Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children: Review of the Documentary by Xoliswa Sithole

image Xoliswa Sithole – an accomplished film maker who was once proud to call Zimbabwe her home – has produced a wrenching documentary chronicling the economic and political melt-down of her country, and the devastating impact this is having on children.

The BBC aired the documentary, ‘Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children,’ earlier this month. When I watched the film, I was struck by the grim resignation and stoicism with which the children she worked with seemed to accept their fate. They knew their childhoods had been stolen.

Many children in Zimbabwe are forced to take care of sick and elderly relatives, or to scrabble out enough money to buy food for their families through panning for gold, collecting bottles, or digging for bones (to be used in sugar refining) in rubbish heaps.

Sithole originally intended to make a film about her childhood and the excellent education that she received in Zimbabwe. She grew up in a time when Zimbabwe was envied throughout Africa for its high-quality education and health care systems.

Now she sees children turned away from schools because their relatives cannot afford to pay, in some cases, as little as 50 cents per term for school fees.

Sithole visited Zimbabwe in 2005, and was there when Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF government implemented Operation Murambatsvina (Remove the filth). Operation Murambatsvina was the demolition of poor, high density suburbs whose citizens were suspected of supporting the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Operation Murambatsvina – and other ZANU-PF policies such as the seizure of productive farms and their re-distribution to false independence war veterans with no training in farming – have garnered some attention in the West.

But we hear less about Zimbabwe’s children, who are now in danger of becoming a lost generation.

In a country where the life expectancy is 34 years, many have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS or the cholera epidemic, in which about 4,000 died. These children may be cared for by elderly grandparents – or, as this film showed – they may be the ones caring for the grandparents.

This is the case for Obert, a boy in a rural area who tries to feed himself and his grandmother by panning for gold and trapping small birds with sticky gum from trees. His grandmother was once a fore-person on a white-owned farm. All of her family were employed on the farm, and she says that the farmer treated them well and that she could do the job ‘better than any man.’

Obert is one of the brightest pupils in his class. But we see his grandmother reduced to pleading for mercy with the government lackey who comes to the school to send home all of the children who have not paid their fees. Obert is sent home because his grandmother cannot produce 50 cents.

Here’s a boy who loves school and yearns for an education, who for the sake of 50 cents would have the chance to grow up and become a creative and productive member of society. Zimbabwe will need the intellect and skills of such children if it is ever to emerge from the situation it is now in.

You can still see some clips from the documentary on the BBC website, or visit the website devoted to the documentary.

Be warned that some of the scenes and stories are harrowing. I was often frustrated when watching it that the filmmakers did not intervene (i.e. ‘give the woman 50 cents, would you!’), but there is provision on their site to donate to the children.

32 thoughts on “Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children: Review of the Documentary by Xoliswa Sithole”

  1. I was deeply moved and upset by what I saw in this documentary. You can’t believe this is happening in the 21st century. I went to bed feeling what can I do – I already donate money to UNICEF and CAFOD but this doesn’t seem to be enough.

    If there is anything I can do to help please e-mail me.

  2. I was deeply moved and upset after watching the forgotton children in Zimbabwee last night. I cannot believe that this is happening in the 21st century.
    I already donate to UNICEF and CAFOD and CHRISTIAN AID but this does not seem to be enough.

    If I can help in any way please let me know.

  3. it is ironic that my daughter tara started her secondary education today in kells in co meath ireland .we both watched in horror of the conditions these poor children trying to survive and educate themselve have to go through .this is inhumane and no child or adult should have to live like this .robert mugabe and his government are a disgrace to have allowed this situation to un fold .mugabe should be overthrown arrested and be brought to justice .how can the rest of the world stand idly by and allow this tyrant to stay in power .god bless xoliswa sithole for having the courage to broadcast this outstanding docuementary on the plight of the children of zimbabwe.denis mc grath

  4. Xoliswa, many thanks and God Bless for taking the courage to expose what the world would not have known or seen. I wish all the children the best in thier future

  5. My partner and I saw Xoliswa Sithole’s film Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children last week on the BBC. We felt very sad and very helpless. Would someone be able to email me Xoliswa’s email address so I can see if we can help in anyway please? Many thanks.

  6. I worked in developing countries for a few years and went to Zimbabwe on my forst holiday in Africa, remember my mouth hanging open at the freedom and comfort of ordinary people there compared to Angola where I was working, I was shocked to see zims forgotten children recently, their stories were heartbreaking.

  7. Hi Gladys,

    I wish to sponsor a child’s education directly in Zimbabwe and elsewhere within the African continent. I already give monthly to worldvision, plan and NSPCC but I directly want to sponsor a child right through a good education and pay for all their needs school fees, books, travel, etc.

    I believe this is the best way to help them and their families ongoing, to improve many yet to be born by helping the one.

    Please tell me how I can do this. I dont want to give to another oranisation but do what we were informed at the end of the documentary, that people have directly helped a child.

    If finances permit I will sponsor more than one.

