Tendai Rupapa Senior Reporter
Two sky-blue brick huts stand immaculately among rickety pole and dagga structures.
The pole and dagga structures have been home to the San community in Thwayithwayi Village, Makhulela area, Matabeleland South Province, since 1993 when they were relocated from the bush.
During a ground-breaking ceremony when she visited the area late last year, the First Lady personally laid the first brick for the village head’s house. Today, locals admire the newly-built distinguishable structures which have changed the area’s outlook.
The buildings have become the talk of the previously marginalised community, which is slowly being transformed to modernity through the efforts of First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and her Angel of Hope Foundation.
On Monday, the First Lady handed over the beautiful big round hut fitted with windowpanes and a lockable door to village head, Mrs Matjena Ncube.
She also handed over a Blair toilet.
The hut is fully furnished with two beds, a wardrobe and a set of sofas, thanks to Amai Mnangagwa.
“Today I am happy to be back here and assessing the projects I started in this area,” she said. “I am officially handing over this house and toilet to you so that as the community leader you receive visitors well. We all know that the village head’s house is the first port of call for visitors.”
For villagers who were used to sleeping on the floor and sitting on the ground, a bed and sofas bring the much-needed comfort and everyone wants to have a feel.
Before the First Lady’s intervention, the San community had no properly-built toilets and used the bush system.
In addition to the toilet constructed at the village head’s homestead, Amai Mnangagwa helped set up community toilets. So excited about using the toilets are the villagers that it is not rare to find someone inside the facility, just to marvel.
In the past, children in the community did not go to school, but through the assistance of the First Lady schools are now being constructed.
Life will surely never be the same for this previously marginalised community, which has since warmed up to change and is embracing modernity and all it has to offer.
“It can only be God,” said the village head, Mrs Ncube, with happiness written all over her face. “We thank the First Lady for what she has done for members of this community. Without her, where would I get such a house? She must continue with her kind heart. May God bless her abundantly.”
As an icing on the cake, the First Lady gave Mrs Ncube blankets to keep her family warm this winter season.
Many other villagers are also happy about the First Lady’s work in their community.
Villager Mrs Grace Balane was grateful for the gift of blankets and spoke about her love for tea.
“We did not have blankets during this cold season and we are grateful to Amai for this kind gesture,” she said.
“I like tea a lot. Amai gave us tea leaves and sugar and I want to thank her very much.”
Another villager, Gogo Sithembiso Sebele, said it had been long since she bathed using soap.
“It’s been a long time since I bathed and did my laundry with soap,” she said. “We are grateful to the First Lady for the toiletries and foodstuffs. I don’t remember the last time I ate sadza. I did not have maize-meal, but the First Lady gave us some today.”
What the First Lady is doing for the San people is in fulfilment of a pledge she made after her initial visit to the area in 2018.
During the visit, she was heartbroken when she saw the San people living in squalid conditions.
Ten family members share one small, thatched hut with walls of tin-moulded mud “bricks”.
In the very tiny mud hut, a father, mother, two daughters, four sons and two grandchildren share one thin and torn blanket.
Similar huts are dotted around the area, most of them with no doors.
But Amai Mnangagwa is doing her best to assist this community.
During the Monday visit, which was part of her nationwide coronavirus awareness campaign, she gave them an assortment of foodstuffs, toiletries, blankets and maize seed for winter ploughing. She also gave them a variety of vegetable seeds.
“What I have seen here is not so different from what I saw in Kanyemba,” the First Lady said on her first visit in 2018. “Their standards of living are the same. They do not have anything and they urgently need help. My wish and passion stems from the way I grew up.
“I had a similar upbringing, so I wish to assist others in similar conditions for them to have a better life. My wish is for God to help me so that my dreams to see a better life for these people are achieved.”
The First Lady assured them during her initial visit: “I have come to interact with you as a mother, daughter and granddaughter so that I get to know you and your way of living so that I will know how best I can assist you.
“I have noticed that a lot needs to be done here so that you live like anyone else. I don’t want you to live in isolation, you must interact with others.”
Since then, the First Lady has been visiting and assisting the San community.
She also noted that the problems faced by the San people were similar to those faced by the Doma people in Kanyemba.
Since being taken from the bush where they led nomadic lifestyles in 1993, the San had never been visited by a high-ranking Government official until the First Lady did so.
Getting to work with the San and Doma communities was no stroll in the park for the First Lady and her team.
The communities were timid and suspicious to the point of running away from people who sought to engage them.
The gifts to the San community on Monday also came at a time the First Lady has introduced nutritional gardens in the area.
The gardens are going a long way in assisting them in their transition from hunter-gatherers, who woke up daily not knowing what sort of meal mother nature would provide for the day — to living a normal life.
As hunter-gatherers, the community did not have a reliable diet and anything to sell unlike now when they can grow vegetables to feed their families and sell the surplus.
Now, they have lush green vegetable gardens courtesy of a solar-powered borehole drilled by the First Lady as part of her measures to ensure the community has access to clean and safe drinking water, which is a basic human right.
Today, the San also have a thriving orchard with guava, mango and lemon trees, which if well-managed will help them raise income through fruit sales.
When others see the financial gains, they, too, will be keen to grow them at their homesteads.
Amai Mnangagwa started a poultry project that will benefit the San community.
This massive development brought to the San community is similar to the transformation of the Doma people in Kanyemba. In Kanyemba, children are now able to attend school while the community can now build permanent homes, unlike in the past when they lived in tree-tops for fear of being attacked by wild animals.
The First Lady and her Angel of Hope Foundation has also introduced a sanitary pad sewing initiative and introduced the people of Kanyemba to cash crops like castor beans to ensure their participation in the development of the country’s economy.
As the country’s health and child care ambassador, the First Lady has also left no stone unturned in ensuring that communities across the country get education on Covid-19.
She has mobilised resources and personal protective equipment to ensure people are safe.
The First Lady has also taken it upon herself as the mother of the nation to distribute food to the elderly and other vulnerable groups owing to the current lockdown which has left them with nothing to eat.
To show appreciation to the First Lady on Monday, the San community were joined by their Kalanga neighbours as they performed their ukukokotsha dance routine which involves fast-paced movement of the legs resembling a horse on the race course.
So energetic were the dancers that they left the air filled with dust, temporarily affecting visibility.