SOUTH Africa has seconded 135 of its National Defence Forces engineers and state-of-the-art engineering equipment to Chimanimani to help in the reconstruction of bridges in Kopa in fulfilment of a pledge made by its International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to assist in the reconstruction of Cyclone Idai-affected areas.
Zimbabwe National Army director public relations Lieutenant-Colonel Alphios Makotore said in a statement yesterday that the engineers, who arrived on Monday and are being assisted by ZNA engineers, will be in the country until the work is completed.
“The South African National Defence Forces’ (SANDF) engineers will be working closely with their Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) counterparts. The South Africans will be in the country until they finish the prioritised projects in Chipinge and Chimanimani districts, respectively,” he said.
Cyclone Idai was declared a national disaster by President Mnangagwa as a way of mobilising resources for the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure.
The cyclone, which mainly ravaged Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, killed hundreds of people, displaced thousands others and destroyed infrastructure estimated to be worth close to a billion dollars.
When The Herald visited Kopa yesterday, the SANDF and ZNA personnel were on the ground with their heavy equipment.
SANDF have already set up camp alongside their ZNA counterparts, who have been stationed at Kopa since the disaster struck on March 15 this year.
Kopa and Ngangu, both in Chimanimani, were the hardest hit.
In an interview with The Herald, the ZNA operational coordinator for the project, Major Innocent Taguta, said the SANDF engineers would help construct belly bridges across Rusitu and Nyahode rivers. Belly bridges are
largely metal structures.
The two bridges are very strategic as they link communities to essential service centres.
“The Zimbabwe National Army is working very closely with the South African Defence Forces engineers here to construct two Belly Bridges on Rusitu and Nyahode. The bridges are very strategic as they link the community to schools and clinics,” he said.
When Cyclone Idai hit Chimanimani it washed away bridges and disconnected children from schools and communities from hospitals and fruit plantations.
Banana and avocado plantations are a source of livelihood for most villagers in Kopa. Chimanimani also provides 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s timber.
“Right now we have started work. We are doing site clearance while awaiting the arrival of other equipment from South Africa. We are doing the site preparations to enable us to build the bridges. The bulk of the work is being done by the South African Defence Forces supported by ZNA engineers,” said Major Taguta.
He rubbished claims on social media suggesting South Africa had deployed its soldiers for other non-humanitarian reasons.
“The South Africans are assisting us following the disaster that happened here. This purely on humanitarian grounds. The equipment you see over there is not war arsenal. This is not war.
“It is purely humanitarian like what we do in landmines clearance at places such as Sango (border). Our target is to beat the rain season. We improvised temporary bridges but now we need to construct permanent bridges before the rainy season begins,” said Major Taguta.
Members of the South African Defence Forces at the camp could not comment when approached by The Herald because they are not authorised to speak to the media.
Senior officials from the SANDF and ZNA are expected at Kopa today. Zimbabwe and South Africa enjoy very close ties.
When Cyclone Idai hit Zimbabwe, South Africa was among countries that swiftly mobilised aid.