Ms Esther Zinyoro of Mbare, Harare, also known as Mbuya Gwena, has become an overnight sensation due to the assistance she has been rendering to expecting mothers, most of whom were stranded after council nurses went on strike citing incapacitation.
Most people have spoken glowingly about the work she has been doing under challenging circumstances.
Between Sunday night and mid-morning on Monday, Mbuya Gwena, who stays a stone’s throw from Edith Opperman maternity clinic, has assisted 17 women.
On average, Mbuya Gwena is assisting 13 women to deliver on a daily basis.
Her case highlights what has been happening in different parts of the city, where expecting mothers are now resorting to home deliveries in the wake of the strike by council nurses.
While Mbuya Gwena is doing a great job, the challenge that her “clients” face is that of obtaining documentation for the newborn babies.
A lot of babies that were delivered at home have not yet been issued with birth certificates largely due to differences in processes followed regarding births at hospitals and at home. When birth has been given at a hospital or clinic, getting documentation is relatively easy as the health institution issues a birth record.
The birth record is immediately taken to the Registrar-General’s Office for the issuance of a birth certificate. Larger hospitals like Parirenyatwa have an even simpler way as the office is within the hospital.
If the parents are legally married, the father or mother’s national identity document is required, together with the couple’s marriage certificate.
For home births, the parents of the baby have to be accompanied by the person who would have assisted them to deliver.
Just as in the case with hospital births, the parent’s national identification documents, marriage certificate (if available) and the birth attendant’s ID is required.
Although some parents take long before starting the process of securing birth certificates for their children, the process is usually done within the first weeks of delivery.
However, under the present scenario, indications are that it might take even more days for those who delivered at home to obtain the documents.
In the case of Mbuya Gwena, there are fears that she might fail to accompany the mothers she helped to deliver because of their huge number and her busy schedule.
“Imagine if we had given birth in a health facility, we could have just gotten the birth records before we are even discharged. Now this situation will force us to come back again requesting Mbuya Gwena to accompany us to the RG’s office, which is cumbersome,” said Mrs Appronia Jela of Hatfield.
Mrs Maud Siyakurima of Epworth said there was no hope of them getting birth certificates until normal services resume in council clinics, arguing that the same person who is supposed to accompany them to the RG’s office will be busy assisting other women.
“This place is always busy. I doubt it very much that ambuya will find time to accompany someone to the RG’s office. Who would she leave the other expecting women with? So until services normalise in clinics, that’s when we can ask her to assist us to get birth certificates,” said Mrs Siyakurima.
Other women were concerned on what would happen if they lose the children before getting birth certificates.
“The situation is really tricky. What if one loses their child before getting a birth certificate, what happens then? Does one then apply for a birth certificate or a death certificate? responsible authorities should solve this issue as a matter of urgency”
Mbuya Gwena was however, forthcoming on the issue.
“They will have to come back so that I accompany them to the Registrar-General’s department for issuance of a birth certificate. That is how I have dealt with other women from my church whom I assisted to deliver before,” she said.
Women interviewed urged responsible authorities to “find each other” with striking health workers including those at Government institutions saying ordinary people were now bearing the brunt of the strike.
According to the RG’s Office, if a child is born out of a health facility, a witness, preferably a midwife is required to be present on birth registration.
Although The Herald could not establish the magnitude of women who could be in this scenario owing to lack of accurate information on who is giving birth at home and who is not, a number of women could be in similar circumstances as most are not giving birth in health facilities.
Gukurahundi and Cyclone Idai victims are also set to be assisted with registration of identity particulars, including birth certificates and national identity cards, following recommendations by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC).
Some victims of Gukurahundi lost their parents, relatives and in some instances traditional leaders, making it difficult for them to access identity particulars due to lack of immediate witnesses, since the era of civil disturbances that affected Midlands and south-western provinces in the early years of independence.
Fielding questions from journalists on Monday, ZHRC chairperson Dr Elasto Mugwadi: “For Gukurahundi victims, the issue of witnesses or parents is no longer applicable. We are making certain recommendations to have the issuance facilitated.
“The same goes to those who lost their documentation in Manicaland, particularly in Chimanimani and Chipinge; we recommended the waiving of the conventional requirements.” Dr Mugwadi said on challenges related to Harare Metropolitan Province, preliminary findings indicate that the main documents which people were failing to access are birth certificates, identity cards, passports and citizenship.
“Birth certificates challenges were experienced across the age ranges from children to the elderly. Challenges included difficulties in registering children delivered at home due to unavailability of birth records. This was a main challenge cited across all the districts.
“Long distances and costs of accessing the Registrar’s Offices were also cited as hindering ease access of documents by citizens, as was highlighted by residents of Crest Breeders in Harare South, who are advocating for a sub-office instead of them travelling to Highfield suburb for services,” he said.
Dr Mugwadi said in Harare, the lack of documentation has also been attributed to the withholding of birth records by health institutions due to failure by parents to settle hospital bills.
Failure to appreciate the importance of birth registration by communities, coupled with some religious beliefs that do not allow mothers to deliver at health institutions, also complicated access to identity particulars.
Further, the departure by parents to seek employment in other countries has also been cited as a hindrance to access to identity documents. Dr Mugwadi said other challenges included alleged corruption by staff in the RG’s office, lack of documentation caused by parents of foreign origin especially those from Malawi and Mozambique in areas such as Mufakose, Highfield and Harare South, and the prohibitive cost of citizenship certificates.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a birth registration provides permanent, official and visible evidence of a state’s legal recognition of any person’s existence as a member of society.