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Success in the struggle for water in Zimbabwe: Thandiwe Ncube’s story

07 March 2014
by Margaret Masanga and Nelly Maonde, Trócaire Zimbabwe
 
Trócaire marks International Women’s Day (8 March) with an inspirational story of resilience from Zimbabwe.
 
"If you fall into a river in Matabeleland, you get up and dust yourself." - Unknown
 
In a village in Matobo district of Southern Zimbabwe, Thandiwe Ncube (53), remembers a time when she dug for water on the sandy riverbed that feeds into Inditshi dam.  Sometimes she dug for hours for a single bucket of water for her family to survive each day. 
 
Thandiwe explains, “The nearest borehole is in the next village, 3-4 kilometres away. We had either to walk up and down in the scorching sun to that borehole or cut the time short by digging for water here on the dam.” She laughs as she narrates how she sometimes ‘disappeared’ into the hole before striking water. 
 
thandiwe ncube international women's day zimbabwe
Thandiwe Ncube (53). Photo: Margaret Masanga
 
For women in Thandiwe’s village, the morning began with a decision – to either walk the 3-4 kilometers to the borehole for one or two buckets of clean water or to dig for the contaminated water closer to home. Most chose to dig. “I would rather make an effort to dig. Once I reach the water, I know I can have enough for all I need to do.  Then I can always treat the water to drink.”
 
To address this pressing daily issue, Thandiwe, a mother of four, grandmother and widow, joined other men and women in the village as part of the Inditshi Dam Committee. The rehabilitation work carried out on the dam has helped to retain much of the water from record amounts of rainfall.
 
Fellow committee member Julia Nyathi (57) explains why the dam is so important to the women of her village:  “We are the ones who wake up early in the morning to fetch water. It means leaving our homes and children several times a day for long periods to walk long distances and fetch water. That is why I am in the committee, and always ready to get my hands dirty and make sure we have water.”
 
Though silt build-up continues to be a threat to the dam, the presence of new water has revived the area. The women involved in gardening are excited at the prospect of planting more crops, irrigating them and accessing water close to their homes. “Now that the dam is full, the water is closer to the surface, and we do not have to dig very far”, Thandiwe says pointing to an area over the embankment. It has the look of a wetland. “Now I can spend more time in my field, sell some vegetables and buy books for my grandchildren. I am inspired,” she adds. 
 
Thandiwe is involved in more than one livelihood activity to ensure she always has an income. In the bushes surrounding the dam, she and other women mould bricks. These are sold locally at ZAR700 (USD88) per 1000 bricks. Sometimes she gets an order for 2000 bricks and at other times sells nothing for months. “While I wait for brick buyers, the garden produce brings in a little income which we use to buy food items and meet school needs for my grandchildren. I could do more if I had the energy, resources and ideas.”
 
For Thandiwe, water is important to everything she does. “Look at me, I am clean. My clothes used to be dirty all the time. Now I wash them often, whenever I want.”
 
It is clear that the recent heavy rains have improved the water available in the area. But next season may be different. The challenge is to improve the capacity to conserve current and future supplies and use the water efficiently. 
 
With funding from Irish Aid and the Irish public, Trócaire is working with local partners in Zimbabwe to support communities in dry and semi arid regions of  Southern Zimbabwe to improve their livelihoods.  Through the rehabilitation and construction of new dams, communities are accessing and using the water for agriculture  and other livelihoods to improve their  food and income security. In 2014 alone, Trócaire will reach over 30,000 women and men with water for agricultural production and other Livelihoods.
 

Women and water

 
Data from surveys conducted in 45 developing countries show that women and children are responsible for water collection in the vast majority of households (76%). This is time not spent working at an income-generating job, caring for family members, or attending school. 
 
A study by the World Bank and the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre of community water and sanitation projects in 88 communities found that projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more effective and sustainable than those that do not.