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Living on the precipice: Bulawayo squatters recount their ordeal

By Gibson Moyo

Madalaboy Ncube, a father of nine, is a worried man.

Ncube (50) relocated to Trenance suburb in the outskirts of Bulawayo following a brutal campaign of forced mass evictions and demolition of houses popularly known as Operation Murambatsvina (get rid of trash) in 2005.

Fifteen years later, he is still homeless, struggling to make ends meet and a resident of one of Bulawayo’s sprawling squatter camps.

 “Our lives are in danger, this is a potential time bomb, a health hazard. Each day and night we are exposed to human waste coupled with the harsh weather conditions. Our make shift houses do not have toilets and Bulawayo City Council (BCC) by-laws do not allow us to have any since we are settled illegally,’’ Ncube said.

“I was forced to move the squatter camp in 2005 after our house in Makokoba suburb was demolished by government under operation Murambatsvina,’’.

However, the place where they are staying does not have ablution facilities, no running water, no proper building structures placing them at a perennial risk of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. 

Ncube revealed that he lost his job as a security guard and is now surviving on piece-jobs in order to feed his family. He has six children of school going age while the other three are now grown up.

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe unleashed Operation Murambatsvina in 2005, ostensibly to clean-up urban centres, which were said to be inundated with illegal housing structures.

Thousands of people had their homes destroyed and found themselves homeless. While the government followed up with Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, ostensibly to provide alternative accommodation to victims of Operation Murambatsvina, many, such as Madala Ncube did not benefit.

Operation Garikai was marred by corruption and there were reports of stands being awarded to connected individuals. In some instances, there was double allocation of properties.

Reports say that Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) cost approximately 700,000 Zimbabweans their homes or livelihoods, or both. Its impact, as documented in a scathing United Nations (UN) report, produced a political shock that put Zimbabwe on the international spotlight and focused attention on its governance performance.

The late United Nations Chief, Kofi Annan’s emissary, Anna Tibaijuka, reporting on the military style campaign found that the Zimbabwean government had mounted a brutal, ill-managed campaign against its own citizens. Many analysts at the time argued the campaign was targeted at urban areas as they were strongholds of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.

 “Things are hard for me and I have given up hopes of ever owning decent accommodation for my family because the situation is getting worse every day. Several organisations including the Bulawayo City Council have taken turns to promise us a lasting solution to our accommodation problems but nothing has come to fulfillment,’’ Ncube said.

Ncube said he had realised that most of those organizations and individuals are taking advantage of their poor state of affairs and use them either to make money for themselves or for political gains.

He said another organization tried to secure accommodation for them by relocating part of the squatters in phase one and promised to come back for phase two but the process was not completed and seemed marred with corruption.

To date, hundreds of people who were displaced by Operation Murambatsvina are scattered around the city in places such as Killarney, Trenance and Ngozi mine all situated in the outskirts of Bulawayo. They are the mercy of Zimbabwe’s weather and endure bitterly cold temperatures during the cold winter months of June and July. In the summer months they are at the mercy of the rains.

Another squatter, Stephen Mpofu from Killarney suburb said squatters who were HIV positive often defaulted on their medications as they sometimes did not have food and struggled to find transport to go collect their medication.

Mpofu complained about the harassment which they get from police officers after the law enforcement agents accuse them of being suspects in robbery cases happening around Bulawayo.

He said another problem some squatters had was that they do not have national identity documents. Due to this it is difficult for them to apply for jobs or to access public services.

Another squatter from Trenance, Alice Mlotshwa lamented the poor road network in their community which she said posed challenges to them when they want to access emergence services such as taking their sick ones to hospitals.

She said they share drinking water with animals from a leaking water pipe as there was no other source of water.

Ngozimine residents indicated that they made efforts to access safe water by offering to contribute $10 each to the Bulawayo City Council but their suggestion was rejected by the local authority as the city father felt that allowing them to do so was going to be a way of legitimizing their stay in bush.

One of the squatters complained that politicians use them for political mileage and dump them later indicating that they were lured to vote during the previous elections but afterwards they were told to vacate the place.        

However, the councillor for ward 2 (covering Trenance and Ngozi mine), Joyce Ndlovu told this publication that her fellow councillors were not supporting her in her fight to lobby the council to provide safe water to the squatters.     

“My fellow councillors are letting me down, they do not support me to lobby the City Council to supply water to the Squatters yet this is a human right,’’ said Ndlovu.

Meanwhile, the councillor for Ward 17 (which includes Pumula and Mazwi area), Sikhululekile Moyo, said 198 houses were built in Mazwi area for the rehabilitation of squatters in 2015 by a Non-Governmental Organisation adding that all of the houses have now been occupied by former squatters from Terrance and Killarney.         

 Bulawayo Mayor, Solomon Mguni said the City council was trying its best to alleviate the problem of accommodation of squatters around the city.

He said they have engaged a Non-Governmental Organization called International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that managed to construct houses in Mazwi area for the squatters in recent years.

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