BY MAURICE DUNDU
THE adage that misfortunes never come singly has proved correct for the people of Chipinge and Chimanimani, who now suffer the double blow of fighting COVID-19, while at the same time they are also licking the wounds caused by Cyclone Idai, which severely damaged their infrastructure last year.
Sadly, most of the victims of this double tragedy are married women whose husbands work in South Africa, while they are left to bear the painful burden of taking care of their children alone.
To add to their problems, in most cases, their husbands have second wives or concubines in the neighbouring country where they work.
Chipinge has always experienced problems of young men, especially those who fail to make it educationally, who then opt to travel to South Africa to look for work while leaving behind their families in Zimbabwe.
Most of the families that are left behind suffer in times of natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai and during pandemics such as COVID-19.
Their situation is further worsened by the fact that most Ndau men from Chipinge take long to return from South Africa as they want to first accumulate money and goods before coming back.
Coming home empty-handed is considered an insult to the women and children who would have endured the pain of missing them for a long time, only for them to return without anything.
The COVID-19 lockdown bailout package for workers in foreign countries also does not consider the plight of the poor women and children in Zimbabwe.
The workers have been struggling to survive during the lockdown period in that country, which means that after the relaxation of the lockdown measures, they have to work first to get more money before thinking of coming back.
A Ndau man who works in South Africa, known as Baba aKali, said coming back home after the relaxation of the COVID-19 lockdown measures would take long as he needed to work to make up for the time and money lost during lockdown.
“Coming home will take long for many workers here as they need to recover the money lost during the lockdown period. Life here is not that rosy. It is difficult with this COVID-19,” aKali said.
Audience Zondwayo from Chipinge West said the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened the situation back home, where people are still struggling to recover from the effects of Cyclone Idai.
Zondwayo said some women whose husbands work in South Africa had started small businesses like vending and market gardening as they tried to recover from the effects of last year’s devastating cyclone.
“After Cyclone Idai, people resorted to vending to stave off hunger, but during the COVID-19 lockdown period, their wares like vegetables got rotten as they could not go out to sell them,” he said.
Zondwayo said that deprived the women of income to support their children, given that their husbands were either also struggling or supporting other women in foreign land.
The women whose husbands work in foreign lands end up suffering materially, emotionally and they are also sex starved.
Unfortunately for them, while their husbands can have concubines or second wives in the diaspora, the affected women cannot indulge in extra-marital affairs as society will brand them “misfits or loose women”.
Mai Tinashe, a local, confirmed that the situation was bad for wives whose husbands worked in the diaspora. She said they comforted each other through sharing their stories as they fetch water from the river.
“Life is very difficult for women whose husbands are in South Africa as they are sexually-starved. We usually share such issues with other affected women when we meet at the river,” she said.
Commenting on the situation, a History teacher in Chipinge district, Erick Bvuma, said since the COVID-19 pandemic began, life had been tough for the women whose husbands worked in foreign lands.
He said they endured the stress of thinking about the safety of their husbands, as well as financial hardships during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
“It is hard because COVID-19 disturbed production and very few can afford to feed their families. Sending food parcels from the diaspora was very difficult during the COVID-19 lockdown period as there was no movement of flights and transport,” Bvuma said.
Zondwayo added that during the Cyclone Idai disaster and the COVID-19 lockdown, some women whose husbands were in the diaspora suffered nervous breakdowns due to the hardships they encountered.
“Just seeing dead people during Cyclone Idai had psychological effects. To make matters worse, soon after the Cyclone Idai disaster, COVID-19 regulations were imposed which restricted movement. It was a difficult time as there were no partners (husbands) to console the women,” she said.
Normally in December, these women will be happy as they expect their husbands to bring goodies for Christmas, including furniture.
However, with the COVID-19-induced lockdown restrictions, their expectations may come to naught as most transporters have not started moving as there are travel restrictions.
It is also saddening that some women who fail to withstand the emotional pressure and desires end up committing adultery, while others take risks and illegally cross the border to join their husbands.
Abigirl Chikwani said some women resorted to jumping the borders because they could not afford COVID-19 certificates, which cost US$60.
“Besides a COVID-19 certificate, a permit to cross the border is required in order for the women to visit their husbands,” she said, adding that the women risked getting kidnapped, raped or robbed while illegally crossing the border.
Chikwani said some desperate women also bribe other people so that their children can be assisted to illegally cross the border.
“Even border jumping requires money and people risk being raped, robbed or kidnapped together with their children. Because of all this, women may be forced into adultery and marriages will affected because they will be having no choice,” Chikwani said.
The experiences narrated by the women show that COVID-19 restrictions have worsened their plight.
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