THE Government yesterday provided a Zupco bus to transport part of the 100 female returnees and deportees from Botswana who were dumped at a hiking spot by officials from the Department of Social Welfare and also apologised to the affected individuals and their families.
The returnees and deportees who were staying at the United College of Education (UCE) in Bulawayo were on Thursday evening ordered to vacate the institution following the expiry of the 21-day Covid-19 mandatory quarantine period.
The group was part of the 456 returnees who were recently brought from an isolation centre at Plumtree High School to provide them with better living conditions and ease crowding.
The group, most of whom were deported from the neighbouring country, were released from the quarantine centre on the same day after testing negative for Covid-19.
Their male counterparts who were staying at Bulawayo Polytechnic were released on Wednesday.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Judith Ncube condemned the manner in which officials from the Department of Social Welfare handled the issue, saying Government does not condone such actions. “It is unfortunate that our people were subjected to inhuman treatment and what is more worrying is the fact that there are also vulnerable babies involved. I had an opportunity to listen to the complaints of the affected people and their sad story after they were dumped at the hiking spot,” she said.
“These are Zimbabweans hence the Government has an obligation to cater for their needs, especially during this Covid-19 period. The Government, through the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has a responsibility to address the plight of its returnees and no one can do that if we don’t. I met the officials from the Department of Social Welfare and a Zupco bus was arranged to take the returnees to Harare from where they will proceed to their respective homes.”
Minister Ncube said she regretted the actions by social welfare officials. She said her office will not allow recurrence of such incidents.
“On behalf of the President and the Government, I wish to apologise to the affected returnees, their families and the generality of Zimbabweans for this mishap, which should not be allowed to occur again. Whosoever decided to release these people at 5PM acted irresponsibly,” she said.
The Minister also commended Reverend Pedzisai Sam Sithole of the Crown of Glory Ministries for assisting the affected returnees and deportees by offering them accommodation.
“The pastor who rendered assistance to these people did a great job and we really appreciate his gesture and the spirit of humanity. May God bless him. We really need such people because as Zimbabweans we all have a role to play in the fight against Covid-19,” she said.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Deputy Minister Lovemore Matuke said officials in his ministry have an obligation to treat returnees with dignity upon their arrival and departure at quarantine centres.
“Social welfare officials have a duty to handle returnees with due respect and dignity. However, we have a challenge in that these people will be coming from different parts of the country making it difficult to organise one bus as they will be fragmented in terms of their destinations,” he said.
Deputy Minister Matuke also condemned the actions by officials in his ministry to order the returnees to vacate the quarantine centre at night.
“We need to come up with a strategy where a majority of people coming from the same areas are provided with a bus for convenience purposes,” he said.
When Chronicle arrived Rev Sithole’s house there was a hive of activity as the excited returnees were busy loading their luggage into the Zupco bus.
Those who spoke to the Chronicle thanked the pastor for his hospitality and the news crew for the expose.
Ms Rumbidzai Maguta of Harare said:
“I am so excited we are now finally heading home after going through this unfortunate incident. We would like to thank you (Chronicle news crew) for highlighting our plight as well as the pastor who offered us overnight accommodation and food.”
Ms Stella Munemo from Mutare who was also visibly excited said she was worried her her two-year-old son would catch a cold after they were dumped at the hiking spot without transport.
However, Ms Yvonne Ndlovu of Gokwe, who is a mother of a week-old baby and Ms Privilege Ndlovu of Nkayi, remained behind since the bus was not using their route and they are set to leave Bulawayo today. They were given money for transport.
Ms Ndlovu voluntarily returned from Botswana where she was employed as she wanted to give birth at home, but ended up delivering at Plumtree High School where they were initially quarantined before being later moved to Bulawayo.