BY LUNGILE NGWENYA/TANAKA MREWA
MEHLULI Nyoni nearly paid with his life after he braved a teargas siege by riot police to rescue trapped children at one of Bulawayo’s most populous suburbs during the recent protests that rocked Zimbabwe.
Nyoni, who is unemployed, says he suffered severe nerve damage on his left arm after he was hit by a teargas canister before falling on broken glass while rescuing five children trapped at a building in Nkulumane on January 14.
Doctors have warned that he risks being amputated if a second and more complicated operation on his severely injured arm is not done urgently.
However, Nyoni does not have the money needed for the surgery that must be done in South Africa.
He recounted his heart rending story at the hands of the menacing riot police as he appealed for help to access proper treatment.
Nyoni said he was among a crowd that watched police firing teargas at protestors at Sekusile Shopping Centre on the fateful day.
He said uneasy calm followed when the crowd was dispersed by the tear smoke.
“Everything was quiet and shops were closed,” Nyoni recounted.
“Suddenly a group of people appeared singing and heading towards Sekusile. Police started firing teargas again and the group was dispersed.”
As normalcy returned at the busy shopping centre with vendors back in business, another group of riot police descended on the area beating everyone in sight and fired teargas.
Nyoni and his friends observed the drama from a safe distance while drinking alcohol.
They saw a group of children entering a room on the first floor of the complex that also houses Choppies Supermarket.
“There is a crèche on the top floor, a surgery and a study room. The children had gone into the study room through the windows after they were smashed by the protestors,” Nyoni said.
“Soon after that a truckload of riot police arrived at the complex and started firing teargas into the rooms where the children were playing.
“We were surprised because no one was protesting at the time and the situation had returned to normal.”
Nyoni said mothers of the trapped children appealed to him and his friends to rescue them.
“Initially my friends were reluctant to assist as the situation looked dangerous, but after pleas from the women we soaked our shirts in water and went into the building to rescue the children,” he said.
“I was rescuing the last child when the police started firing teargas again. “A canister smashed one of the windows before landing on my right arm and I fell on the glass, which cut my left arm.”
Nyoni bled profusely and was ferried to Nkulumane Clinic by his friends after he collapsed.
At some point he feared he would die before getting help after clinic staff said they had no equipment to treatment him.
The nurses put him on a drip that was borrowed from the maternity ward before he was sent home.
Worried that his condition was deteriorating, his family contacted a doctor linked to the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights (ZDHR).
ZDHR has helped hundreds of people shot by the army across the country since the crackdown began.
“I was unconscious when they called him, I did not know the doctor at all,” Nyoni said. “When I regained consciousness I was at Mpilo Central Hospital where I spent seven days.”
Meanwhile, doctors said one of Nyoni’s nerves on the biceps had been cut and Mpilo did not have adequate facilities for the surgery needed to treat him.
“As we speak I cannot use my hand and I cannot feel it,” said the father of five, fighting back tears.
“I’m in constant pain as the wound was not totally stitched because the doctor said the arm would swell.”
Nyoni said the ward where he was admitted was full of victims of the army crackdown that began on January 15 when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZTCU) organised three day stay away turned violent.
“There were many of us at the hospital who were injured, one of them called Anele was shot on the shoulder,” he said. “There is another one who was shot in Luveve.”
Nyoni said he got the shock of his life when doctors suggested that his hand must be amputated as it could no longer be rescued.
But to his relief, some of his relatives in South Africa suggested he travels to that country where he can access better health facilities.
But the hurdle for now is for him to get money to pay for the treatment.
“I come from a poor family and I was raised by a single mother,” he said.
“There is no way I can fund my treatment anywhere because I cannot afford it.”
Bulawayo Police spokesperson Chief Inspector Precious Simango said she was not aware of Nyoni’s case.
Simango said the police had no record of the Nkulumane incident where five children were trapped in a building during the skirmishes.
According to the Human Rights NGO Forum, at least 12 people were shot dead by the army since the crackdown began and tens were treated for gunshot wounds.
The international community has condemned the brutal crackdown countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany urging Mnangagwa to halt the killings.