Poverty-stricken couple’s battle for survival


TATENDA and Mary have lived with the sword of poverty hanging over their lives for many years. It has been so bad that Tatenda has often entertained the thought of taking his own life.

by Shadreck Maririmba

“Life is tough. Sometimes I think of taking my own life or just disappearing from this miserable life,” he said, battling tears.

In a blue faded T-shirt, Tatenda, who was smoking continuously, was at first reluctant to speak, unsure of this reporter’s intentions.

His wife was weeding their vegetable garden behind their shack, whose yard was littered with old pots, used plastic bottles and all sorts of things one could find at a dump site.

Their house is a ramshackle structure made from used black and white plastic held hanging from sticks and wires. The couple has to first kneel so they can squeeze into the shack which is no more than two metres in height.

When Tatenda, who was born at Harare Hospital in 1969, was growing up, he would never have imagined himself living as a squatter in his adulthood.

Now, together with his wife, they live in a shack hidden by maize stalks in the fields along Princess Road, off Sherwood to Malbereign.

Inside the shack, there is no bed, but piles of bricks cushioned with heaps of clothing for comfort. Their blankets look like filthy rags.

The couple started living in the shack in November 2012 when some people who saw Tatenda roaming the streets of Harare like a mad man felt pity for him.

“I used to stay in Epworth before I lost my job as a security guard at one of the embassies in town. Life became horrible then that I started roaming the streets. I am normal as you can see,” he said.

Sometimes he is hired to weed and protect people’s fields for a token cash payment.

“I sometimes receive a few dollars to buy food during the farming season, but I spend most of my time roaming around Malbereign, Belvedere, Ashdown Park and Westgate low-density areas scavenging in the bins looking for anything edible. I also collect plastic empty containers for resale,” he said.

Tatenda’s wife, Mary, chipped in: “We have forgotten how many times we have slept without eating anything. My husband is a good man, I love him. I once considered running away from him, but I then decided to stay.”

The rainy season brings with it this couple’s worst season because their habitation is in a flood plain.

“During rainy season this whole place becomes flooded. Most of my property was washed away last time. This place became muddy and uninhabitable,” Tatenda said.

“I remember my wife and I going to sleep under a nearby tree close to Sherwood Road around midnight when it was raining most of the time. We would cover ourselves with plastics and cling to each other till sunrise,” said Tatenda.

The couple does not have children together. Mary’s two children from a previous marriage live with good Samaritans in Mbare and while Tatenda’s children are under the care of relatives in Shamva.

Although Tatenda’s children have never been to school since birth, Mary’s children have been fortunate enough to qualify for government’s Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) programme and are attending school in Shamva.

Opposite their residents is a mountainous area juxtaposed to Warren Hills Golf club which, according to Tatenda, harbours more squatters.

“There are people living in that area too some who are in a worse situation than mine,” claimed Tatenda.

He had no kind words for churches that frequent the area and promise to offer assistance, but to no avail.

“These church people are all liars. They all come here promising jobs and shelter, but we have seen that they are liars. Some came and took our names promising to come back with help, but they all disappeared,” Mary said.

Tatenda said if anyone needed to help he was a trustworthy person who was willing to work in any environment.

He lamented the lack of jobs in the country as the cause of his misery.

Harare has been battling with squatter problems for years now and it is disturbing to note that our city fathers still appear insensitive when it comes to handling homeless people.