Public toilet nightmare haunts Harare

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Lillian Magaba was shocked to realise that in her rush to get into a commuter omnibus, known as kombi in local parlance, at the corner of Park Lane and Leopold Takawira Street, she hit her foot against a used juice container she thought was filled with water. But it turned out that the bottled liquid was urine.

The terminus, also referred to as a rank, is pervaded by a putrid stench that assaults people’s noses as kombi crews and touts relieve themselves without regard to the effects of their actions.

The site is not sanctioned to operate as a bus terminus for public transport for lack of ablution facilities.

“The place is getting worse and worse,” said Magaba. “It’s surprising that council is not doing anything about these kombi drivers. They are messing up the city. If you look at almost all ranks, it’s the same story.”

Ranks that have been reduced into eyesores include corner Speke Avenue and Mbuya Nehanda Street, Albion Road and Kaguvi Street and Park Lane and Leopold Takawira Street where commuter omnibus crews, touts and late-night passengers often relieve themselves at such places, bereft of public convenience facilities.

Harare’s central business district bears testimony to this unhygienic behaviour as the former sunshine city’s most public relief points have become an eyesore.

Some unscrupulous characters have gone to the extent of disposing of human waste in undesignated areas, particularly at unofficial bus termini.

The few properly maintained facilities come at a price, asking for either R5 or as much as $1 if one prefers relieving themselves in a clean, comfortable and air-freshened environment.

But in a snap survey, some people said they were not prepared to part with any money to relieve themselves. They end up doing so at any place they can find.

An official with an organisation whose premises are located along Kaguvi Street, whose security wall has been literally reduced into a urinal by kombi crews and late-night revellers, implored the city fathers to take action against culprits.

“We have to pick our way carefully when walking out of the gate because these guys are always urinating there. It’s so bad because you actually have to jump over flowing urine when leaving the premises,” she said.

She added that they had written to the city authorities on three different occasions but to date, there has been no response.

As water problems continue to overwhelm the city, most public toilets are now dysfunctional and people often have to queue for the few still in operation. Long queues have become the order of the day at most public toilets.

As some of the people will be hard-pressed to relieve themselves, they lose patience and resort to using undesignated places.

The toilets that are available for free often attract the largest numbers in need of relief as people are not prepared to part with money for their usage.

Africa Unity Square toilet is frequented by professionals who work in nearby buildings that no longer have running water.

“I prefer using this one because it is always clean and there are no hassles,” said a young man who works in a nearby building. Many of the public toilets are, however, often locked.

Urban planning expert Percy Toriro said all public facilities including bus termini should ideally have the requisite amenities such as toilets, but there had been planning challenges in the city.

“Admittedly, because the local authority has been overwhelmed by the demand for space, some ranks have had to be located in places that are not ideal. The immediate solution should be replanning around the existing bus termini such as at Fourth Street and Market Square, which already have existing infrastructure,” he said.

He however noted that the long–term solution would be to phase out kombis and opt for a more efficient transport service system that uses conventional buses able to ferry a larger number of people at a time.

Some observers have suggested that the city authorities could consider partnering with private companies to maintain public toilets and ensure they are used efficiently with people paying a token fee.

They noted that it was irresponsible for people to demand use of such public facilities for free when the facilities had to be properly maintained.

Those who use undesignated spots to relieve themselves, they observed, had to be penalised because apart from “messing up” public places, they also posed a serious health threat to the public.

Municipal authorities have in the past, sometimes in conjunction with the police, conducted operations to curb the kombi menace in the city, with the results often being short-lived.

Harare City Council spokesperson Leslie Gwindi is on record saying kombi drivers lacked discipline. He said they were disregarding designated pick-up points.

“Commuter omnibus operators are the major culprits and it’s just a question of behavioural problems,” Gwindi said.

“The operation (to rein in kombi crews) will intensify until they conform to our requirements. We will be working on our statutory obligation and will only rest after there is peace in the city centre.”