The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
REPORTS of horrid encounters of Gender Based Violence from hospitals, police stations, courts and in schools have forced a team of professional women in Bulawayo to pull resources together and open a home and create a safety net for survivors in an effort to protect them from their perpetrators.
The home, aptly named The Haven, is tucked in Hillside suburb where women and girls affected by GBV can find refuge together with their children as they reorganise their lives and make fresh starts. But the noble lifesaving idea is facing challenges though.
Mrs Thobelike Khumalo who runs the home is in dire need of assistance to keep the home afloat. After a two-year hiatus attending to other business Mrs Khumalo found the home rundown after leaving it under the stewardship of a caretaker in 2019. Utility bills had accumulated and it dampened her spirit and fears were that the Haven would close.
The Haven Trust was registered in 1999 by teachers, nurses, police women and lawyers who were seeing GBV taking its toll on women while in their different occupations.
“Nurses would attend the injured women, police officers would see the women reporting cases, lawyers would defend the women in courts, and teachers would see broken children in class so they decided to open a place to care for the abused women and children,” she said.
Mrs Khumalo has continued the straining task of taking care of the women and the home despite getting old and talks about her desire to leave the task to a younger and energetic generation.
“In previous years, organisations that referred abused women would pay a small fee that was used to help in the upkeep of the home. But this was later withdrawn when I was away as no one was in charge and this created a lot of challenges in providing for the women and children that we have here. I am currently being assisted by my friend who assists in paying for electricity while I pay for rates,” said Mrs Khumalo.
The home has a solar system that needs to be attended as some of the components we stolen from the roof of the house. A borehole is also in place but it is not functional. The home also has no running water owing to plumbing defects that need to be attended to.
“I have not raised enough money to get a plumber to connect our water. I use my own funds to do things here. The borehole water was running the home but since the borehole broke down we are now using council water but it is costing us an arm and a leg.
I am desperate to get the borehole working as it can help us start income generating projects to feed the occupants of the home particularly the children who come with their mothers,” she said.
The home houses women who come from different places.
“Women come from different places to stay here, some from as far as Masvingo and Matabeleland South areas like Maphisa, in this Covid-19 period a lot of victims came to the home. Many referrals come from areas around Bulawayo, Matabeleland North, South and the Midlands,” she said.
Women who seek refuge at the home are vetted thoroughly and documented with various organisations such as the Church, Department of Social Welfare, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association and Family Contact to name a few so that their whereabouts are known.
Once women are back on their feet, they either go back home, find jobs and alternative accommodation. Others complete their education when they are here and get a fresh start to life. The home has six women and nine children at the moment. Asked on the reasons that led women at the Haven, she said reasons were many.
“Some are simply chased away by their husbands after they will have found other partners, some are being abused, physically, sexually, emotionally and economically so they run away from such scenarios,” she said.
Mrs Khumalo is gifted with a philanthropic heart. Back in the day, she would visit the townships and speak to women at burial societies educating them about GBV and how they can protect themselves and assist other women in the same situations. With her assistants, over the years, they managed to see women getting their homes back after being taken away through inheritance wrangles.
“We house different women and even professionals like school heads, we ensure they get all the assistance they need and I used to work with one person who helped women get their homes and property back via the courts. We use the various laws that protect them and it works well. We teach the women about these pieces of legislation that are in their favour,” added Mrs Khumalo.
She says her vision was to see women who walk into the home, getting self-help skills that they can use to fend for their families.
“They need to be taught skills, I brought my old computers from home and taught some how to use them. I have sewing machines donated by well-wishers and I used to get people who teach the women how to sew, it was before the flooding of second-hand clothes so the women could sew clothes and sell. The influx of second-hand clothes has closed opportunities for the ordinary women to make a living. I bought a house from proceeds of sewing and cake making, I am not sure if that can be done today with the situation we are in,” she said.
Mrs Khumalo says with some help, The Haven can assist many women and children who are affected by GBV to regain their confidence, heal from their physical and emotional scars and move on with life.
“I need a matron who can stay at the home to oversee the women and children; there is need for an eye always. Food supplies are in short supply as I am forced to share the little I get from my children with the women and children.
Toiletries and detergents are also needed so that their days here are pleasurable as they recover. They stay for long periods of time because some of their cases will be before the courts, some are those that cannot afford to rent out a place to stay so this is basically their home,” she said.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission noted that in 2020 there was a 50 percent increase of cases in GBV owing to the national lockdown compared to the previous year which is 2019. The commission said the increased of GBV was mainly linked to depleted income which could not be replenished as most companies failed to pay workers’ salaries due to incapacitation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the beginning of the national lockdowns GBV service providers in Zimbabwe have seen an increase in reported GBV cases. In the first 11 days of the lockdown last year, the national GBV hotline run by Msasa Project registered 764 reported cases, compared to 500 to 600 that are usually reported each month prior to Covid-19 induced lockdowns. [email protected]