Squalor and toxic chemicals – a fact of life for Ngozi’s squatters

A two-metre long ramshackle structure made of rusty iron sheets and maize-meal plastic is the place Gift Moyo calls home. PAMENUS TUSO meets some of the people forced to live on a council rubbish dump.

Gift Moyo is one of more than a thousand squatters living at Ngozi Mine, a Bulawayo city council rubbish dump on the outskirts of the city.

The squatters, most of whom survive from scavenging at the dumping site, have been growing in numbers since the first destitute ‘resident’ arrived their in 1993.

According to a recent survey of the settlement conducted by Dialogue on Shelter in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, 320 families now call the slum settlement their permanent home.

“At first, no women were allowed at this settlement, but as the accommodation crisis continued to worsen, we decided to allow women to stay as well,” explained John Tshuma, the chair of the Ngozi Mine Residents’ Association.

Tshuma, who is one of the founders of the compound, said life at the squatter camp was not for the faint-hearted.

“Life here is very difficult. There is no safe drinking water for the residents. All the families here share two pit latrines, which are already full because of the current rains,” said Tshuma, in an interview with The Zimbabwean.

Tshuma who earns a living through metal fabrication said the residents at the compound routinely inhaled toxic chemicals and other poisonous substances dumped at the site.

Samukelisiwe Tshuma Ndoro
Samukelisiwe Tshuma Ndoro

“Because of the rains, toxic chemicals are all over the place and our children are in danger of getting in contact with the chemicals. The smell coming from the dumpsite is also unbearable,” he said.

Some of the people there also pointed out that they had been denied government services on many occasions because they didn’t have legitimate physical addresses. This had resulted in women giving birth in the slum and children not being able to attend school.

They complained too about human rights abuses and harassment by police.

“Police always have this mistaken belief that this place harbours criminals and thugs. They have raided and harassed us on numerous occasions on the pretext of flushing out criminals. We are not criminals. To the contrary, we are one of the most organised informal settlements in the country,” said the chair of the compound.

“We even have our own security, which works hand-in-hand with the police.”

The residents said, given alternative and better accommodation, they were more than willing to leave the site and live a normal live.

Dialogue on Shelter and the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, a network of community savings schemes made up of households living in poor urban communities, have completed the profiling and mapping of all the major slums in Bulawayo. It’s their aims to help the squatters find their own solutions to the accommodation challenges.

“We are also facilitating government negotiations with members so that they can access appropriate technical support,” said Samukelisiwe Tshuma Ndoro, the Federation’s national co-ordinator.

Ndoro said her organisation was working flat out to assist slum-dwellers to secure their own stands in residential areas.

The Federation was formed in 1998 and now has a membership of 46,900 poor households, who are working together to improve their housing and living conditions.

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