George Maponga

Masvingo Bureau

Four Chiredzi villagers, including a woman and her 11-month-old daughter, who were swept away last Thursday while crossing a flooded Mutirikwi River are still missing amid fears they were devoured by crocodiles.

Mutirikwi is ranked among crocodile-infested rivers in the Lowveld.

A search and rescue team combing the river in search of Kundai Chikwava (18), her daughter Shantell Hungwe and the Gambinya sisters — Tryphine (14) and Tamuka (7) — has failed to find the bodies, but some human body parts, including thighs and ribs, have been recovered and identified as the remains of Tryphine Gambinya.

The Chiredzi Civil Protection Unit (CPU) handed over the recovered body parts to Tryphine’s relatives and they interred them at her parents’ homestead in Village 8, Chiredzi North.

CPU Chiredzi chair and district development coordinator Mr Lovemore Chisema said besides these body parts, nothing else had been found in the search that has so far extended 7km along the Mutirikwi River and its banks.

“We have been doing an intensive search for the missing four persons who were swept away in Mutirikwi River and save for some human remains that were matched to Tryphine Gambinya, nothing was recovered by the search team that comprised the police and villagers,” said Mr Chisema.

“The search operation has been going on since Friday and we have since informed the national CPU about our progress to date after covering 7km along the river and there is unanimity that we have done our best.”

Mr Chisema said while the search had not yet been officially terminated, indications were that the missing persons would not be found and on the evidence of the recovered remains have probably been eated by crocodiles.

“We will still continue to undertake some isolated searches for the missing persons but we suspect that their remains might have been eaten by crocodiles because the river is heavily infested with the reptiles.”

Besides crocodiles, Mr Chisema said the search effort was also being hampered by the river’s width, and the extreme braiding of the water channels, making the search more complicated and cumbersome.

He paid tribute to villagers for joining the search party while reserving special tribute to companies such as Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe for lending a hand.

The four were swept away on Thursday morning after water levels in Mutirikwi River started rising rapidly while they were trying to cross from Ward 28 in Chiredzi West to Ward 16 in Chiredzi North constituency.

Four others Sarah Mhloro (33) of Village 8 in Marapira and her three other children Tracy (15), Belinda (12) and Talent (3) Gambinya were rescued by an Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopter from an island where they were marooned on Friday afternoon.

Mhloro, who is also mother to Tryphine and Tamuka, spent more than 24 hours stuck on the island while waiting for help.

River levels rose rapidly when a weir along Mutirikwi filled and spilled following heavy rains, allowing the full flow of the river to flow downstream. That saw four people swept away while Ms Mhloro and her children were marooned.

The same AFZ helicopter airlifted three Chivi villagers from the Shindi area where they had been marooned on a huge rock along the Runde River.

Every year, several villagers lose their lives in the Lowveld while crossing fast flowing and rising rivers. Authorities and experts have begged people not to take a chance when rivers rise in flood, and find an alternative route or wait on the bank for flood waters to subside.