The plight of aged immigrants
AT ITS peak, Kamativi Tin Mine was once the biggest underground tin mine in Africa, employing over 1 300 people, most of them immigrants from Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. Unfortunately, Kamativi Mine, situated near Hwange National Park in the Dete area, closed shop in June 1994 after 58 years of operation owing to falling global prices of the mineral.
Its closure had a huge impact on the socio-economics of the Dete area as thousands lost jobs, just as much as it created another unforeseen predicament.
Hundreds of immigrants from Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia who trekked to the mine in the 1950s and 1960s were doomed as they were left with nowhere to go, nor a family to lean on.
Octogenarian Zenasi Zulu, an 86-year-old Zambian who came to Kamativi in 1955 when he was still a young man with no proper documentation, is a sad case study of immigrants who were left homeless and hopeless after the closure of Kamativi Mine.
“I have no family here, I have lost contact with my relatives back in Zambia. What I only know is I left a brother in Zambia,” Zulu, who came to Hwange 63 years ago, told The Sunday Mail Society at Dete Old Age Home last weekend.
“Although I would have wanted to go back to my fatherland, lack of proper documentation and resources forced me into desperation.
“Besides, where would I go?” added a tormented Zulu, whose right leg was amputated at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo last year.
Situated on the periphery of Hwange National Park, the country’s biggest natural reserve, Dete Old Age Home was established back in 1983 to cater for unfortunate immigrants like Zulu.
“We have taken care of hundreds of immigrants at this home since 1983, some die and are buried at a local cemetery,” said Ms Cecilia Mwembe, sister-in-charge at the home.
“They (immigrants) came to work in mines. After the closure of Kamativi and scaling down of operations at Hwange Colliery, they could not go back to their respective countries because they do not have any connection with their relatives.
“Most of them didn’t start families here in Zimbabwe,” revealed Sister Mwembe.
Alec Ora, whose father is of Zambian origin, has no idea of when exactly he was born.
What he knows is that he was born in Zimbabwe to a Tswana mother and a Zambian father who migrated to Zimbabwe in search of employment in the 1940s.
“I do not know when exactly I was born, both my parents died a long time ago. What I know is that I have a sister but I don’t know her whereabouts,” says the light skinned Ora.
Residents at Dete Old Age Home survive on hand-outs and last weekend, they had a rare treat when the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority donated mattresses.
“We survive solely on hand-outs here, and we are grateful to ZimParks for consistently coming to our rescue,” Sister Mwembe said.
ZimParks director-general, Mr Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya, said his organisation feels obliged to assist communities.
“One of the main tenets of conserving wildlife resources is to make sure society benefits from co-existence with wildlife and wildlife resources in and around communities.
“Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has taken it upon itself to reach out to local communities with a few benefits generated from the conservation of the wildlife as a way of enhancing community awareness that wildlife is a heritage for all and must be protected from any form of suffering,” said Mr Mangwanya.
But for Alfredo, a Mozambican who was born in Chidengele in 1940 and came to Kamativi in 1962, a reunion with his family is all he prays for day and night.
Alfredo married a Zimbabwean woman who died on the Christmas Eve of 1999. The couple had no children and the Mozambican is now on his own.
“I would want to go back to Mozambique but I have no money. The last time I visited my homeland was back in 1975 to attend my father’s funeral,” moaned Alfredo.