Comic Relief presents an updated version of the 2010 documentary, Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children. We catch up with the children to see how their lives have changed one year on.
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MAN SINGS IN BANTU
I am here at Mosi-oa-Tunya, Chinotimba, Victoria Falls,
a place that symbolises the greatness of Zimbabwe,
a country that was once known as the jewel of Africa,
with the best education system on the continent.
I have come back to a country that raised me,
educated me, a country that made me who I am today.
After suffering years of conflict and turmoil,
I am here to find out
what the future holds for the children of Zimbabwe.
My name is Xoliswa Sithole I am a South African,
but to escape apartheid and give me a proper education,
my mother brought me to Zimbabwe as a child.
In 2009, I returned to Zimbabwe
to make a film about my childhood.
When I arrived, I was so shocked by the terrible suffering
of the prison generation of Zimbabwe's children
that I could not stand by in silence.
I decided to make this the focus of the film.
What you are about to see
is an edited version of that film,
along with an update to show what has happened
in the 12 months since it was first screened.
SINGING IN BANTU
In a northern suburb of the capital Harare,
Grace lives with her sister Michelle
and her father Joseph.
When I was their age, education was everything.
But life is more difficult for these girls.
With 95% unemployment in this area and the economy in shreds,
the only way for the family to earn enough to eat,
let alone pay school fees,
is for the girls to help their father
scour rubbish tips for bottles.
On these ones, when they are 30, we get a dollar.
And on these ones when they are ten, ten of them get a dollar.
Joseph has been looking after the girls on his own
since their mother left.
She went to Malawi four years ago.
Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe reached 231,000,000% in 2008,
forcing the government to abandon the Zimbabwean dollar
in April 2009.
Most people now use the US dollar,
but there are hardly any coins in circulation
and few single dollar bills,
making it very hard to buy and sell.
30 for a dollar.
Just a few years ago,
Joseph was a successful exporter of wire and bead figures,
but when the economy started to collapse,
the bottom fell out of the export market.
Most people that used to buy our wires
were the tourists and the foreigners, you see.
They had better prices, you see, than the local people.
When these land issues started,
our people started taking the farms and all the whites were going out.
They were leaving the place.
And those who were giving us the orders,
they never sent us the order, they stopped giving us some orders.
Fortunately for Grace and Michelle,
their father had invested in a small family business before the orders dried up.
So for a while, there was still enough money
for the girls to go to school.
The clean-up, known as Operation Murambatsvina,
literally translates as "drive out the filth".
In 2005, the government claimed to be clearing slums
to improve housing,
but the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change,
claimed Mugabe was trying to eradicate its supporters.
The UN estimates
that the homes of at least 700,000 Zimbabweans were destroyed
and up to half of the victims were children.
With nowhere to go, squatter camps soon started to appear on the outskirts of the cities.
With no running water, electricity or sewage, life here is hard.
Esther lives with her mother and baby sister Tino
in what is barely more than a tent.
The AIDS virus killed her father and is now killing her mother.
Esther is also HIV positive,
but with her mother's health failing,
Esther is now the main carer in the family.
One in seven adults in Zimbabwe has HIV.
Life expectancy here has dropped by more than 20 years
since I was a girl.
It's now one of the lowest in the world.
Zimbabwe used to have some of the most productive farms in the world.
But they were owned by white farmers.
After 20 years trying to negotiate a fairer redistribution of land,
Mugabe's patience ran out in 2000
and the land act was passed.
Soon after that, the so-called war veterans began to invade the farms.
The invasions continue today.
They are often violent.
Sometimes the workers are beaten and even killed.
Many flee to unoccupied government land for safety.
Out of 4,300 white-owned commercial farms operating in 2000,
now fewer than 300 remain.
Much of Zimbabwe's beautiful and bountiful arable land
now grows only weeds.
Obert is an orphan.
Like so many children in Zimbabwe,
he lost his parents to AIDS.
He lives with his grandmother,
who used to have a secure job on a white-owned farm.
Obert and his grandmother must now eke out a living from the land.
Their only source of income is for Obert to pan for gold,
but this is strictly illegal,
as the government controls all mineral rights.
The tragedy here
is that so recently, this country was first world.
When I was growing up, we had excellent standards of health care, economic growth and education.
It's shocking to see how fast a society can fall apart.
Back at the squatter camp, Esther has taken a turn for the worse.
The little food they had the last time we were here has run out.
Poor hygiene and virtual starvation means Esther has become very sick.
Up until the year 2000, Zimbabwe boasted some of the most productive farms in Africa.
It breaks my heart that in a country that was recently so abundant,
almost half the population now rely on
foreign aid to feed their children.
Esther's uncle has come with the family's aid ration.
