Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Meet Harare's Own Cat Woman

There is a grey haired old lady cycling slowly up Sam Nujoma Avenue into the CBD. She dons a kaftan and sandals. Her old bicycle is loaded with pet food and utensils. She makes this journey every morning- and then the return leg every evening. Few people know where she is going. Fewer people know her name. They just call her the cat woman.

Heather Fraser is eighty-two years old. She is a retired science teacher. Her week days over the last 10 or so years have been pretty identical in their clockwork nature.

She begins her day with a bike ride into town where she first stops at the senior citizens club for a cup of coffee. At 10am she rides to the Anglican Cathedral and then to 1st street to feed the pigeons and any cats in the vicinity.

She then returns to the club for lunch. At around 3pm she rides over to Fife Avenue shopping centre to feed the stray cats and that is a sight to behold. From all over the place cats emerge- as if by appointment. Heather takes out her bowls and catfood and lays out the feast. You can hear her talking to the cats as they eat. When they are done, she packs everything up and then cycles home at the end of another busy day.

Her home in Avondale is a cat haven. She lives alone with her other feline friends.

The Zimbo Jam spent one Sunday morning with Heather. She says that she has been feeding cats at the Cathedral for years now. On asking her how many cats she feeds every day she replies "You’d have to ask Barbara... She has made it much more, well, thriving shall we say? Because she has given us this food. I could not afford this."

Barbara Reed has been in Zimbabwe with USAID for the last five years. She met Heather in 2007. She herself has a passion for cats and has been supplying Heather with cat food since then. She has also taken on the responsibility of spending every Sunday with her fellow cat lover. The two of them visit the Friends Animal Foundation (FAF) on Sundays to spend time at the cattery there.

Barbara says she heard about how Heather cycled to town every day to feed the cats and so she left some cat food at US Embassy, right across from the senior citizen club.

"Heather received the food and I just got into the habit of taking her more of it," says Barbara. The two then started visiting FAF every weekend and their friendship grew.

The general manager of Friends Animal Foundation, Mary Lu says Heather visits FAF every Sunday and loves feeding the cats. "After feeding them she brushes them, plays and talks to them as they gather around her along with the resident dogs."

Mary Lu said Heather loves cats. "She’s got an amazing way with them. She had these two little wild kittens who’d come to her. Good understanding of the cats and she’s got her little full life with doing things that she feels is important for her. She is a bit eccentric but maybe when you are eighty-two and you have never been married and had children, no family left maybe you are allowed to be that. She has an incredible memory she’s a hoarder she’ll hoard empty cans of food that my husband must take to be recycled and the money all comes to FAF."

Heather Fraser says she goes to bed with the sun going down and wakes at the sunrise. She has no running water or electricity at her house though she stays in the upmarket suburb of Avondale, as her pension is barely enough to cover for her food. She lives on donations that she also shares with her pets.  


Harare hospital’s youngest ‘staffer’

By Roselyne Sachiti

A LIGHT-skinned, barefooted three-year-old boy, popularly known as Jonso, emerges from under a hospital bed and chats to a group of people visiting their ill relatives at Harare Central Hospital on a Thursday afternoon.

The small boy talks to one of the relatives who gives him an orange before he leaves to check on his mother, Gladys Zvarehwa, who is sleeping on bed 19.

At the tender age of six months, Jonso was brought in the hospital alongside his badly injured destitute mother in February 2007. He knows almost all the wards operations that include visiting hours, meal and bath times and medication times. He has also seen many patients die in the ward.

Jonso has never left the hospital premises and believes Ward 4C, which houses elderly female patients, is his home. He knows almost every admitted patient in the ward by name and hence nurses call him "a member of staff".

"We contributed money towards buying him milk and cereals when his mother was critically injured in 2007. We still buy him clothes and we also take turns to give him food and are planning to take him to pre-school so that he does not disturb other patients in the afternoon. It seems this child has become immune to diseases because of his long stay in hospital," said a nurse who declined to be named.

