IT may not be so in English semantically, but many Hopley residents associate the name of their suburb with the word hope, which is their human desire accompanied by a sense of expectation or belief in fulfilment.
By Wongai Zhangazha
But for the thousands of residents at the sprawling farm settlement on the outskirts of Harare which came into existence as a result of the government’s Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle programme in 2005, the present and indeed the future looks anything but bright.
“We are frustrated at being constantly taken for granted by government. We are the forgotten ones who have never been taken seriously. The situation hasn’t changed since 2005 and everything about this place is always negative,” said Shylet Gava, a resident of the squalid settlement.
“It’s Hopley the home of cholera; Hopley the home of sexually transmitted diseases and Hopley the home of prostitution and crime. Now it is Hopley the home of typhoid, but in all this, the government has forgotten about us.”
Government claimed that Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle programme was meant to clean-up and to de-congest Harare by ridding it of illegal structures. The move, government said at the time, would also help to fight the spread of diseases.
However, Hopley — which is extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially due to poverty and neglect — remains bereft of local authority services and serves as a stark reminder of unfulfilled government promises on that issue and many others. The area has limited water supplies and refuse disposal points, while the bulk of residents are using Blair toilets.
It is thus unsurprising that Hopley is now the epicentre of a typhoid outbreak that is spreading in Harare.
In January, the Harare City Council (HCC) dispatched teams of medical experts to investigate the scale of typhoid cases and curb a further spread following reports of several diarrhoea cases.
At the time, two cases were confirmed at Hopley while one was confirmed in Glen Norah. The cases have since risen to 31 out of more than 400 suspected cases. One minor has died from the disease. Diarrhoeal diseases are also on the increase and have claimed eight lives.
This is despite the fact that typhoid can not only be avoided, but also be cured as well.
According to the World Health Organisation, typhoid fever is a bacterial disease caused by salmonella typhi. It is transmitted through the ingestion of food or drink contaminated by the faeces or urine of infected people.
Symptoms include high fever, sickness, headache, constipation or diarrhoea, rose-coloured spots on the chest, and enlarged spleen and liver.
The unavailability of a steady supply of water and the general uncleanliness of Hopley makes it a breeding ground for diseases such as typhoid, cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases which thrive under unhygienic conditions.
“We have limited access to clean water. We have four zones and some have six taps while others have three which provide water to thousands of residents. At times you can have zone two and four using the same taps,” said Gava.
“To make matters worse, the taps are opened between six o’clock and eight in the morning. Then they are closed and reopened at four until about 7pm.”
Gava also said that many residents were resorting to using shallow wells because of the limited water drawing points.
Hopley also has four boreholes which were sunk by donors but water is such a precious commodity that some “prefects, who control their use” have imposed themselves on the community.
“They open the gates to the boreholes when they want and they even control the number of buckets one is supposed to bring. At times they demand money from residents claiming they want to fix the boreholes. Honestly how can we escape typhoid when access to clean water is expensive,” queried another resident.
A Hopley health worker who insisted on being identified only as Mai Ngwenya said Hopley was sitting on a time bomb.
“The toilets and the wells, in some cases, are built just one metre apart. Since 2005 people have been living like this. Despite people paying US$40 a year to the local government ministry for years, which was however increased to US$50 in December last year, there has been no change in service delivery,” she said.
“The situation is bad and government needs to intervene to alleviate the crisis.”
Harare City Council’s health director Prosper Chonzi confirmed the situation was terrible in Hopley because of the environmental issues.
“The most affected areas are Hopley and Budiriro, but Hopley is worse. And now that it’s raining the situation could further deteriorate,” he said. “The threat is quiet serious. The main challenge there (in Hopey) is that the water table is quite high and therefore contamination of the water also becomes high. The settlement as you know came about after the operation that displaced people. So it was a new settlement that was not properly done, no proper planning was done including for the roads.
“People live in shacks and in very squalid conditions. There is no proper ventilation and people dig shallow wells which will be very close to the pit latrines and this continues to increase the levels of water contamination.”
Although Hopley is the epicentre of the typhoid outbreak, the disease has been reported in many other high-density suburbs in Harare, reminding residents of the 2008 cholera outbreak which killed over 4 000 people.
Suburbs affected by the typhoid outbreak include Glen Norah, Budiriro, Kuwadzana, Mabvuku and Warren Park D. Chonzi blamed the outbreak on water shortages and poor sanitation in residential areas.
“We are also distributing aqua tablets and talking about good personal hygiene such as washing hands before meals, eating food while it is still hot and treating all domestic water at point of use,” he said.
“Treatment is for free. I therefore urge residents to go to their nearest clinics earlier to report on any general symptoms of typhoid, we should not wait for the situation to get worse as this can lead to complicated cases, including death.”
Social commentator David Takawira said the continued cases of typhoid, especially in high density areas, were an indication that government has failed to provide basic social services to its people.
“We already have a crisis around water management from consistency to quality. Typhoid is only a first we are seating on a time bomb,” he said.