Zimbabwe’s Mpilo Hospital fire victims narrate the story of what happened in the tragic blaze that engulfed the place of healing.
His colleague Dr. Ruwende also provides a testimony later in this article.
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe — On the night of May 26, 2021, my family and I almost lost our lives. Thank God we survived.
It was getting late that night. Around 11:00 p.m., my wife and I left our two sons, ages 15 and 10, watching soccer in the sitting room and we went to bed.
From my deep stupor, I heard my son’s voice, shouting so loudly.
I woke up and looked at my wife, assuming I was having a dream. I was going to wake her up to ask if she also heard it, but he was already shouting again. Suddenly, he was knocking at our door yelling for us to wake up.
My wife awoke and when I opened the door, she rushed straight to it, trying to understand what was transpiring and why the kids were making so much noise.
I asked my son where the fire was. Without responding to my question, he grabbed my hand firmly and dragged me to the main door where the flames were burning furiously. It had almost arrived at our room.
We opened the door, and with my wife following us, we encountered a dark cloud of heavy smoke emanating from the other side of our block. I could not believe it. I was still confused, having just woken from bed. The sound of the fire, together with the screaming children, made me more confused, but I had to act like a man and save my family.
When I rushed back to the bedroom to search for my essential documents, the whole room was already filled with smoke. It was coming through the broken ceiling. I had forgotten where exactly we had put the papers and time was running out.
I quickly decided to take my family out of the house, which was already in danger because the fire was moving so fast from one room to another, devouring everything in its path. It was horrible.
Had we not been awakened by our sons, we would have died in our bedroom. The sense of smell does not work properly when one is asleep.
When we got out of the house, we saw our neighbors jumping down from the balcony, while others were climbing down the building by holding the water gutters.
The water gutter nearer to our balcony was vacant, so my wife and I had to climb down the gutter with our sons on our backs. We did not manage to save anything, and we came out with nothing, even our phones.
I think it could have been much more tragic if my sons were also asleep when the fire began devouring our block. Everyone else was battling for their lives, so no one came to warn us about the impending danger.
By the time we got down, furious flames were engulfing my bedroom. It’s not easy to see the property you have worked for being destroyed, without having the chance to retrieve anything. I was left with nothing, except for the pajamas I was wearing.
Even as I could hear the sound of an ambulance together with the Fire Brigade coming to attend to the disaster, there was not even a pinch of hope that the fire could be extinguished in time to rescue anything. It had already devoured everything in sight.
We were left homeless, moneyless, and hopeless. I only had a few dollars in my bank account because it was almost month’s end, so we had already exhausted almost all the money that we had. This fire left me in unexplainable pain. It haunts me and will take me a long time to recover from the trauma.
We are staying at Bulawayo Polytechnic which is about seven kilometers (four and a half miles) away from Mpilo Hospital. The government of Zimbabwe has promised the refurbishment of our block, together with the block that was also destroyed in a fire in 2019, will be complete in 95 days.
We have received donations from Old Mutual, OK Mart, and the government; and have help from other individuals.
Since we lost all of our documents including passports, national identification cards, and educational papers, our government promised to replace them quickly and, hopefully, free of charge.
Now we look forward stressfully. My children need school fees, uniforms, and we also need clothes and personal items.
The inferno at Mpilo Hospital happened on the night of May 26, 2021, as the result of a suspected electrical fault at one of the residential blocks. Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo is one of the biggest referral hospitals in Zimbabwe. The fire gutted the staff quarters and destroyed $500,000 (USD) worth of property.
We lost almost everything in the fire. I managed to escape with my cell phone but everything else was left behind, including my educational certificates and my new property.
I have never seen a fire cause such extensive destruction. The local Fire Brigade tried to stop it but there was no way. Most of the nurses and doctors were left homeless.
I had to jump from the first floor to save my life because the fire was spreading so fast. No one could manage to think of the safest way out, except for jumping or going down holding the water gutter. It gave us no time to rescue anything.
Among those who jumped out of the raging fire were children. They were forced to seek alternative accommodations while members of the Fire Brigade and Ambulance Services were busy battling the fire for hours.
This near-death experience resulted in one of my workmates suffering a broken ankle from jumping out of the two-story block. Other residents were forced to come out of the building using a single-window as the raging fire spread throughout the whole building and blocked the exits.
A few days after the disaster, we received accommodations from the government. Some of us are now staying at Saint Patrick Hotel in Bulawayo, and others are at Bulawayo Polytechnic College.
The pain and trauma of the experience are difficult to deal with. It is like I am starting my life from scratch because I have to obtain everything again, from clothes to property.
We are being given nice food and blankets, but we will be starting over again when we leave our temporary accommodations.
My role now, as the Mpilo Hospital fire victims representative, is to send a list of people who lost their educational documents, passports, and national IDs to the government so they can be replaced.
The government has already begun to refurbish our block, which accommodated 39 health workers and their families. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development also promised $287 million (USD) for the construction of single quarters and separate apartments for nurses and doctors together with the married quarters.
This is not the first time Mpilo Hospital experienced such a disaster. In June 2019, another fire razed a smaller residence for doctors.
In this incident, one of the doctors dozed off during the night, leaving their heater on, which resulted in a fire that burned all the household property. When our Bulawayo Bureau arrived at the hospital the following day, firemen were clearing what was left of the building, which was only ashes and scraps.
One of the victims of the 2019 incident, Dr. Gabriel Magengezha, who was visibly confused, said he only escaped with his life and failed to save anything inside the house.
Those of us who survived the recent fire will be staying at the hotel for about 95 days. For now, we are looking forward to getting simple things like stethoscopes.
Hundreds of patients from at least five provinces are referred to Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo every year, making it the biggest referral hospital in the southwestern part of Zimbabwe. The fire caused a serious problem, not to us health workers only, but also to the patients who need assistance from the affected hospital workers.
Mpilo Hospital is also a teaching hospital center for the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and has links with the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and several other higher education institutions around the country. The fire disturbed a lot of activities from healthcare to education.
Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.
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