Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Where’s the water? Stories from Bulawayo

TOP del.icio.us

Mary Banda (aged 80) came to Zimbabwe in the 1960s from Malawi for ‘greener pastures’ with her now deceased husband. She is one of those old sweethearts who wax lyrical about the “good old days,” only too happy to reminisce about “how things were better when we were growing up,” a life story she gladly tells anyone who will listen. She says they had five children but all are deceased and she is left with grandchildren and great grandchildren all of whom live elsewhere. She stays with lodgers, and since she cannot go to the borehole by herself she has to rely on their benevolence for water. “But they also have their own needs,” she says referring to her tenants who have a young child. When water “finally arrives” she tries to stock up. She is old school and knows Zimbabwe like the back of her hand. She says she is disturbed by the water problems and “someone must have done something for the rains to have disappeared in the country.”

Simba Dube (aged 36) is a vendor at Machipisa shopping centre. There is a public toilet just behind his stall where he and a number of women sell vegetables. The toilet hasn’t been functioning for years now and is under lock and key. But he says that this has not stopped folks from shitting on the toilet’s doorstep. It is symbolic perhaps: the logic seems to be, “this is a public toilet and we will shit here even if it is locked!” There are a number of public toilets in the suburb but Dube says none are functioning. The story is the same everywhere: they are all littered with faecal matter outside their entrances. It is worse for the vendors, he says, as the convenience of a public toilet is no longer there and he has to rush home every time he wants to answer the call of nature. “It has now become like a landline (telephone). I can only answer the phone at home and nowhere else,” he quips.

Zenzo Moyo (aged 33) is a kombi driver in Bulawayo CBD. His kombi rank is at TM hyper, one of Bulawayo’s busiest commuter omnibus ranks. Drivers, touts and commuters previously used the public toilets at TM Hyper but now, because of the water shortages, the loos are under lock and key. What is now available are pay toilets, at R5 per visit. “That’s money I cannot afford,” Moyo says. “It means my tout also has to dip into the day’s takings to use the toilet and there is no telling how many times one may want to use the loo,” he says matter-of-factly. Typical of these chaps known for all sorts of adventures and misadventures, they have turned alleyways into latrines, creating an odour the Devil would be proud of. “What do they (the municipality) expect us to do? Paying to use a toilet for me is like paying to drink water,” he says, expressing a common sentiment.

Jairos Ngwenya (aged 29) is a cleaner at a cocktail bar. Folks never seem to run out of cash, they have money to burn as they patronise the joint everyday of the week and business is brisk. But this comes at a price for Ngwenya. No running water for days on end means the pub is also affected, and the laws of necessity have meant even without running water, the pub still remains open. Just because there isn’t any water doesn’t mean the patrons don’t shit, and Ngwenya knows this painful truth is a part of the job. “It’s a tough call anyway, expecting tipplers not to piss or shit,” he says rather grudgingly. He has even found human waste on urinals after some drunk defecated where others piss. “I wonder what time they do this,” Ngwenya muses. I jokingly suggest that maybe one patron stands guard by the door to stop others from entering while his friend shits by the urinals? He laughs: “That’s possible.”

Marko Phiri and Chumile Jamela writing for Kubatana.net

More stories, and photographs here

Comments are closed.