The Sunday Mail
“OUR greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” the great Chinese philosopher Confucius philosophised.
While this holds true for the Chinese people and the rest of the world as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the global population with lightning speed, it also applies to the thousands of folks in Chimanimani, who are still picking up the pieces exactly 12 months after Cyclone Idai brought them to their knees.
On March 15 2019, thousands of lives of people living in this scenic district nestled in the south-east of Zimbabwe, were shattered. Not only did they lose their loved ones — they lost their homes, crops, livestock and businesses.
Cyclone Idai, one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Sub-Saharan Africa and the Southern Hemisphere, left most of them with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when disaster struck.
But for some, even those basic garments were stripped from their bodies by unforgiving, violent floods that spilled from Nyahode River.
Whole villages and shopping centres were swept away, along with hundreds of people, never to be seen again. But a year later, survivors are slowly rising from that great fall, dusting themselves up and getting ready to move on with life.
“Starting over after such a disaster is painful and slow, but if I don’t rise now, I might become a charity case for the rest of my life,” said 53-year-old Shylet Mupotaringa, a resilient businesswoman based at Peacock Business Centre.
She is one of the few shop owners that survived when 16 shops and their attendants were swept away when Nyahode River burst its banks on that fateful night.
Here, only a small piece of slab remains to show that there was once a thriving business centre. Other than that, a big river now flows where the shops used to stand. The river was once a small stream that divided the business centre from the village behind it. Now it is just a gnawing reminder of the devastation brought by mother nature.
It is also where Mupotaringa and her family lost everything — their shop, the stocks inside, their home in the backyard and all their possessions including identity documents and passports.
“For 10 years, I worked hard to grow the small business I started after my husband died. It had grown over those years and I was now the owner of a grocery shop, a flea market, a small eatery at the back and a pool table. I was making profits and my children were living a good life. But in a few hours, I lost everything,” she said.
But she refused to let that loss define her. In October last year, a family member gave her $500 to help with the family’s upkeep.
Instead of “wasting” that money on “luxuries”, Mupotaringa bought timber and constructed a small cabin to use as a tuckshop right opposite the site that previously housed her and 15 other shops. Behind the shop, she put up a small room which she shares with her two school-going children and a grandchild.
Her stocks are still minuscule but business is slowly picking up.
“I cannot move away from this place. It might hold terrifying memories but it remains my home. I used to look across the road and see where it all happened. I would be filled with grief,” Mupotaringa told this publication.
“I used to think that the floods would come back for those of us that survived. But I have since overcome that fear. I have overcome so much more in the past year and I believe I will rise above it all.”
She said she refused to continue depending on donors who came to assist those affected by the cyclone. Although most of these donors have pulled out of the communities, some continue to trickle in and bring food aid.
“We are thankful to the Government and all its partners for the support they continue to give us. But I do not want to be dependent on donors for the rest of my life. My children should know that their mother worked hard to give them a better life. I want them to learn that hard work pays. We may not have much but we are surviving,” she said.
For now, her goal is to take her two youngest children through school and hopefully grow the business back to where it was before the disaster.
“I cannot stay down forever. I have mourned the loss of all my assets and the people I worked with daily, but it is now time to move on,” she declared.
“I bought a few groceries and stocked up my shop and I haven’t looked back since.
‘‘I don’t know if I will reach the level I had reached in terms of business but I can only take each day as it comes and keep the hope.”