Zimbabwe: Renewal Project Ticket Out of Squalid Conditions

Mrs Shumba struggles to find her way down the dark dingy corridors so that she can secure her place at the communal fire place before the younger men and women get there.

Although there is still light outside, the corridors of Matida Flats in Mutare's oldest suburb of Sakubva remain dark as there is no electricity.

Everything here is done communally. More than 200 families congregate at the fire place to cook their meals.

Each person lights their own small fire which they have to guard jealously lest someone devious usurps the pot and its contents.

The laundry and dishes are also done in a communal area where only two taps are functioning. The tenants jostle to use the sinks with running water before the city authorities close off the water at midday.

Even the bathrooms and toilets are communal.

If you are unlucky, the person doing their business on the fourth floor can just "baptise" you with a bucket load of solid waste, while you are bathing on the ground floor.

Crime is rampant here.

Not because this is where all criminal elements stay, but there is plenty of opportunity for thieves to take small things such as phones, chargers, a bar of soap or even grab a young girl's breasts as she makes her way outside through the dark corridors.

Because the area is overcrowded, the culprits can easily disappear and never be found. For 38 years, this is the life that Mrs Shumba and many others.

She has raised four children and a grandchild in her one-roomed house where privacy is an alien concept.

"It is as if Matida is cursed," said Mrs Shumba in an interview.

"I started staying here in 1982. I have a pile of papers renewing my housing waiting list number with the city council to find a house, but I have had no luck.

"We have been ignored for so long that we are afraid we will be left to rot here. My first born is 35 years-old. He was born here and the last born is now 25 and I am still living here in that one room. I now have a grandchild and we live in the same room.

"Just imagine, three generations have lived here. It's time for us to move to a better place."

Mrs Shumba's hope now lies in the initiative being carried out by Government to replace old houses and flats in Sakubva with modern high rise flats under the Sakubva Urban Renewal Project.

The project was supposed to have kicked off at the end of March, but hit a snag due to the coronavirus pandemic-induced national lockdown and is now expected to start by early next month.

The Urban Renewal Project is an initiative to modernise the old and run-down suburb of Sakubva and turn Mutare into a Smart City in line with Government's Vision 2030.

The project will see the construction of high-rise flats, revamping of Sakubva Flea Market, Sakubva Bus Terminus, Murahwa Green Market Home Industries and Sakubva Vegetable Market.

Mrs Shumba hopes lucky, which has eluded her since 1982, will be on her side this time around and get considered for the new flats.

"We cannot continue to live like animals," she said.

"How can we buy electricity that we cannot use because there are 37 households who share a meter?

"Almost all the windows are broken here, the pipes do not work and whatever is still working can just break down any day. How can we continue to pay rent to council yet nothing works here?

"If I can pay rent to council for 38 years, then I can definitely pay something towards purchasing a new flat once they are complete. We request that we be given first preference."

Other residents called for Government to fast-track building of the new flats for them to have a better life. They expressed fear of being left out in the allocation of the flats.

"My parents lived here and died leaving this flat as it is," said Mrs Memory Kasiyandima.

"I am now getting old myself and nothing has changed. We are very lucky to survive this Covid-19 virus because our situation is really dire.

"We really pray we will get these new houses so that we can start a whole new life. I want to be able to leave my kids with a better life."

Minister of State for Manicaland, Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba, is on record saying the project was indeed a new start for the people of Sakubva.

She called on the developers to engage the people to ensure that they were in agreement with the changes that will take place once construction work begins.

At least 72 families are expected to move from the Coronation block of flats in Sakubva which will be the first to be demolished.

They will be offered funds to pay for rentals, while the replacement blocks are being built.

"We agreed that people at Coronation would be moved, but we have to come up with modalities on how to move them without alienating them," said Dr Gwaradzimba. "We want to move with them all the way."

Not only will the residents of Sakubva benefit from accommodation once the new flats are up, there are more than 25 000 direct and indirect jobs that will be created.

The residents can hardily wait for the new lease of life, which should spur those involved to make the completion of the renewal project a priority for Mutare.

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