Even when the hospital was facing serious challenges last year, Zvarehwa was the "last woman standing" as she stayed put on her bed insisting she did not have any relatives.

In the ward Jonso, just like any other toddler enjoying their childhood, moved around barefooted sliding under beds and rolling on the hospital floor.

He also took time to fetch water for his mother in two small plastic bottles when The Sunday Mail crew arrived at the hospital last week.

Despite it being visiting hour, his mother lay covered under blankets in her hospital bed. After being woken up by nurses who told her she had visitors, Zvarehwa sat and stared at us.

Only the energetic Jonso, who stood with his arms akimbo, greeted us inquiring the purpose of our visit. The speed and manner in which he asked the questions displayed his striking wit.

Question after question came from the small boy: "Did you come to see me or my mother? Are you my relative? Did you bring me anything? Can I plait your hair? What’s your name? Can I have a pen and paper, I want to write something?"

Zvarehwa only spoke after noticing that we had offered her son bread and French fries, which they both devoured.

"I sleep during visiting hours because I know no one will come to see me. I do not know where my relatives are, that is why I stay here with my child. I don’t want to leave the hospital," she said before falling into a long spell of silence.

Only her son spoke and he seemed comfortable despite being in the company of a stranger.

Another nurse said they tried to persuade Zvarehwa to leave hospital on several occasions, but she refused, saying she has nowhere to go.

"She would keep quiet every time we asked her where her relatives are. Despite her mental problem, Zvarehwa is well behaved and does not bother other hospital patients," added the nurse.

Harare Hospital chief executive officer Mr Jealous Nderere explained why Zvarehwa and her son have been in hospital for such a long period.

He confirmed that Zvarehwa, a destitute, was admitted to the hospital in February 2007, adding that her child was found at the scene of the accident and brought to hospital with her.

"She was in a serious condition for a couple of weeks and did not even know who she was. Her injuries were serious that she could not walk or talk resulting in us treating her for a long time.

"Zvarehwa also had no identification papers on her and we just treated her not knowing who she was and hoping that her relatives would come to look for her," said Mr Nderere.

On noticing that she knew nothing about her present or past, the hospital referred Zvarehwa to a psychiatrist for evaluation.

"After assessment, we decided to move her from the psychiatric unit to the general hospital. She started coming out in terms of her identity and this was a positive development," said Mr Nderere.

In February 2008, they referred her to a social worker based at Harare Central Hospital after seeing notable improvements.

"We thought she could be discharged, but she was of no fixed abode. We then referred her case to a resident social worker. The social worker’s idea was to discharge and leave her at Mbare Musika, but we thought it was not a good idea because of the child. We then tried to look for any of her relatives but in vain," he explained.

According to Mr Nderere, they later learnt from a trainee nurse that Zvarehwa’s rural home is in Kutombo, Nyanga. They then investigated through their public relations department, which came up with positive results.

"We gathered information that a Zupco bus plied that route and thought we had succeeded in taking her back home, but faced another brickwall as the bus had withdrawn its services because roads leading to Kutombo had been washed away by heavy rains. We went back to square one?"

Another attempt to take Zvarehwa to her family was when they tried to assist through Nyanga police in February last year.

"We wanted to arrange to drop her off at the police station that would in turn transfer her to Kutombo, but police said their resources were stretched since it was an election campaign period. They said they did not want to move with a patient in such an environment and neither did they want to keep her at the police station," said Mr Nderere.

Faced with such a dilemma, Mr Nderere said the hospital had no choice but to keep the mother and child at the hospital.

"The mother does not want to be separated from her child and we had no choice but to keep them together. We are going to take them to Nyanga in two weeks’ time," said Mr Nderere.

He added that Zvarehwa did not pay any medical bills during her stay in hospital as she was catered for under the hospital’s social responsibility programme.

Commenting on the issue, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights lawyer Mr Rangu Nyamurundira said children should be in an environment that is conducive and a hospital is not a good place for a child to grow in.

"If the mother is hospitalised and cannot look after her child, and if no relatives can be traced, the Department of Social Welfare has the responsibility to place the child in an institution until at a time the mother is discharged.

