Saturday, 4 April 2020


MORE than 260 Zimbabweans, among them deportees repatriated from neighbouring Botswana, are subjected to unhygienic and squalid conditions at Plumtree High School, which has been turned into an isolation centre as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited the isolation centre and observed that ablution facilities were unhygienic, amid prevailing water shortages at the school, making it a ticking health time bomb.

Toilets used by the returnees are not working and flies could be seen all over the place due to the stench emanating from human waste.

The principle of social distancing, which is key in containing the spread of the deadly global pandemic, doesn’t seem to apply as two people are forced to share a single bed in the hostels and some of the beds have no mattresses.

The Chronicle news crew also noticed that when queuing for food, returnees do not maintain social distancing.

Botswana on Thursday deported 185 undocumented Zimbabweans into the country through Plumtree Border Post while 82 others who were legally staying in that country voluntarily returned home.

Both groups underwent Covid-19 screening and were taken to Plumtree High School where they are being temporarily kept as part of health measures by Government to contain the disease.

Covid-19 has so far killed more than 55 000 people globally with the number of infected having surpassed the one million mark.
Returnees who spoke to the Chronicle yesterday expressed concern over the unhygienic conditions they were subjected to at the hostels and poor diet.

Mr Harold Nyathi, who voluntarily arrived from Gaborone on Thursday, said the hostels which they are occupying where not fit for human habitation.

“While we are not against the decision by Government to take us to this isolation centre, we feel the place they chose is not secure and safe in terms of ensuring that coronavirus doesn’t spread. This is not a proper place to accommodate people and the conditions here are not suitable for human habitation as there is no water to flush toilets. We are saying if Government realised that it did not have the capacity to accommodate us they should have just screened us and let us proceed to our respective homes where we were going to self-isolate ourselves,” he said.

“This is a recipe for a heath disaster and I believe by being kept in such a filthy place, there is a likelihood of an outbreak of other diseases in addition to coronavirus.”

Ms Alice Mutatiwa, who is employed as a maid in Selebi-Phikwe said: “In some cases we are forced to share a single bed, which in itself is against the principle of social distancing. We are not being provided with sanitary wear and the toilets are not working.”

Ms View Rupere from Gokwe said they were sleeping on beds with no mattresses while others were sleeping on the floor with no blankets. 

Ms Enifa Maripiti who was deported from Gaborone following her arrest, said she was detained for three weeks at a detention centre in the neighbouring country.

“I was deported from Botswana yesterday (Thursday) after spending two weeks in detention, but sadly we are now back home and this is the kind of treatment we are getting. We are sleeping on beds with no mattresses and there are no blankets and at night we will be freezing. We are appealing to Government to provide us with linen and blankets to use during this period of isolation,” she said.

Mr Felix Ndlovu of Old Pumula suburb in Bulawayo said he was on antiretroviral therapy and his main worry was that he was left with two days’ supply of drugs.

Ms Sarah Gwaregwa, who is also on ART and is hypertensive, said her health is now compromised as they were not getting food on time.

“Some of us are on medication and these conditions are highly likely to compromise our health. Since 9AM we had breakfast and its now 3PM, we haven’t eaten yet we are on medication and clearly this means we will end up dying here because of other diseases such as cholera, typhoid. We don’t want to be kept here any longer, we are tired of these unhealthy conditions,” she said.

However, the district medical officer for Mangwe, Dr Nyasha Hunda said all the returnees with underlying medical conditions were being catered for.

“When there is a situation like this people always want to blow it out of proportion. When those people were brought to the isolation centre, we went there to try and find out whether those who had any chronic illnesses could have their supplies refilled and everyone who had prescriptions had their supplies refilled.

Today we had an ambulance, which was carrying medics and they attended to those who were in need of medication,” he said. 

“We also conscientised them on the need to carry their medication and medical records whenever travelling. Of course, there might be some who do not have medication and those are the ones we are trying to cater for and yesterday alone we supplied 15 people with medication.”

Dr Hunda admitted that the hygienic conditions were poor at the isolation centre. He said they were working with the Department of Social Welfare and other stakeholders to improve the conditions.

“Our people need to be educated more. It’s not like everyone should move around with hand sanitisers and what we are emphasising is that people should wash their hands with running water and soap. In the event that you can’t do that then you can use a hand sanitisers and in terms of running water and soap those things are there,” he said.

Dr Hunda said they have since engaged Plumtree Town Council over the ongoing water crisis at the isolation centre so that they restore water supplies.

Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director Dr Chipo Chikodzore said the deportees were being handled by an inter-ministerial team under the district civil protection unit (CPU) due to Covid-19.

“Covid-19 is an international issue, so the issue of voluntary returnees and those deported from Botswana is being handled by the CPU in line with the national thrust. So, the Ministry is working with other departments including the social welfare and immigration,” she said.
Mangwe District Coordinator, Ms Rorisang Makhurane, who also chairs the local Civil Protection Committee, said Government through the Department of Social Welfare is providing the returnees with food. She, however, said they were left with a week’s supply and appealed to their partners to chip in.

“Initially, we were informed that we would receive 110 deportees from Botswana, but the number increased to 185 and in addition to that we had 82 people who actually volunteered to return home and we are also staying at the isolation centre resulting in food shortages,” she said.

Ms Makhurane said the returnees will be placed in self-isolation until the 21-day lockdown is over. President Mnangagwa announced the 21-day lockdown banning non-essential travelling during this period. Zimbabwe and Botswana have both recorded Covid-19. The two countries have joined other government who are continuing to roll out increasingly robust measures to combat the spread of the global pandemic through lockdowns.

Between January and October last year, Botswana law enforcement agents arrested over 4 000 Zimbabweans for violating immigration laws. Chronicle


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