Catholic Nun in Zimbabwe Laments Lack of Sanitation Facilities at Border Town

Sr. Esnath Gondo reaches out to young girls with sanitation items in Beitbridge, a town in Matabeleland South Province that forms the political border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Credit: Sr. Esnath Gondo

A Catholic Nun ministering in Zimbabwe has lamented the lack of sanitation facilities for migrants and informal traders living in Beitbridge, a town in Matabeleland South Province that forms the political border between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

In an interview with ACI Africa Monday, April 4, Sr. Esnath Gondo highlighted the challenges migrants and those engaged in informal trade face in Beitbridge saying, “Most of them live in shelters made of plastic, with no access to water and no electricity.”

“My biggest concern are the women; there’s no proper sanitation, women are living in dire and unsafe conditions,” said Sr. Gondo who worked as a teacher in Beitbridge from 2013 and started her service among informal traders and migrants on transit to South Africa in search of better living conditions since 2020.

Credit: Sr. Esnath Gondo

Majority of the migrants and informal traders, the member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross (CSC) in Zimbabwe’s Catholic Diocese of Masvingo said, “cannot afford to buy water … don’t have money to buy water. Mothers cannot afford to feed their babies; there’s a great need for assistance here.”


“I am deeply concerned for my people; their needs are overwhelming”, lamented Sr. Gondo.

Those engaged in informal trade at Zimbabwe’s border town of Beitbridge, she said, are “coming from other provinces, going to buy commodities for reselling and for their families. Most of them don’t have passports, so they either bribe officials on the way or will use other informal exits which are very dangerous.”

Credit: Sr. Esnath Gondo

The migrants from Zimbabwe attempting to cross into South Africa “often travel in pumped boats, which sometimes overturn, and the people end up drowning. They are also exposed to crocodiles and gangs who often rape women or kill the people they have robbed,” Sr. Gondo told ACI Africa April 4.

“Just four days ago a young man that used to transport people across the Limpopo River lost his life on his way back because the boat capsized; it's very sad”, the Zimbabwean Catholic Nun said. 

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Credit: Sr. Esnath Gondo

She went on to explain the plight of the “stranded” migrants she, alongside members of her Religious Order, encounter saying, “Some of them are stranded here because they were either deported or were robbed. We often provide them with airtime to call their families back home, and when possible, we sponsor their journey back home.”

“Many of the migrants” in this situation, the CSC member said, “refuse to go back home empty handed, so they collect plastics for recycling and sell a kilogram at four rands. Sometimes they don’t get buyers, it’s a very sad situation; they live in dire situations.”

Credit: Sr. Esnath Gondo

According to a June 2021 World Bank report about Zimbabwe, “The latest economic analysis for the country says the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts disrupted livelihoods, expanding the number of extremely poor citizens by 1.3 million, and increasing extreme poverty overall to 49% in 2020.”


To assist the migrants, Sr. Gondo told ACI Africa, “sometimes we make food parcels for them, and when they are sick and unable to look after themselves, we try to assist them to go back home.”

Credit: Sr. Esnath Gondo

Sr. Gondo went on to highlight the increase of abuse and violence towards children who are often left behind to look after their siblings when their respective parents leave for South Africa in search of work. 

She said, “Children are left alone in some families and are often subjected to abuse and rape. They struggle to make ends meet while parents are in South Africa looking for a job. We try our best to support them”.

The 62-year-old Catholic Nun pleaded with Zimbabweans not to risk their lives and that of loved ones in pursuit of better living conditions in South Africa.

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Credit: Sr. Esnath Gondo

“I know it's not easy in the country, but it's better to stay at home; if one decides to cross over, they should use the right channels that are safe,” Sr. Gondo said.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.