Sunday News Reporters
THE Government has engaged the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to erect dismountable bridges on the country’s major highways where bridges were swept away by the heavy rains that have been pounding the country since the beginning of the year.
The move comes as it has also emerged that a number of districts in Matabeleland provinces suffered huge infrastructural damage because of the rains. The ZDF bridges will be a stop-gap measure that will allow motorists to use the roads while at the same time giving Government the latitude to mobilise the required resources to repair the damaged infrastructure. The floods have been declared a state of disaster and about $80 million is needed to repair road infrastructure countrywide.
In a telephone interview on Friday, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Dr Joram Gumbo, said the Government has engaged the ZDF to assist with its bridges to allow for free movement of people, goods and services especially in the country’s major highways whose bridges have been affected by the rains. Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Masvingo and Midlands are the most affected provinces.
Although the Minister could not give the specific number of bridges that have been swept away as well as the resultant amount required for repairs to be done, he said the ZDF was only going to erect temporary and dismountable bridges on highways such as the Mbalabala- Zvishavane highway that also connects Bulawayo and Masvingo.
“I cannot say how many bridges have been affected so far. The rains are still pounding in some parts of the country and we are not sure if the infrastructure is safe, more bridges may be swept. I cannot therefore give you the figures, neither can I give you the amount of money that is required to reconstruct the damaged infrastructure.
“We have, however, engaged the army to mount their bridges on major highways such as the Mbalabala-Zvishavane along which there is the Nkankezi Bridge in Insiza District (Matabeleland South) that was swept away by the rains and is now impassable. We do not want people to suffer because in such situations some unscrupulous operators take advantage and make people pay with an arm and a leg. Besides, our thrust to enhance communication and infrastructure has been threatened but we will not allow ourselves to sit back and relax when things are this bad,” said Dr Gumbo.
He admitted that despite the historical amounts of rainfall received this year, most of the country’s roads were old and needed resurfacing while most bridges have outlived their lifespan.
“Most of the country’s roads are in a bad state. Most tarred roads have outlived their 20-25 years lifespan. Some of our roads have gone for more than 60 years without being renovated or resurfaced, as a result the tarmac layer becomes so thin that potholes can easily form and spread.
“We cannot repair the bridges now because predictions are that there is still more rainfall. And like you witnessed some of the flooding was caused by dams that were bursting because of excess water. And such amounts of rain was last recorded around 1945 in Zimbabwe so no one knew what was going to happen. The rains uprooted trees that also aided in destroying the road infrastructure,” said Dr Gumbo.
He said most of the country’s gravel roads, particularly those that were recently graded have now been transformed into small streams isolating a lot of areas from the rest of the country as they have also become impassable. Dr Gumbo said it was unfortunate that the damaged bridges have in most circumstances created an internal border-like scenario where buses could no longer cross to the other side, but exchange clients, while goods could no longer be transported timeously.
Nkankezi Bridge for example now resembles a small border with the only difference being that there are no immigration and Zimra officials, otherwise all else fits the border situation perfectly well. Enterprising villagers have taken it upon themselves to set up stalls where they sell goods to travellers waiting for transport, an assortment of drinks and foodstuffs. Villagers and school children have also found something to do as they are helping travellers carry luggage across the bridge for a fee. Some transport operators now meet at the bridge to exchange passengers. The enterprising entrepreneurs some of whom are from Filabusi said they have been making a killing from the travellers who would be waiting for buses.
“I am from Filabusi and I sell cooked mealies, drinks and roasted groundnuts.
Buses exchange people here and as you can see it’s a little far from the shops so people are forced to buy from us as they wait for their buses,” said a woman who only identified herself as MaDube.
Dr Gumbo, however, said he expects the army to be done in the next couple of weeks to allow buses to cross. Meanwhile, Sunday News visited some of the affected areas and spoke to officials in some districts in Matabeleland South who bemoaned how the rains have destroyed schools, roads and houses.
Sunday News visited Kumbudzi Primary School in Umzingwane District where most classrooms and an administration block was blown off. Pupils were not attending school the whole of last week. An official at the school said some of the stationery has been completely destroyed and the school will need huge amounts of money to return to a normal situation. Acting Umzingwane District Administrator Mrs Siphathisiwe Mlotshwa said another school Dobi Primary was also completely destroyed.
“Several classroom blocks were destroyed at Kumbudzi Primary School and at Dobi Primary School the toilets were completely blown off,” she said.
She said more than 20 homesteads were destroyed while more reports are still being compiled from other areas on the extent of the damage.
“Most of the road network is extensively damaged; it is difficult for us to access most areas as the roads are no longer trafficable. We are receiving reports every day from different areas and we are overwhelmed by the reports,” she said.
In Gwanda District more than 200 homesteads were destroyed while 1 000 people were marooned in Sibhula Village.
Gwanda District Administrator who also chairs the Civil Protection Unit Mr Judge Dube said on Thursday more than 1 000 people were marooned and they were delivering food to them since their movement was restricted.
In Matabeleland North, Hwange District Administrator Mr Simon Muleya said two ECD children drowned in an open ditch and that’s the only incident that has been reported since the onset of this rainy season.
“We only received a report of two Early Childhood Development (ECD) pupils who drowned in open ditches that hold water, however, we haven’t recorded cases of homes being destroyed by the rains, I think this is because the people are used to flooding and they no longer build their homes in low lying areas,” he said.
In Binga, the District Administrator, Mrs Lydia Banda, said a man was swept away by a flooded river while 17 school children were injured when a classroom block collapsed.
“We only lost a man who tried to cross a flooded river and 17 pupils from Makabande Secondary School were injured when a classroom block collapsed on them, two of them were sent to Mpilo Central Hospital for treatment. The Save the Children village was also affected by the floods though no one was injured,” she said.
Reports of massive damage to infrastructure because of the rains have also been reported in Tsholotsho where about 1 000 people have been moved to a holding camp at Sipepa Clinic.