The single-roomed houses were designed during the colonial times to accommodate African men working in the city. Women and families were strictly forbidden – until Independence in 1980.
“There are too many people using these facilities. The sewage system cannot cope. Raw sewage flowing from burst pipes is an everyday thing,” he said.
Residents say they last saw piped water from the council in 2000, long before the country’s current economic crisis. Because of problems with the sewage system the people use buckets to relieve themselves at home. The same room acts as a bedroom, kitchen, sitting room and toilet.
Women use rags
Women cannot afford proper sanitary wear. They use rags, which in turn block the sewer system.
While statistics are hard to come by, residents estimate that there could be as many as 1,000 families with an average size of five to eight members – each family packed into a single room.
The deterioration of the infrastructure, including the roads, worries the residents but it is the issue of water that is most problematic. “Our fear is that we could be one outbreak away from a major disaster,” Kudya says. The toilets have maggots on the walls and urine and faeces on the floors. Cultural taboos are broken daily with adults and young children using the facilities side by side -because neither toilets nor bathrooms offer any privacy.
Peter Dandure, another resident, feels the city council, which owns the properties, should compromise with the residents on rents.
Gold has run out
“The $23 rentals are too high for the people here. We no longer have industries in this city. The biggest employer, David Whitehead Textiles, has been closed for over three years now,” Dandure said.
Residents rely on informal activities such as illegal gold panning and vending to make ends meet. But now the gold has run out and vendors have to fight running battles with the municipal police just to survive. Decreased job opportunities have led to corresponding increases in social vices such as prostitution and crime.
“Prostitution and crime are very high in this area,” a woman who does not want to reveal her identity says. “I have tried vending, but the municipal police are always raiding us.”
City Mayor, Muchineripi Chinyanganya, acknowledges that informal activities are now the only source of income for most residents, but denies that the police are always harassing the illegal vendors – saying such disruptions are limited.
No funds, no land
“The raids are not an everyday thing but we urge the vendors to operate from designated points,” said the mayor, adding that council faced serious difficulties because of little economic activity in the city.
“We are in a difficult financial situation. We have plans to upgrade the area but there are no funds and the council does not have the land for new stands. We are engaged with the Local Government ministry in order to acquire more land,” he said.
Major companies that have closed shop include Dairibord, Cold Storage Company and National Glass Company.
Mother of four, Christine Katurura, said her greatest fear was for her children. “My youngest child is almost four years old and that age group is at risk because they can wander on their own into the unclean toilets. I was born here and when I was young it was quite safe for us to play, running in and out of the toilets and the bathrooms,” she said.
The area falls in Ward 2 and the local councillor, Michael Gore, feels that the council should transfer ownership of the houses to the present occupants so that they can develop them on their own.
“For as long as they are owned by the council the people cannot make any improvements but if we transfer ownership the people may be able to extend the houses and build their own toilets,” the councillor, himself a victim of the demise of David Whitehead, says.
Kudya, who worked for the city council for 26 years only to walk away empty handed on retirement because the council allegedly did not make any contributions to the pension fund, is fearful of the future. “How am I going to survive?” he asked desperately.Post published in: News