DRIVING through one of Chitungwiza’s suburbs, Zengeza 3 Extension, the smell of raw sewage is sharp and the rancid stench hits you in the face just as you enter the suburb.
Sewage flows from manholes onto the dusty streets creating streams, with swarms of flies hovering over the raw affluent which has become a common sight in many high-density suburbs.
To make the situation more tolerable, concerned residents pushing wheel barrows of sand could be seen trying to temporarily cover the flowing sewage, but it is a losing battle.
“This is the only way we can protect ourselves to a limited extent,” said an angry resident who identified himself as Munamato. “Since we started reporting these sewage leaks to council in February, there has been no improvement. Today (Wednesday) we have gone to report again at council’s works department and they said they will come to attend to the problem, but we know they will not.”
Just close to the flowing raw sewage is a deserted borehole that used to service residents from as far as Zengeza 1 and 2.
“We are afraid to fetch water from there as we believe it’s contaminated and not safe to drink. But who cares about how we live. We have been living like this for so many years and the strike by council workers has only worsened our woes,” adds Munamato.
Chitungwiza, Harare’s teeming dormitory town, is a veritable health time bomb.
Parts of Chitungwiza such as Unit K, P, G and Unit N have gone without running water for two weeks, while sections like Zengeza 1 and 2 have been receiving erratic supplies of water. Refuse has not been collected in some areas for more than a month, with huge garbage piles on street corners and choking potholed roads.
In some parts of Seke as well as St Mary’s, raw sewage also flows on the streets as workers are not attending to burst pipes.
Over a million residents in the town have lived with flowing raw sewage and water problems over a decade. During the 2008-2009 cholera epidemic, which killed about 4 000 people, the town was one of the hardest hit.
Residents also have to contend with piles of uncollected garbage, dilapidated infrastructure and frequent power cuts.
What has compounded an already dire situation is the strike by council workers. The workers downed their tools a month ago demanding outstanding salaries and allowances amounting to US$11 million accrued over 13 months.
Although the workers have “resumed” work, they are on a go-slow. During the strike, the workers turned away ratepayers claiming that if they paid their bills the money would be squandered by management.
The Zimbabwe National Army had to be called in to help manage critical departments at Chitungwiza Town Council, particularly the health department whose clinics were unmanned after nursing staff downed tools leaving patients stranded.
Despite Chitungwiza producing many prominent Zimbabweans including the finest musicians, evangelists and soccer players, the town has little to show for it.
Legendary musicians like the late John Chibadura and James Chimombe, System Tazvida, the Mahendere Brothers, Mechanic Manyeruke, Charles Charamba and his wife Olivia have all sprung from the dormitory town, famously known as Chi-Town, 25 kilometres south of Harare.
Chitungwiza has also produced soccer stars such as Alois Bunjira, Stewart Murisa, Lloyd Mutasa, Lloyd Chitembwe, Frank Nyamukuta, Farai Jere and Norman Mapeza and charismatic evangelists like Emmanuel Makandiwa of the United Family International Church and Walter Magaya of Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries.
The once thriving satellite town, established in the 1970s, is now a pale shadow of its past.
So what has happened to Chitungwiza with such facilities as the Aquatic Complex, and the Town Centre which it once boasted of? Where is the satellite metropolitan and civic centre which were supposed to have been built in Seke and the railway line linking the town to Harare?
Illegal residential settlements are mushrooming and crime is on the rise as unemployment reaches alarming levels in the town.
The strike by council workers has made matters worse.
A visit to Seke South council clinic in Unit L revealed a sorry state of affairs as council workers continued on a go-slow.
A snaking queue of patients waiting to be served in the opportunistic infections department of the clinic was moving at a snail’s pace.
A worker at the clinic who preferred anonymity told the Zimbabwe Independent that life was tough and they were anxiously awaiting the three months’ salary expected on July 31 as promised.
t even wearing my uniform to work and that says a lot. I am just coming to work because it’s better than staying at home. It’s by the grace of God that I am surviving,” said the council worker. “Most of my colleagues are surviving on selling odds and ends during working hours.”
She said as health employees, they could not totally down their tools.
“Some of these patients would have been booked already and turning them away would be cruel. The council should just give us our salaries so that we can work. We have shown a lot of commitment and patience despite the tough times,” she said.
Five babies were delivered by noon on Wednesday at the clinic.
The Chitungwiza Progressive Residents Association programmes manager Admire Mutize this week said the collapse of service delivery in Chitungwiza accelerated just before last year’s harmonised polls when Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo gave a directive scrapping bills owed by residents.
Said Mutize: “Workers are now reluctantly back at work after being threatened with a show cause order registered by the minister at the Labour Court, but the go-slow is obviously negatively affecting council operations and the delivery of essential services.”
He said before the strike municipal workers collected refuse on a weekly basis, but since resuming work, refuse collection has become erratic with some areas going for up to three weeks without service.
On water supply, Mutize said some areas were receiving water once a week for only five hours and residents were now relying on untreated wells in their backyards, exposing themselves to water-borne diseases.
Chitungwiza Town Clerk George Makunde on Wednesday said morale was still very low even though workers resumed work last week on Friday.
Makunde said: “Workers are demoralised because they have not yet received their salaries. We are still working on the modalities and from where it’s coming from it is very possible that we will be able to pay them before the first of August.”
He however denied that workers are on a go-slow.
“They are just overwhelmed by the work backlog. You have to understand that these are people who missed six days of work. So reports of sewage blockages and bursts we have received are too many, not only in Zengeza Extension. Residents have to take cognisant of that though we are working flat out to solve the problems.”
He said one of the reasons they could not pay the workers was because residents owed the town council US$28 million as from July 2013 after debts were written off on the orders of Chombo before elections last year.