George Maponga in Masvingo
Villagers in southern Chikombedzi have implored Government to expedite the construction of a bridge across Runde River at Chilonga with desperate travellers risking their lives by crossing the flooded and crocodile-infested river.
Runde bisects Chiredzi district separating Chiredzi Town in the north and Matibi 2 and greater Sengwe communal lands in the south where the majority people live.
However, villagers in the southern part cannot cross Runde via the shorter route at Chilonga where a low-level bridge is submerged by the flooded river.
Those wishing to travel to and from Chiredzi Town from southern Chiredzi have to either go through Mpapa near Triangle or Rutenga which is longer and costly in terms of transport.
Hundreds of villagers from the south are, however, forced to travel up north daily in search of market for their agricultural produced in Chiredzi Town, the district commercial capital.
The town is also home to the district health referral centre at Chiredzi District Hospital and emergency health cases in places like Malipati, Dhavata and Boli often end up leading to loss of life as it is difficulty to access specialist health care.
According to Mr Elijah Chirove of Mutomani village,there is need for an all weather bridge at Chilonga.
He noted that many lives have been lost to date as people struggle to cross the flooded river to and from Chiredzi Town.
“This problem(of a low-lying bridge) has been there for many years now and we appeal to authorities to do something before a bigger disaster take place as people have to resort to using home made canoes which are unsafe to cross Runde,”he said.
Farmers from southern Chikombedzi were also losing business opportunities as they cannot easily take their produce to the market in Chiredzi Town.
“We have Chilonga irrigation scheme here where farmers are until horticulture and grow crops like tomatoes,vegetables which they can sell and earn income to send their children to school but Runde river can only be safely accessed using the longer route via Mupapa or Rutenga which is long and not compatible with perishable produce,”said Mrs Ronica Sibanda from Chibwedziva.
Chiredzi Rural District Council chief executive Mr Ailess Baloyi weighed in saying many lives had been lost as desperate villagers turned to home made canoes to cross the flooded Runde.
He said for around 4 months every the Runde bridge at Chilonga will be submerged forcing travellers to use canoes.
While unemployed Chilonga youths have been exploiting the situation to make money by operating the canoes, Mr Baloyi reckons that its unsafe.
“We appeal to authorities to make sure there is a new bridge at Chilonga and at the same time exhorting our people to avoid using home made canoes to cross the flooded rivers they risk their lives.
“Besides risking attack by crocodiles and hippos the floods can force the canoes to capsize and not everyone is capable of swimming raising the spectre of loss of life,” he said.
Mr Baloyi warned travellers to consider using the longer routes via Mupapa or Rutenga rather than try to cut transport costs by using a dangerous route.
“At the end of the day life is more important than everything. We have lost so many lives with people drowning after mishaps in these canoes,”he said.