As people go about their business in the streets of St Mary’s in Chitungwiza, it is common to see men, women and children carrying “parcels” wrapped in newspapers.
Others carry buckets and since water shortages have become a perennial problem here, one can easily think they are fetching water from the boreholes.
But the shocking reality is that they are actually wrapping their human excretion in newspapers or putting it in buckets so that they can throw it into the nearby bush.
“We have resorted to these dehumanising acts as our sewer system is blocked. We have been living like this for the past three years,” said a woman who identified herself as Mai Tadiwa. “We no longer have toilets.”
Another resident, Tinashe Chitindo, said bathing had become a nightmare since their toilets were now inaccessible.
“The toilet is just a mess and one can hardly spend a minute in there. The situation is unbearable and if it was not that I live in a house left by my late parents, I would have relocated,” said Chitindo.
Children, however, seem to have mastered the art of living comfortably with raw sewer flowing in all most every street as they can be seen playing street soccer. One child openly admitted that sometimes they get into the sewer to retrieve their plastic balls.
“It is by God’s grace that our children have not contracted diseases because every day they play near the sewer water,” said Mai Tadiwa.
A vendor at Huruyadzo Shopping Centre claimed that a prominent retail supermarket, which used to operate at the centre, was forced to shut down after it emerged that it was built on sewer pipes and at one time raw sewage flowed into the shop.
The residents say the local municipality knows their plight but nothing has been done.
“We have requested their attention on the situation, but they have just made empty promises. In fact, they have requested us to construct Blair toilets,” said Chitindo.
A Chitungwiza Municipality official who requested anonymity said St Mary’s was one of the oldest and poorest suburbs in the country and the sewer pipes were now obsolete, having outlived their lifespan.
“These pipes had been there for a long time and now we are failing to replace them. The people are not paying their bills and we have since applied to our parent ministry, the Ministry of Local Government (and Urban Development), but nothing has materialised yet,” he said.
The local authority, however, has been continually allocating “infill” stands to people in areas without proper sewer reticulation systems.
“These things have been in the papers and it is a common knowledge to every Zimbabwean that the Chitungwiza council has a lot of worms in their can. Councillors know the situation, but they have since embarked on self-enrichment projects rather than develop the life of the people who voted for them,” said the official.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and social commentator Tawanda Zinyama said the situation could soon deteriorate into a health bomb if not attended.
“What we are witnessing in St Mary’s is a health time bomb and soon we will witness a cholera epidemic bigger than that of 2008 and what is more worrisome is that the relevant authorities seem not to have learnt from what happened when the diseases claimed more than 3 000 lives,” he said.
He added that during the rainy season, the human excrement being thrown into the nearby bush would be washed away into Manyame River, the main water source for Chitungwiza.
Urban planning expert Mike Vareta urged the Ministry of Local Government and Urban Development to chip in and assist.
“What’s happening (in St Mary’s) is a result of lack of planning or ignorance at its worst. The houses were built long back for workers who were supposed to commute every day to Harare since Chitungwiza is a satellite town.”
“The population kept on increasing and nothing was done to improve the sewer reticulation system so the pipes became old and sometimes they just burst. A complete overhaul is needed for this to be achieved.
“Sadly, those in authority are busy enriching themselves at the expense of the ratepayers,” said Vareta.
The dormant yet budding town of Chitungwiza has faced a plethora of challenges ranging from water shortages, severe load-shedding of electricity and sewer bursts.
St Mary’s being one of the poorest suburbs in the country, it is feared that any disease outbreak in the area will claim much more lives since people live in squalid conditions.
Until that time the relevant authorities look into the situation, the people of St Mary’s will continue to employ their own manual method of disposing of human waste even as their children continue to play in raw effluent.