Malnutrition and lack of clean water is killing more and more people in Zimbabwe.
Over 4,000 people died during the recent cholera epidemic and with
consistent water cuts throughout the country, there are fears it could strike again.
Joseph has found a new way to make some money from the rubbish dumps across Harare.
The demand for bones comes from the sugar refining industry.
Bone ash can be used in the bleaching of sugar.
But although the family has collected several sacks of bones,
they have still not been able to sell them.
School fees of two dollars a term are collected by the school's accountant.
Like many in Zimbabwe, he doesn't get paid,
so he grows cotton to pay for his own children to go to school.
Most of the people staying here are from the farms, so they came
to stay here after the farm was taken for resettlement purposes,
so that's why most of the people came and stay here.
We hear of more than 10,000 people who are living around here.
Most of the children from the community, they don't have money to pay for school fees.
It's the first day back at school.
Right... SHOUTS IN BANTU
Let us sing our marching song and go into our respective classrooms.
SINGING IN BANTU
Obert, along with 1,000 other children, has turned up.
But less than 100 have so far paid their fees.
Ah, good morning, sir. Good morning, class.
ALL: Good morning.
At the end of the first day of term, no-one has so far been sent home,
but Obert fears it is only a matter of time.
When I went to school, post-independence, Zimbabwe
had the best education system in Africa, if not in the world.
Mugabe invested in human resources, invested in educating people.
Schools were resourced,
education was a priority.
There was no child who didn't go school,
regardless of whether that child was poor or not.
The last time I saw Esther, her mother was gravely ill.
In northern Harare, Grace and Mishelle are trying their luck
and have returned to school even though they have no money.
But with teachers not having been paid for months,
fees aren't the only obstacle to the girls getting an education.
In Harare, things are not working out for Grace either.
If things don't change,
I see my daughters in shambles.
I don't think they will have a better life. They will keep on struggling.
Excluded from school, Grace has no choice
but to return to the rubbish dumps to search for bones and attempt to earn her way back into school.
At Obert's school, the headmaster has given his accountant
a list of all those children who have still not paid their fees.
Today, I have come here to send back the kids to tell their parents to get the money for the school fees.
Since the term started, some of the kids paid school fees,
but three quarters of the kids haven't paid the school fees yet.
It's not good, but that's how the situation is.
There's nothing I can do, I have to send them back home.
Go and tell their parents to give them money for the school fees.
Out of 1,015 children on the register, 889 have been sent home.
Almost 90% of the school.
It does pain me when I see what's going on, because it's...
it's about the loss of opportunity.
I had opportunities in this country. I had the ability to dream,
because I was in an environment which allowed me to dream.
I grew up in a country which has given me all of this,
what I have become today. So why shouldn't
thousands of other children have the same that I have had?
When kids can't dream, then I think, you know,
we can pretty much say goodbye to everything.
It's over a year since we were filming in Zimbabwe
but memories of what I saw there still haunt me.
For the moment, I cannot return to Zimbabwe
but a crew has been there to see how things have changed.
The public response to the first screening of the documentary was very strong.
As a result, international charities were able to step in and secure the children's futures.
At Obert's school, all the children's school fees have now been paid until the end of the year.
For Obert, his dream of no longer having to pan for gold to get to school
has at last been realised.
He sat the entrance exam for a top boarding school and started there in January.
It is hard for Obert to comprehend the changes that have happened.
Grace and Mishelle's lives have also changed.
Last July, their father, Joseph, died.
Like so many Zimbabweans, he had been suffering from AIDS.
Although their father can never be replaced, the children now have a housekeeper to look after them.
You could make it to the extra lesson today, Grace.
We are going to see if we can improve your writing.
Begin the paragraph with topic sentence.
All your ideas must be organised into paragraphs.
The last time I saw Esther and Tino, they were outside a padlocked tent.
Today the girls are thriving in a village for orphaned and abandoned children.
Little Tino has changed completely.
She now attends kindergarten a couple of hours a day.
The frown that always haunted her face has gone.
The girls now live together in the same house
with their new foster mum and five new brothers and sisters.
As a child of Zimbabwe,
I still despair for the future of Zimbabwe's forgotten children.
But at least Esther, Tino, Grace and Obert now have hope
for the first time in their lives.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail us at [email protected]
Comic Relief presents an updated version of 2010's astonishing film, Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children. The original told a powerful tale of the gaping chasm between what the children of Zimbabwe hope for and what their country can provide. One year on, this update comprises a shortened version of the documentary, and a chance to catch up with the children and see how their lives have changed since the film was first shown.
Beautifully shot, this moving film is full of harrowing moments, not least the emptying of a school, class by class, as pupils who haven't paid their school fees are sent home.