No closure for Cyclone Idai’s missing victims

Source: No closure for Cyclone Idai’s missing victims | The Sunday Mail

No closure for Cyclone Idai’s missing victims
Mr Heriman Kazembe

Leroy Dzenga
Senior Reporter

ADJACENT to Kopa Growth Point in Ward 21 Chimanimani lies a shallow gorge.

In it are mounds of rubble occupying what appears to be a dry river channel.

A lone blue house about 800 metres away is the only sign that suggests it was once a residential area.

Where a police station used to be, a chapped floor awkwardly protrudes from the ground.

Words simply cannot explain the circumstances that saw a whole suburb being reduced to debris that fateful day on March 15, 2019.

The Cyclone Idai carnage was not limited to Kopa only, it extended to Ngangu, Skyline and some parts of Bikita in Masvingo province.

Although the number of those missing cannot be fully ascertained, it is believed they could be more than 300.

Most of these (279) come from Kopa, Skyline, Wengezi and Ngangu in Chimanimani.

At Kopa, the temporary camp that has been home to survivors is located less than 20 metres from the area they used to stay.

For two years, they have had to wake up to the sight of a place where they lost all they had worked for, including their families.

“Every time I take a walk, I am reminded of my wife who is still missing after the tropical storm. I am left with no choice, but to accept that she died in the flood. I was left taking care of two children and the going has been tough,” said Mr Heriman Kazembe, a teacher resident at Kopa camp.

Although Kazembe had signed up for a funeral assurance policy, it has not provided him any relief considering his peculiar circumstances.

“The funeral assurance company understood our situation and wanted to give us money, however, because there is no death certificate, we could not get the funds,” he said.

A death certificate can only be made available where there is a declaration of death, which, at law, cannot happen until five years.

The Missing Persons Act, read together with the Births and Deaths Registration Act, states that a person has to be missing for five years before they are presumed dead.

Mr Kazembe has been seeking scholarships for his daughter who is currently enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe, but it is has been difficult to prove that his wife is deceased.

“I fear she may end up having to drop out. I am working hard to ensure that it does not happen, but it hurts when you know you have money that could have assisted.”

For some, it is not about money, but the need to have a place to remember the memory of a loved one.

Chairperson of the residents at Kopa Camp, Mr Clever Mundeta, said they understand that existing laws were enacted for a reason, but they hope the Government treats their cases as exceptional because of the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai.

“We have made peace with the fact that their bodies may not be found. We hear there are bones that are in Mozambique — if they can be brought back and we get to bury them somewhere we can visit,” he said.

The community wants to conduct rites in line with local culture in order to bring closure.

“In the event that there is no breakthrough in finding their bodies as we are hoping for, it would be better if we can get a memorial site built, where we can annually converge to pay our respects.

“Those who were killed during the war at Nyadzonia and Chimoio have their memorial sites where annual events are organised to remember them.”

In the aftermath of the mishap, families of the missing victims of Cyclone Idai have been engaging Government representatives for assistance.

Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo told The Sunday Mail that processes are underway to bring finality to the issue.

“The President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) approved a plan to expedite the declaration of the missing Cyclone Idai victims as dead. There are processes which must be done, like the exhumation of bodies believed to be of Zimbabweans in Mozambique and the DNA tests with survivors, which will allow us to locate the families of the deceased. We are already working on that,” he said.

Asked on timelines, Minister Moyo said after the greenlight from the President, they are now hard at work to implement the plan.

There is hope that, as has been the case with other promises made by the Government to the Chimanimani community, the declarations are followed through.

It is believed that the process will bring the much-needed peace of mind, which has remained elusive as some continue to hold on to hope that someday, maybe, they will be reunited with their loved ones.

Elders in the community are worried that if not managed well, the maelstrom of hope and optimism might take a mental toll on some community members.

Cyclone Idai struck in March 2019, killing at least 1 300 people in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, while hundreds are still missing in all the three affected countries.

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