Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Zimbabwe's forgotten children, struggling to survive

Zimbabwe: Digging for bones

By Xoliswa Sithole
Producer, Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children

Zimbabwe, when I was growing up there, was the breadbasket of Africa and had one of the best education systems in Africa if not the world.

The healthcare system was great, too.

For a child born in apartheid-era South Africa, as I was, it was a land of opportunity. After my mother moved to Rhodesia, I received a first-class education, and graduated from university in post-independence Zimbabwe.

It is startling how quickly a society can fall apart.

My film, Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children, follows the stories of a number of children struggling to survive in the country today.

Zimbabwe has become a very hard place to be poor, and poverty is ugly. Conspicuous consumerism is very evident, and greed is also very visible.

I shot the film undercover, after getting a permit to make another film, about my childhood and how it has shaped me.

Esther with her mother and baby sister

I was raised as a child of the Zanu party. My stepfather's cousin Ndabaningi Sithole, founder of Zanu, was a prominent politician, and my cousin Edison Sithole the first doctor of law in southern and central Africa - he disappeared in 1975, abducted by Ian Smith because he was a human rights lawyer and political activist.

But while I was making this film the Zimbabwean government launched Operation Murambatsvina (Remove the filth) - a slum clearance programme that left thousands of people on the streets.

This made me resolute to make another film, about Zimbabwe's children.

I focus mostly on three stories.

There are Michelle and Grace, who live with their father Joseph. Joseph dreams of saving enough money to pay for his children's education, but for now they all work - by digging bones from a rubbish heap and selling them.

"What I am doing is child abuse really," he says. "They should not be working like this. It hurts me."

There is Esther, who looks after her mother as she dies of Aids, and also her younger brother, Tino.

After her mother dies, Esther's life becomes simpler. "It's much easier to look after Tino now, because I don't have to look after mum as well," she says.

Esther's case is not an unusual one in today's Zimbabwe. It's a common scenario.

Zimbabwe: Harare's street kids

There are also the street children.

When I lived in Zimbabwe in my twenties, there were hardly any street children in Harare.

Children are now not only living on the streets, they are giving birth on the streets. A second generation of street children is growing up.

The system was supposed to take care of its people, but it has failed.

In less than a generation, the country has changed beyond all recognition.

Xoliswa Sithole is a South African film-maker based in Johannesburg. She was awarded a BAFTA, for her role in producing the BBC/True Vision documentary Orphans of Nkandla, chronicling the effects of Aids in Africa. Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children can be seen BBC Four, at 2245 on Wednesday 3 March, or on the BBC iPlayer .

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