"The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child clearly states that all actions concerning a child should take full account of his or her best interests. It further says the state should provide adequate care when parents or others responsible fail to do so," said Mr Nyamurundira.

Another human rights lawyer who declined to be named said it is surprising that no attempt to place Jonso in an institution was made, since the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child explicitly explains that the state is also obliged to provide special protection for children deprived of their family environment and to ensure that appropriate alternative family care or institutional placement is made available to them, taking into account the cultural social background.

"However, children have the right to live with their parents unless this is incompatible with their best interests; the right to maintain contact with parents if separated from one or both; and the right to be informed by the state of the whereabouts of their parents if such separation is the result of action by the state," added the lawyer.

While many feel pity for Jonso, he says he might stay longer in hospital as he wished to become a doctor if he gets a chance to go to school.


Shock: In South Africa, the life of Zimbabwean is worth R1000

Some say Zimbabweans in South Africa, the unemployed, live like mangy rats. The Zimbabwean refugees, when confronted with calamity have no one to turn to, as the police would immediately
deport them.

In a clear show of how Zimbabwe has been changed forever by the ruinous ZANU-Pf policies for the past ten years, a group of Zimbabwean men, killed and then kidnapped other Zimbabweans in South Africa. For the fellow country that they help hostage, the kidnappers demanded ransom of RSA R1000 each.

In other words, out there in South Africa, the life of a Zimbabwean is worth R1000. The Zimbabwean men held the hostages after they had raped and robbed the other hostages. This story is one of many sad stores that’s being played out in South Africa. The majority of the stories go unreported. Whole story below, courtesy of the Sowetan.com: 

Eleven Zimbabweans – five men, three women and three toddlers – were rescued after three days in which some of their compatriots went missing after being raped.

They had left Zimbabwe in a group of 23 – 15 men, five women and three toddlers. The desperate group were lured into a van at Beit Bridge at Musina, Limpopo, by three fellow Zimbabweans who promised to get them to South Africa “without any problems”.

Instead, two women were raped and dumped on the way with 10 men.
Only eight reached Johannesburg and they were promptly locked in a tiny room without a toilet and food and were forced to use a bucket to relieve themselves.

“We left Zimbabwe. When we got to the border three men approached us and said they would take us to Johannesburg without going through the border,” said Calisto Dube.

He said their kidnappers told them they would have to cross the river because their car was waiting on the other side.

“We walked for about 40km before we reached a Toyota Hilux bakkie and we were told it was to be our transport.”

He said they squashed themselves into the back of bakkie “because we hoped to have a better life in South Africa”.

Dube said on the way “two women were raped” and thrown out of the moving vehicleHe said others were dropped in different places along the way.

Another kidnapped man, Thomas Danga, told Sowetan that when they got to Yeoville, Johannesburg, their kidnappers locked them in a room and took their cellphones, money and clothes.

“They told us that they would only release us if our relatives came with a R1000 a person.”He said they again had to share a small bucket to relieve themselves.

“Can you imagine relieving yourself in front of strangers. We were sleeping on the floor with no blankets.”

He said they were also not provided with food.
“They only bought a one litre mageu for the children. That was after the kids were crying,” said Dube.

Johannesburg Central police spokesperson Captain John Maluleke said police were tipped-off by a relative of one of the kidnapped Zimbabweans.

“We found them in a tiny room with urine all over the place. It is unbelievable human beings can do such a thing to their fellow beings.”

He said three men were arrested and will appear in court soon. “The victims will undergo counselling to help them deal with their ordeal.”


Me! Me! Take Me! Children pose for a picture at the Bulawayo Centre.
Located in the heart of Bulawayo, the centre is a mall that houses boutiques, cinemas a supermarket, offices and scores of other shops.

A man and a woman dance at a Mawungira eNharira show in Harare recently.

 Mawungira eNharira performs powerful Mbira pieces and have regular shows at the Book Café (2009) which draw large fanatical audiences.


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