SHARON Mapepo (16) sits anxiously on a sofa, taking in what is happening. The rains pound her family’s shack, which has been her home since November 2015. Her three younger siblings are sitted, playing with different objects.
BY SILENCE CHARUMBIRA
At intervals, sharon looks helplessly at the roof that is periodically betraying her — leaking at different points. She wonders what her “O”Level results due next month will bring.
“I do not even know what we are going to do. I thought maybe if I pass, I would go for “A” Level and perhaps proceed to university, but that was before August when the first round of demolitions occurred,” she says with resignation on her voice.
Sharon is the first born in a family of four and her family fell victim to demolitions sanctioned by Harare City Council at Budiriro’s Tembwe Housing Co-operative after they were told they had built houses at a site reserved for a school.
At first, her parents managed to erect a decent makeshift cottage, but then it was demolished again after a few months, leaving them penniless.
Now her father has had to do with thin roofing sheets on the sides of the shack just to make sure his family has a roof over their heads.
Sharon feels that apart from all the ills surrounding her family’s situation, their community is to blame.
“Some are even happy that we are leaving. I remember one woman saying the ‘rubbish’ is now being taken away while our house was being demolished. The grader was right inside our house and someone had the guts to say something like that in our faces instead of helping,” she lamented.
She said when their house was first demolished; it became difficult for her to concentrate even in class as she prepared for her “O” Level exams.
“We had to start from scratch. And when they demolished the second time, it was worse. I imagine sometimes if we are the only family living like this. It is difficult to even raise school fees now,” she said.
The teenager feels heavily violated sharing the same room with her father and has to remain in bed until he goes out to maintain some dignity.
“I feel terrible. I have never experienced such a situation and I feel my rights are being trampled on as a girl child. There is no privacy. The room is divided by a curtain and my father wakes up early in the morning and leaves before we are up, so at least he enjoys a bit of privacy,” she said.
“Our bathroom was also destroyed, so even when I bathe in the makeshift bathroom, I fear that one day it will be blown away by wind and we will be left in the open.”
The Harare City Council last year demolished hundreds of houses in different suburbs evoking memories of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina that left 700 000 people homeless.
This year, the demolitions look set to continue with several housing schemes still to be regularised while land barons continue to prowl using the political card to bulldoze and muzzle local authorities.
The government has been blamed by several civic organisations and ordinary Zimbabweans for paying lip service instead of dealing decisively with the challenges.
On the other hand, affected residents have also cried foul over claims by the local authority that their properties were illegal when they had the requisite papers and receipts of payments made to the same council.
Hardest hit, however, are the women and children who have to contend with the harsh realities of sleeping in the open, squatting when they are supposed to be legally settled, thereby stripping them of their dignity.
Thousands of girls have the same fate as Sharon, only that their stories are never told due to their reserved nature.
Simbarashe Moyo of the combined Harare Residents’ Trust said law enforcement agents have been operating as if everything should be done according to their whims.
He said while Zimbabweans are statistically proven to be one of the most literate people, it does not show in the manner in which local authorities are being run and in the way in which the central government superintends local authorities.
Moyo said although some rights like shelter, which are natural rights, are also enshrined in the bill of rights in the constitution of Zimbabwe, authorities have been wantonly breaching the same charter they claim to enforce.
“You cannot be evicted from your place arbitrarily without due process, but what have we been seeing? People operating as if everything should be done according to their whims and caprices without being bound by the law,” he said.
“What it does is, it hardens the people and very soon the people will try to move out. When that happens, we know who is going to lose.”
Gender activist Nyaradzo Mashayamombe said the fate of females has been her reason for advocating against demolitions.
“There is no one more vulnerable than a homeless woman who is desperate. First of all, the current situation where a 16-year-old girl lives and sleeps with her parents in the same room is dehumanising, it exposes her to vulnerabilities and is also disrespectful,” she said.
“Secondly, when a family loses their investment to demolitions, it means several things: that the council may not have done their job to monitor illegal structures. It also means the parents went against the law to establish structures using illegal methods.
“At the end of the day, this may be desperation signs of a population that’s looking to survive. Under normal circumstances, the city council is expected to only demolish structures after those affected have secured alternative accommodation to maintain human dignity.”
She said council’s actions were reckless and warned that they could be sued for violation of human rights.