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Mystery of the Mberengwa 'ambula-cart'

13 Jan 2021 at 07:57hrs | Views
AS Zimbabweans wallowed over the weekend in the boredom induced by the second coronavirus lockdown, an unusual but interesting picture went viral on social media.

The image featured an ordinary-looking scotch cart, freshly painted in a verdant green and parked in front of a building. A mature looking woman, clad in apparel of a lighter shade of green, stands alongside it.

What is not so commonplace is the message emblazoned along the side of the wagon in large white capital letters -"Jeka community ambulance".

As the image flew from platform to platform on social media on Saturday, it triggered off fierce debate on the obvious implication of the picture the collapse of social services in Zimbabwe, especially in the health sector.

In due course, information filtered through that the woman featured in the picture was sister Felistus Shingairai Munyai Sigogo, nurse-in-charge of Jeka Clinic in Mberengwa district. The cart on display was her own personal donation, her own contribution to efforts to alleviate the suffering of the impoverished community served by her clinic.

Sections of the public praised sister Sigogo for her enterprise. Others were incensed that the government should allow the country's health services to deteriorate to the level where the sick were now transported to hospital, as it were, on cattle-drawn scotchcarts.

As debate raged on, I sought to have a word with the gracious sister Sigogo of Mberengwa. I discovered to my dismay that she was recently deceased, having succumbed to illness on December 27, 2020. She was due for retirement in February, next month.

She left behind a son, Thulani Sigogo, whom I tracked down to Durban in South Africa. I put a call through to him and found him still in mourning, having failed to travel back home in Zimbabwe to attend his parent's burial because of travel restrictions induced by the coronavirus lockdown. Thulani denied out of hand that his mother, sister Sigogo, had ever donated any scotchcart to Jeka Clinic for use as a community ambulance.

"My mother was the sister-in-charge of Jeka Clinic," he explained. "She was on hand to receive the cart when it was delivered by government. She posed for a picture alongside the cart. That's all."

When the image of the scotchcart with sister Sigogo (64) standing beside it went viral on social media on Saturday, concern was expressed that in 2021, four decades after Zimbabwe's independence, alleged official negligence had resulted in a nursing sister at a rural clinic finding it necessary to sacrifice her own meagre earnings to help alleviate the suffering of her charges, the local population.

"Scotchcarts for ambulances?" queried Matthew Takaona, editor of The Masvingo Mirror on a WhatsApp platform frequented by senior journalists.

"When Chiefs drive state-ofthe-art vehicles? They can have vehicles yes, but not flashy ones when their subjects are pushed to clinics in wheelbarrows."

I put a call through to the long-serving Member of Parliament for Mberengwa West, Joram Gumbo, who is also Presidential Affairs minister.

He professed astonishment at the suggestion that the cart was donated to the clinic by government. "I only read about the Jeka community ambulance on social media," Gumbo said, "including that it was a donation by sister Sigogo."

Gumbo said Jeka Clinic was one of six rural clinics in his constituency. None of them had an ambulance.

"The clinics are all serviced by an ambulance from Mnene Government Hospital, 30km away from Jeka Clinic," the minister said. He pointed out that there was another ambulance stationed at Masase Mission Hospital, a Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe institution.

The cart donated to Jeka Clinic would obviously not have the capacity to transfer serious cases to Mnene Mission Hospital, given the distance involved.

The legislator suggested that it was possible that the Health and Child Care ministry had arranged to provide Jeka Clinic with a cart under some scheme without his knowledge.

Former Sunday Mail editor Funny Mushava, said this incident reminded him of a much publicised episode when no lesser personality than a former Transport government minister was transferred to a hospital in a scotchcart.

Zimbabwe's former Transport and Public Works minister, Clement Muchachi, a former official of Joshua Nkomo's-PF Zapu, died in abject poverty after he left government. He was taken to a hospital in Shurugwi on an ox-drawn cart a few days before he died in 2001. He was then promptly upgraded to the status of a national hero.

"That is good enterprise in these trying times," Mushava said referring to what he assumed at the time to be a donation by sister Sigogo. "I wish our own engineers would design a cart that has a roof and a stretcher bed inside."

Mushava said the social media story of sister Sigogo had inspired him to find a simple solution to a big problem in his own rural community.

He said: "To support my community I am going to buy one (cart) and add a shed, a stretcher and donate it to my village head for use by my people, especially pregnant women to take them to the local clinic, which is more than 6kms away, in times of emergency. I will talk to others so that we buy oxen to pull the cart."

"You are right," retorted Makonde MP Kindness Paradza, who is a former journalist.

"We can't have an ambulance in every village. Zvakamboitika kunyika ipi izvozvo? (In which country has that ever happened?). Unfortunately we have a breed yevanhu vanongoshora (of people who criticise) everything."

Former journalist Leonissa Munjoma chipped in: "Many rural areas use such kind of transport to health centres. I think this is good."

Edwin Moyo, a former journalist, now turned wealthy farmer and entrepreneur, said he, however, begged to differ.

"It's shameful that after so many years of independence we still have people living like this," he said. "Something has to give. God is watching."

Tommy Sithole, long-serving editor of The Herald and now chairman of Zimbabwe Newspapers said: "Please, don't defend this, Honourable MP," he charged while addressing Makonde legislator, Paradza. "This is 2021, please. Our people wherever they are, cannot and should never be transported anywhere by donkey carts or survive on water from wells in this day and age. This country is richer in resources than Japan, Korea and Switzerland put together."

While colleagues duly locked horns over the conversion of ox-drawn scotch-carts to ambulances in rural Zimbabwe, one veteran journalist Miriam Sibanda subtly introduced a new word into the English lexicon Ambula-cart.

Sibanda was news editor of Sunday News in Bulawayo before she was appointed Bulawayo editor of The Tribune before its ban by government.

Meanwhile, on another platform numbers were crunched as to how many second-hand but good condition regular ambulances would be purchased for rural clinics if just one Toyota Land Cruiser VXR 200 V8 estimated at US$180 000 was replaced with a locally assembled Mazda BT50 Twincab with a US$60 000 price tag.

Denying just one minister the luxury of a fuel guzzling V8-powered Land Cruiser would yield 12 fully-equipped second-hand ambulances or a few more if the saving was on a top-of-therange Lexus LX.570 with a 19-speaker surround sound system.

Geoffrey Nyarota is the former Editor of Manica Post, The Chronicle and The Financial Gazette, as well as Founding Editor-in-Chief of The Daily News

Source - newsday
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