FIFTEEN-year-old Josphat Chibaya (15) dreams of being a soldier and aims at protecting his country in times of trouble, his younger sister Emma (13) wants to ensure we have a healthy nation as she wants to pursue a career in nursing.
The two siblings from Nkulumane 5 in Bulawayo, however, have no one to share those dreams with and to inspire them. Their source of strength, their mother, Mationesa Chibaya trekked to South Africa a few years ago. She left to seek a better life supposedly for her children and never came back, leaving her three children alone with no food, sound income and most of all, no motherly love and guidance. The children are from different fathers, whose whereabouts are also unknown to the children and neighbours.
While no one truly knows about their mother’s whereabouts, word on the streets is that she was arrested and is imprisoned in the neighbouring country leaving a child-headed family. No one seems to have an idea where relatives of the family are. A sizable number of people have left the country over the years to seek better fortunes, some have managed to provide a decent living for their kith and kin, others have proved otherwise by ending up in jail, streets while some died from criminal activities.
A good Samaritan Gogo Maggy Ncube (67) who stays just behind the Chibaya residence has taken over guardianship of the siblings as there was no one to look over them after they were left alone.
“The Chibayas (grandparents) lived here and they both passed on and left behind their children. So, the mother of these children, Mationesa, left for South Africa some years ago and left the children. She had been maintaining this home and we were seeing developments from when the parents died and we as a community were impressed that this girl was tending to the house. What then shocked us is that it has been several years now and we have not seen or heard from her. When she first went, she would return and visit her children but she has since stopped,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Ms Chibaya is said to have left her children alone with tenants being the only elderly people who would be with the children.
“There was a time in 2018 that the house was partially destroyed after a car rammed into it leaving two of the children in hospital. It spent a very long time unattended until I involved our local councillor and we followed up with the police as there was no progress on repairs by the perpetrator.
“With their help we then managed to get the house repaired and they are safe from the elements of weather. We collect the little rent that comes from the tenants to buy food for the children,” she added.
The house has had no electricity for close to a decade.
“With the current economic challenges, the rentals do not buy them much and the children run to me when they have nothing to eat. I informed other elderly members of the community who informed the councillor and he came and assisted with foodstuffs recently. These children cannot fend for themselves as they are young,” added Gogo Ncube.
The tenant who remained initially when Ms Chibaya left is still there while others have left.
“I then asked her to be my eyes and ears as she lives in the same house, I wanted to ensure that they are safe when they are at home as anything is possible out there especially at night. I give them whatever I will have found to eat or use although life is now hard for me and everyone else. Ms Chibaya does not even call her children to let them know if she is okay,” she added.
Ms Lizinia Gumbo who has been staying at the house since 2012 is the one who lives with the children.
“I came here and the mother had already gone to South Africa, another lady who stayed here died and since then I have been living here with them. I am assisted by Gogo Ncube here in caring for these children. I have taken it upon myself to just watch over them as they are young and alone. The mother has never sent any foodstuffs or clothes for as far as I can remember,” she said.
Owing to the burden that has been exerted on Ms Gumbo, her sister has taken in the youngest of the children who is 11 years old and is caring for her.
“My sister took in the youngest child to take care of her. These children sometimes go over and stay with my sister occasionally. We are doing this just to assist them,” she said.
The challenges that she faces are many.
“The children do not have clothes or shoes; they walk bare-footed. Now they have been affected badly by this cold weather as they have no blankets too. Even when schools were open, I had a challenge of uniforms for them and no one is paying their school fees,” she said.
Ms Gumbo said all this and food are the major problems she faces in looking after the children.
“Whatever I eat, is what they also eat. I do not know of any of their relatives, no one has come here,” she said.
Gogo Ncube said she approached the school head where the children learn telling them of their predicament.
“When I last went there, there was about ZW$900 that was needed at Amaveni Primary School that one of them was owing. He left and the debt still stands, he is in Form One now at Goshen College. I go and negotiate that they remain in school because even if the school heads chase them away for non-payment of fees, no one will come and cover the debt so I beg on their behalf so that they stay in school,” she said.
Utility bills are another challenge as funds from rentals can hardly be enough for food alone. The water bill alone currently stands at close to ZW$5 000, electricity was disconnected years ago by the power utility as there were some connections that were not professionally done. The children wash and clean for themselves under the supervision of Ms Gombo.
Gogo Ncube said she has seen a relative of Ms Chibaya and the encounters did not bear much fruit.
“I have seen an aunt to the children’s mother and she explicitly said she has nothing to do with the children and could not assist. I have seen her twice, I told her that we never asked for help before because the mother of the children would send groceries but since she stopped, we really need help,” she said.
However, Emma and Josphat are hopeful that their mother will return one day and take care of them. Councillor Rodney Jele said he was aware of the existence of the children.
“I hear that the mother was arrested in South Africa, I am not sure how far true it is. They rely on rentals which are not much because there is no electricity. They need to pay school fees too, we are also trying to get the eldest boy enrolled at a formal school and also get some school fees assistance,” he said.
The councillor said the children are cared for also by some residents who assist occasionally with foodstuffs.