That is the nature of our life.”
Other fishermen, who spoke to NewsDay Weekender said crocodile attacks happen regularly in the area. One of them had visible scratches on his body — marks synonymous with crocodile attacks.
Maxwell Joe (41) claims he has been fishing since he was 16, and he has witnessed numerous crocodile attacks.
“It has not deterred me, but has made me realise that when you reach the dead end in looking for something to give you a life, you can do anything, no matter how much risk is associated with it,” he said.
“It is like the miners, who go into dangerous tunnels. It is their last choice. No one wants to do that, but what do you do when you have a family and no job?”
The issue of employment is topical in Zimbabwe, with statistics showing that less than 700 000 people are formally employed and the number is going down as more companies downsize or shut down despite a Zanu PF election promise to provide 2,2 million formal jobs between 2013 and 2018.
Last year alone, more than 20 000 people lost their jobs, driving them into the informal sector, which the Zanu PF government flaunts as lucrative in spite of its uncertain income flows.
The bulk of the fishermen, who literally risk their lives wading into the lake infested with the killer reptiles in Norton are victims of the job losses. Strikingly, their live in the shadow of death do not end with the burial of a colleague.
Two days earlier — even before Nyamadzawo was buried — another colleague disappeared into the deep of Lake Chivero after being mauled by a crocodile.
“As we speak, there is a search party of other fishermen looking for another man, who was attacked by a crocodile last night (Tuesday),” Joe said casually, with no trace of emotion.
The body was still to be recovered yesterday.
As the last shovels of dirt seal Nyamadzawo’s grave, the scores of men gathered preparing to go to Lake Chivero to join a search party for yet another colleague attacked the previous day.
The NewsDay Weekender crew decided to join the men in their expedition. The search area, according to them, is close to the lake’s spillway.
Inside the fishermen’s world
The journey to the spillway is a long dangerous track along the banks of the lake, where the hyacinth grass is freely growing.
With the NewsDay Weekender crew following behind, albeit in great fear, Joe demonstrates how they operate.
“We get into the lake and cast our nets on parts of the lake where we notice fish splashing in the water,” he said, pointing to the quiet, dark waters.
Along the way, the crew gets to the point where the late Nyamadzawo was attacked. On the bank the nets he used during his fishing expeditions lie abandoned. It is a sad sight of a life lost in the course of duty.
Defying the fear that surrounds the two recent attacks, Joe enters the lake and splashes his arms and legs to show how they react when they sense a crocodile close by.
Although they continually express shock at the attacks, it appears business as usual for the men and few women the news crew meet at the lake.
Dozens, with their clothes wet and reeking a strong stench of fish, are seen carrying sacks and plastic bags containing fish like hard-won trophies, walking back to their homes.
Along the banks of the lake, some of the fishermen can be heard expressing joy that there were plenty of fish in the dam on that day.
“There are a lot of fish in the dam,” one of the fishermen said, seemingly unshaken by the danger of being attacked by a crocodile.
For some, attacks make them more vigilant, but they never make them stop operating.
“We are now fishing in the shallow parts of the lake because we are afraid of crocodiles. But we will not stop our trade because we have nothing else to do,” one elderly woman, who refused to be named, said.
Apart from crocodiles, another threat to the fishermen are the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife (Zimparks) officials, who manage the wildlife in the lake.
Because their operations are illegal, fishermen avoid detection by Zimparks officials. But on being caught, Joe said, they often pay fines.
At times, they are handed over to the police, something that Joe said is rare, and he alleged that they sometimes bribe the officers with fish or money.
Zimparks spokesperson, Caroline Washaya Moyo said the Authority has a zero tolerance towards corruption and if anyone is caught the necessary steps are taken.
As the day ends, the crew retreated, but met several fishermen on their way to the lake to cast their nets. For them, it is business as usual, sadly.