WHILE wealthy families live in the lap of luxury in Harare’s affluent suburbs like Borrowdale and Glen Lorne, the same cannot be said about Mbare where squalor, burst sewer pipes and overcrowded dingy flats are a normal part of life.
Taurai Mangudhla/Brian Chitemba
As one drives from the central business district towards Mbare, one is greeted by the stench of blocked sewer pipes, while shattered windows and damaged walls of derelict structures are the face of the capital’s oldest suburb.
To compound the situation, water and electricity cuts are everyday norms.
But that is the least of 74-year-old unemployed Mbare widow Resi Manyuchi’s worries as she struggles to have just two basic meals a day.
“I am now old and my health has deteriorated so I can’t work much anymore,” Manyuchi said. “All my children are not formally employed, even my 32-year-old son. They sell whatever they can at the bus rank or in town to put food on the table.
“We thank God whenever we can, we have tea with bread in the morning and afford to buy relish for supper, otherwise we struggle to buy a loaf of bread each morning mainly for my little grandchild so that they don’t go to school on an empty stomach. For us adults, it’s usually just one meal in the evening.”
Manyuchi is struggling to pay US$74 that is now required by council for rentals each month for the single room which she shares with her three children, including her 32-year-old son and 11-year-old granddaughter.
Seated next to Manyuchi as she narrated her ordeal was another 60-year-old widow Rosemary Rupiya who interjected saying their plight was worsened by council’s sudden demand for monthly rentals.
“We can’t afford these rentals and I owe US$150 after two months of non-payment,” said Rupiya. “I spend the whole day seated on my small table here selling chips, sweets and vegetables and I get on average US$7 every day in sales so I just have to make sure I am able to get a dollar to buy meat for supper each day,” she added.
Rupiya said their area used to get food and other support from non-governmental organisations but that has since stopped.
“Maybe they think we are better because we are in Harare, but honestly my relatives back in the rural area are far much better because they get decent meals every day,” Rupiya said.
With pre-paid electricity and water meters set to cover the entire country, things can only get much worse for such families as they do not have the money to spare on such necessities, sinking them deeper into poverty.
The widows’ emotional stories confirm the World Food Programme (WFP) report that hunger is on the rise in Zimbabwe with an estimated 2,2 million people — 25% of the rural population — expected to require food assistance during the pre-harvest period early next year.
This, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee rural livelihoods report which estimates food security levels and identifies affected areas, is the highest since early 2009 when more than half the population required food support.
With seven months to go before the country’s next grain harvest, government has already stepped in to augment supplies following a poor harvest in the past farming season.
“The current high levels of food insecurity are being attributed to various factors including adverse weather conditions, the unavailability and high cost of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers and projected high cereal prices due to the poor maize harvest. WFP monitoring in rural markets has found grain prices 15% higher than this time last year,” WFP said.
Contrary to Zanu PF assertions that it has alleviated suffering through the controversial land redistribution exercise and indigenisation, the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) poverty analysis report shows grinding poverty has worsened with the rural average consumption per person per month standing at US$4,70, compared to US$87 for urbanites. Poverty currently stalks 62% of the country’s estimated 13 million people, mostly in rural areas and high-density suburbs.
The Zimstat report defines poverty as the prevalence of households or people in households whose consumption expenditure per capita are below the upper line, while extreme poverty represents households whose per capita consumption expenditure falls below the food poverty line (FPL). The Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (Pices) 2011/2012 says most of the poverty stricken households are resettlement and communal areas.
Matabeleland North is the hardest hit by poverty at 81,7% despite vast natural resources in the province. The province boasts of the largest game park, Hwange National Park, vast coal and gold deposits, tourist attractions including the world-famous Victoria Falls, and cattle ranching.
Mashonaland Central is also stalked by poverty with 75,4% classified as poor while President Robert Mugabe’s home province, Mashonaland West, has poverty levels of 72,4%.
These Mashonaland provinces have been overwhelmingly voting for Mugabe in previous elections, and duly did so in this year’s July 31 polls in which Zanu PF swept to a disputed landslide victory.
In Matabeleland South, 70,8% are poor while Manicaland, which has rich diamond fields has a 70,6% poverty level, while Mashonaland East and Midlands stand at 67%.
Poverty levels in Masvingo are at 63,7% while the metropolitan provinces have the lowest poverty levels with Harare at 35,7 % and Bulawayo 34,5%.
Of the 62% wallowing in poverty, 16,2% are in extreme poverty while 76% of the rural households are poor compared to 38,2% in urban areas. About 30% of rural people are extremely poor compared to 5,6% in urban areas.
These shocking figures suggest one of the striking legacies of Mugabe’s rule is countrywide poverty, although some mainly an elite in Zanu PF and its connections live lavishly. Mugabe and his party blame sanctions imposed by the West in response to its land reform programme and human rights abuses in 2002, and droughts, for the widespread poverty.