MUTARE – Movement for Democratic Change leader Nelson Chamisa on Monday saw first hand the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, Manicaland Province, and vowed to rally international help for thousands of families affected by the floods.
The MDC leader shovelled off debris blocking a bridge; rode a scotch-cart across the Birchenough Bridge; attended a funeral in Nyanyadzi; posed for pictures with school children and heard from staff at a local hospital who said bodies left at the mortuary had gone bad due to lack of electricity, knocked off by the cyclone which had killed at least 98 people on Monday.
Chamisa, who had intended to also visit Chipinge, was blocked by soldiers and police at a roadblock who told him the road was not usable.
“We were surprised that after hearing of our trip the soldiers and police mounted a roadblock 12km from the point from which they claimed buses were sinking and refused us entry,” party spokesman Jacob Mafume said.
“We were told by villagers that other cars were being allowed. Even after we were denied entry, we saw some motorists being allowed to pass the checkpoint, so clearly someone gave an order to deny Chamisa entry.”
Mafume said locals were happy to see the MDC leadership team which also included vice president Elias Mudzuri and secretary general Douglas Mwonzora.
“The people were actually happy that at least leadership from Harare was giving attention to their plight. President Chamisa promised villagers that he will help in terms of international attention to this very painful issue,” Mafume said.
The MDC officials saw bridges swept away by flood waters, homes destroyed by mudslides and spoke to families who had lost everything.
Chamisa told reporters during the tour: “This is not about politics but it’s about our country. We must be able to look at this situation as a national challenge, which must be looked at from a national perspective.
“My coming here with the leadership of the MDC is our own kind gesture, to show our willingness to put our hands on the deck to resolve the national challenges.”
Chamisa appealed to the international community to “come to the rescue of Zimbabwe”
“Together we will deal with this. This is a natural disaster, it’s not man-made, so we need to have a collective and concerted effort to rebuild these communities,” Chamisa said.
But even as he noted that the devastation had been caused by a natural phenomenon, the MDC leader was critical of the government’s handling of the crisis.
“This is a wake-up call on us as authorities, as leadership that in future we must have disaster preparedness mechanisms and also we must have early warning signs, and systems within our communities so that we are able to better deal with such disasters,” he said.
“I’ve not been quite satisfied with the response of the state,” he added.
The government said damaged roads and bridges had delayed efforts to reach affected communities.