By Gift Phiri
Zimbabweans — perceived to be hopelessly divided by race, class and politics — reached out to victims of Cyclone Idai in an unprecedented way as pictures of the storm-ravaged Manicaland overwhelmed living rooms and offices across the country.
From churches to beer halls, radio stations to bus stations, efforts to help were underway, with both Zanu PF and MDC supporters, black people and white people, those at home and in the Diaspora, all rallying together to render assistance to stricken villagers.
Zimbabweans in the Diaspora were crowdsourcing through GoFundMe campaigns, raising tens of thousands of dollars, but struggling to convince money transfer agencies such as World Remit to waiver fees for sending the relief money back home.
Many givers, ordinary people with nothing to their names, reached for their wallets, some donating their clothing and kitchen utensils to the victims.
Civilian doctors, nurses, paramedics under the Zimbabwe Medical Association and the Zimbabwe College of Public Health Physicians, morticians from the Nyaradzo Group, and veterinarians headed east to render assistance on a volunteer basis.
Still more opened their restaurants, churches and even pubs, unfurling a “donate a beer” drive, for impromptu fund-raisers for stricken friends and relatives — some still missing days after Cyclone Idai passed by, claiming 104 people. Some of the people helping were rich, others clearly were not.
Chimanimani Hotel — at the epicentre of the devastation — opened its doors to those affected by the deadly cyclone. Over 200 and counting are sleeping in the conference rooms. The hotel is kindly appealing for LP or cooking gas, water, food, and blankets.
The government response to Cyclone Idai — it has pumped $50 million to assist victims of and restore infrastructure destroyed by the disaster — seems to be going well, with assistance from both Zimbabwe Defence Forces units of Zimbabwe National Army and the Air Force of Zimbabwe.
But the real story is not what the government is doing.
It’s what ordinary Zimbabweans are doing. The good news is that while disaster-relief authorities used to look down on civilians who wanted to help — amateur rescuers have had to literally sneak into areas of Manicaland — where authorities have embraced what they call “whole community response,” in which the efforts of volunteers and villagers are welcomed, and in which citizens are encouraged to remain vigilant.
Across the cyclone-hit areas, Zimbabweans came together to help each other. Despite the political divisions exacerbated by toxic party representatives, out in the real Zimbabwe, villagers scrambled to save each other’s lives, men rescued women and children, and so on.
The giant storm levelled virtually everything standing in the province, sweeping away bridges and killing livestock. It wreaked colossal damage on the region’s fledgling farming industries, such as Ariston and Tanganda estates. Thousands of people were left homeless.
In the flood-hit areas, photos of rescuers and rescued show the real Zimbabwe, the one that emerges in crisis.
Ordinary villagers collaborated — without being told what to do by the government or media, evacuating people from areas such as Chimanimani and Chipinge up until government and aid agencies brought in critically needed supplies. Villagers provided the logistical core of relief efforts until the government took over — two days later.
The help has come from individuals, listed and unlisted companies, sports stars and entertainers who have lined up fundraising gigs.
Following an announcement by President Emmerson Mnangagwa that he was declaring Idai a national disaster, government has been spearheading a fund-raising effort for victims.
Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the country’s largest mobile operator, stepped forward with $5 million “to jump-start the effort.”
Meanwhile more corporates are responding to the humanitarian crisis in Manicaland to ease the burden on affected communities.
Yesterday, the People’s Own Savings Bank (POSB) contributed blankets worth $20 000 and groceries worth $15 000 towards this worthy cause.
Additionally, the bank which offered its deepest sympathies to the affected families and communities, invited its clients, stakeholders and well-wishers to also lend a hand by donating any amount into the POSB Cyclone Idai Disaster Relief Account 500003343422 in order to make a difference.
“Support from this additional initiative will be handed over at a date and time to be announced,” said Lawrence Kupika, the bank’s head of marketing and PR. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Nyaradzo Group said a team from the company was on the ground in Chimanimani with camping beds, tents, chairs, toilets, lights and generator to provide relief to “brothers and sisters in Chimanimani”.
The spokesperson said it had been difficult for their team to gain access because of the damage to all roads leading to the affected part of Chimanimani.
Other corporates came forward with millions in cash and goods donations including NetOne, Innscor, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company, Green Fuel, commercial banks such as NMB, Stanbic, funeral parlour Nyaradzo, Varun Beverages, the Zimbabwe-domiciled bottler for PepsiCo Inc, LS Water, Waverly Blankets and many others.
Smaller efforts have also begun. The world of sports jumped in, as well, Dynamos, Ngezi Platinum and Herentals, each donating to the victims. And supporters came to the party as well. Manchester United supporters Zimbabwe chapter, was crowdsourcing for the victims, so were several boozers’ clubs.
Skilful Warriors and Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Khama Billiat dedicated Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo to victims of Cyclone Idai. The Warriors are also asking fans to donate during the crucial Sunday football game.
The senior women’s national cricket team, currently in camp for next month’s tour of Uganda where they are scheduled to play in the Twenty20 triangular series, joined donors at Presbyterian Church along Enterprise Road on Tuesday where Rotary Club Zimbabwe and Miracle Missions Harare Helps Harare coordinated massive community help towards the disaster.
National cricket team all-rounder Sikandar Raza donated his match fees to victims of the disaster while Brendan Taylor, former national team captain, was coordinating relief efforts.
Academic and analyst Peter Tendaiwo Maregere, a doctor in transitional justice, said: “Cyclone Idai has taught us many lessons on compassion, reaching out, sharing the pain of our kith and kin, linking and transferring our Zimbabweaness to the victims of this natural atrocity, the impropriety of politicking and the beauty of our oneness as a people.
“My take away from the outpouring of empathy is that we need to learn how to learn. Learn new ways of behaviour, inclusiveness, engagement, information sharing and appreciating this space we call home.” DailyNews