    Many Thanks


  8. I am not able to recommend a sure-fire way to sponsor one child directly, but the website devoted to the documentary has information about offering support, http://zimbabweschildren.org/

    I think a good charity is Zimbabwe Orphan Care. They provide donors with regular updates about the specific children they are helping, their progress, etc. It is not affiliated with this documentary but I think that they do very good work. Information about donating is on their website, http://www.zimorphancare.org/

  9. I also watched this documentary, and was moved to tears, that we have so much, and they have so little, how can this be in this day and age? Something is very wrong and I just pray we can make a slight difference, I would love to pay Obert’s school fees for him….I wish we could help these children directly. I just hope this money gets to them. Well done on producing this…

  10. Xoliswa Sithole, who I knew as Patience Sithole : Congratulations! Your work, as a Filmmaker, certainly provokes the viewer to question one’s standpoint in regards to the ongoing inhuman atrocities that plague Sub-Saharan Africa. A very old a dear friend, Raymond Edwards (Producer/Director at Blinding Films)

  11. i watched this programme and it broke my heart little esther looking after that baby just wasnt right i would like an update on esthers life and i would like to do something to help make it better

  12. This was a moving piece of reality work. Could not help but shed tears. Thank you for opening up more doors in our lives so that we can contribute in our own way, becoming better prople in the process.

  13. I will not sleep tonight, I cant stop thinking about these children. My heart aches… Thank u for making us aware…

  14. You are blessed Xholiswa may God continue to use you mightly I would also want to know how I can help Esther and Tino .Wonderful piece ofv work.

  15. I just saw this documentary which was re-run on Community TV and it is gut wrenching.
    Delighted to see what people have done to help and the progress on the kids in the program.
    I wish to contribute and appreciate if I am contacted on the email address I gave.
    Thank you Xholiswa for your great work.

  16. Xoliswa may God bless you so much for this heart broken documentary. I just could not sleep thinking of Esther and Tino.I would love to help them have a better life. “Esther you are strong and God really loves you” Iam still in tears now.

  17. Yaah The documentary is heart moving. Its true this is happening in my country Zimbabwe.When i watched the documentary i was moved but as a student there is nothing i can do but just pray to God for divine intervention.amen

  18. I wept watching Esther. My heart is broken. Xoliswa my sister, I salute you for your courage

  19. It is so unpleasant not studying m now at the higher institution level and after watching the documentary l was in tears i wish l can go to zimbabwe in an immediate effect nd help god bless u sister xoliswa nd Mugabe will reap what he saw

  20. I was deeply moved by Obert’s story .How can I help.I would like to give directly to his family.Please let me know how I can help ,his case has been a burden in my heart.

  21. I’m an 18 year old Namibian citizen n I’ve watched this film crying endlessly… but to say that im saddened by this situation is an understatement. Im studying medicine in my country n just the other day our class went on an expedition to view the lives of people living in informal settlements. it was absolutely shocking to discover that people r living they way they do, it breaks my heart to see children without anyone to take care of them, I aspire to help these young ones, esther’s story touched me the most n I do hope she and Tino are in a better place now. im only a first year student but im determined to make a change were I can when I can… thank you Ms Xoliswa for sharing this with the world you have just given me a purpose in life and a sense of determination to pass all my test graduate and mostly…give back, THANK YOU

  22. Well well well what else can we say after this ms Xoliswa!To those who might think this was a kind of exegeration or something along those lines nop it’s not actually it is true,that is real life.l am a truly Zimbabwean and proud to be but l don’t think l still love my country as l used to back then.Right now am stuck in SA why because l’m trying to look for a better living like some people but at some point “we the lost Zimbabwean children because our lives are in fear,we being beaten or insulted by some SA citizens day and night.”Wish God can stretch his has hands to a full capacity and bless my siblings whom l left there alone for all my parents r six fit down the ground level….TO THOSE WHO ARE DOING THEIR BEST TO DONATE WHATEVER THEY CAN TO MY COUNTRY MATES WHO ARE LEFT THERE THANK YOU VERY MUCH AND MAY GOD RICHLY BLESS YOU…

  23. I watched this documentary recently, I could not believe it, I cried so much because I am a mother and to see children suffering like this was very difficult. I cant believe that the government in Zimbabwe are so heartless, this poor children should not have to suffer like this, I will also see to it that I donate, its really shocking.

  24. Artwell Moyo
    I was deeply touched by what I saw. The little girl taking care of a sick mother imagine at such an age.
    I wouldnt want to reiterate that again, but my giant step is to find more and even worse situstions and uplift educationally.
    The rotten/corrupt leaders in Zimbabwe nomatter how a child’s situation is do not mind taking whatever donation directed to these children for their own good into their pockets. I would want to take a further step. I want to moniter the kids persuing in life.
    My goal is to have a project that takes up a child from a poor or an orphanage background in rural areas to an icon in the same village.
    Xoliswa Sithole the documentary (Zimbabwe’s forgotten child) reminds me of my dream seeing myself lifting up a rural child to a better person in the community.
    I watched the documentary in 2014 and I sobbed.
    I am in South Africa where I am trying to make ends meet. I neeed a further step to this, I have a plan already in place.

    Contact me on +27783226087
    +263 773242682 (whatsapp).
    My beautiful Zimbabwe.

  25. I couldn’t hold back the tears, and it pains me even more to see more Zimbabweans who are displaced from their own country, suffer more when they come to S.A. That was so real and its life changing, Xoliswa i think you should win a nobel prize for that piece.

  26. Xoliswa,ur a God-sent,these things are happening n real people experience them,saddening staff,#back to basics# love thy neighbour,share the little u have,give n it shall be given back.

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