Eyewitness report from Zimbabwe: poverty forces mothers to abandon children

Otilia Tshuma, 71, has been left with two grandchildren to care for in her one room hut

Otilia Tshuma, 71, has been left with two grandchildren to care for in her one room hut

The economic crisis in Zimbabwe has forced parents to abandon their children,  leaving them either alone or in the care of grandparents,  Caritas worker David Snyder writes in his blog for CAFOD.  If you want to understand the scale of the economic crisis gripping Zimbabwe, travel to the village of Mandabe.

While evidence of the hardships facing the people of Zimbabwe is not hard to find across much of the country, the face of crisis is not what you will find in Mandabe, but rather what you will not: the parents of many of Mandabe’s children.

They have left Zimbabwe, and their families, for a new life in neighbouring Botswana.

I spent the day in Mandabe, meeting some of the more than 164,000 people Caritas has been providing with monthly rations as part of the ongoing emergency appeal, launched earlier this year.

The first family we met was that of 19 year-old Edita Ndebele and her brother Elvis Ncube, 23. Their mother abandoned them in 2005 – simply left one day for a new life in Botswana as the economic crisis in Zimbabwe became impossible for her. Then 19 year-old Elvis became the head of the household, struggling to complete his schooling while also trying to support his younger siblings. Though they know from others that she is alive, they have never heard from their mother again.

A short walk away from their one-room hut, 71-year-old Otilia Tshuma struggles with her own burden. Two of her grown children also abandoned Zimbabwe, and their families, and fled to Botswana, leaving two young children – then just six and seven – in Otilia’s care. When her husband died last year, Otilia was left completely alone with the kids, unable to provide even basic care for her young grandchildren.

It is a rarity for mothers to abandon their children. In Africa, where family can quite literally mean the difference between life and death, it is almost unheard of.

That two families within a short walk of each other in the same village have been dealt such a blow speaks volumes on the impact of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis – where the nearby presence of Botswana, its hills visible from the homes of Mandabe, has simply proven too much for hungry Zimbabweans desperate for a new life.

There are two things each of the families I met share. Each was included by Caritas in a selection of extremely vulnerable groups.

Elvis and Edita, as well as their siblings, have been receiving monthly food rations from Caritas since April. So too have Otilia and her grandchildren.

Now, however, those rations have ended, as the emergency appeal Caritas launched in February 2009 has fallen short of the money it was hoping to raise.

From now on, each of these families will once again be on their own, seeking food as they can, where they can, to keep their family’s going.

There is no way to sugarcoat it – that is the reality in the village of Mandabe today.

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