Antony Bhuku was woken at half eight in the evening by the clamour of a storm.

Chimanimani, a town in Zimbabwe, where he lives and works as a primary school teacher, had experienced showers throughout the day and it didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary. It was March 2019, the tail end of the rainy season.

He tried and failed to get back to sleep. Half an hour later, he heard screaming from a house nearby. “That was the moment I realised something serious was happening.”

Antony walked from his bedroom to the sitting room, “only to discover the house was flooded, it was filled with muddy water as rain was coming in. I was trying to work out what was happening because, during the day, the rain was not very heavy.”

Antony did not know at this point that Chimanimani had been hit by one of the deadliest tropical storms ever to affect the southern hemisphere – a certain consequence of climate change.

By the time Cyclone Idai had reached Zimbabwe, it had already torn a path through neighbouring Mozambique and parts of Malawi. In Zimbabwe alone, 344 people died and 200 were injured, with many still missing. The cyclone displaced 16,000 families and directly affected a quarter of a million people.

Chimanimani is in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, a 300 km mountain range bordering Mozambique. Streams of “sticky-like porridge mud” and rocks were forced down the hills by the cyclone. Within two hours roads were torn apart and many houses were destroyed.

Antony’s wife and children had gone to nearby shops to find shelter but it was too dangerous for him to reach them. He spent the night not knowing whether they were dead or alive. He remembers feeling “very scared”.


“Imagine that you are alone, you have a family, you don’t know where your children are, you don’t know about the security of your wife,” he said, highlighting how powerless he felt. “You really feel like a fish out of water”.

The storm subsided the next morning and, fortunately, his family was reunited. The government provided Antony and his family with a two-bedroom wooden cabin in an area of Chimanimani less affected by the cyclone, as his house was badly damaged.

The majority of displaced families were given tents as they did not own their own homes. It was initially intended as a temporary measure, but for some, it remains their living situation today.

​​He and his family were amongst the luckier ones. There was a more shocking impact at the school he teaches at.

Antony teaches children of 11 and 12 years old: “I lost one of my kids, who was really brilliant, or intelligent I should say”. At his primary school alone, 35 children lost their lives in the storm.

“Most of these kids, I knew them by face and name. It was something, and still is something that rings into my mind”.

Many of the teachers transferred to other schools as the mental toll of the devastation was too much.

Across the Chimanimani region, 139 schools were left without equipment or books. The scale of the damage meant some schools were not repaired until a few months ago. Aid was given by both the government and non-governmental organisations, including the Red Cross and Total Services.

The schools eventually reopened but it “felt like forcing the kids back to school”, as resources were not anywhere close to adequate, Antony says. 


Sadly, climate change has even more complications for Zimbabwe. Despite these tropical cyclones, there is overall a decline in rainfall, increases in temperatures, and rising sea levels. This combination of extreme weather puts the people of Zimbabwe at greater risk as the climate emergency intensifies. Almost a year after Idai, the country was hit by another cyclone, Eloise. While the overall damage was less severe, 27 people lost their lives.

The geography of Zimbabwe is partly what makes it so vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shows the rate of temperature increases across Africa is higher than global increases.

High rates of poverty, financial and technological constraints, and a heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture are challenges that make a number of African countries particularly vulnerable when adapting to the consequences of natural disasters.

In Zimbabwe specifically, a significant portion of the population relies on rainfall and water resources for income. In Chimanimani alone, over 52 percent of the community are employed in the agriculture industry. The cyclone damaged 45 percent of land deemed suitable for crops.

The people most vulnerable to climate change are often the ones who are least responsible for it. The more industrially developed countries are the largest drivers of human-influenced global warming.

As of 2021, China is the biggest polluter, responsible for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, followed by the US at 12 percent. Taking Nigeria and South Africa from the equation, Africa is responsible for just 4.6 percent of emissions, despite the landmass being three times larger than that of China and the US combined.

To look for possible solutions we spoke to Khaled El Hariri, a Master’s student of sustainable energy systems at the University of Edinburgh. He urges world leaders and politicians to use COP26 as an opportunity to collaborate and produce sustainable solutions that will lower the risk of climate disasters, such as Idai, across the globe.

“[Politicians] need political will. They’ve committed to a lot of stuff before, and they never do it. The important part now is actually keeping their promises.”

He believes an emphasis on new policies and stricter regulation of high emission industries is the most effective way to tackle carbon pollution.

“There’s sustainable engineering, which is basically constructing buildings that can withstand extreme weather conditions and any kind of temperature change. This needs a lot of funding, and certain countries don’t have the funds.”

As for Antony and his family’s future - they moved back into their partially destroyed home because they did not have access to water in their temporary cabin. Along with 262 other displaced households in Chimanimani, they are waiting for a new home.

He asks that countries who wish to give aid use a collaborative approach with the intention to sustain livelihoods, not just lives: “unity of purpose should not be temporal, it should be continuous”.

Panashe aims to paint an accurate picture of the African experiences give a voice to the ignored. His connection to Antony Bhuku provided a platform for an important and heart-wrenching story. Without their hard work, this would not have been possible.

This ‘Dear Green Place’ story is a collaboration between Panashe Noel Jonga, Kaitlin Wraight and Morven Mackay. Panashe is from Harare, in Zimbabwe. He and his family have directly suffered from the worst effects of the climate emergency. His uncle, Anthony Bhuku, has been kind enough to share his story with us.

Panashe is one of a number of students at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, who’ve been working with Scottish and Welsh journalism students to highlight the life-threatening effects of the climate emergency in the Global South.. Kaitlin and Morven are both 4th-year students at the University of Stirling.