Homeless people in Bulawayo are in the dark about the coronavirus disease outbreak despite being among the most vulnerable groups because of their poor living conditions, it has emerged.
A survey at the city’s two biggest squatter camps at Ngozi Mine and in Killarney revealed that the slum dwellers had little knowledge of the pandemic while those who said they had heard about it did not know how to prevent it.
“We are not aware; we only know the word Corona but nothing more about it,” these are words of Mehluli Phiri one of the squatters at Ngozi Mine.
The informal settlement also serves as Bulawayo’s main dumpsite.
It is business as usual at the squatter camp where slum dwellers scavenge the heaps of rubbish for items they can sell, mostly to recycling companies.
With no masks, sanitisers and protective clothing, the squatters seem to know little about the deadly Corona virus which has infected over million people across the globe and claimed over 56 000 lives, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A visit to the two informal settlements by this publication revealed that little is known as to how the virus is transmitted from one individual to the other.
Phiri, a 37-year-old dweller, told CITE that life in Ngozi mine required one to be hands on for almost 8 hours a day.
“Diseases are there you cannot tell me to go and isolate myself or wear protective clothing because there is a new disease. We have been working here for years and now even the City Council is recognising our role in waste management so if the disease comes we will see what to do,” said Phiri.
The fact that there is no running water, which is one of the key COVID-19 preventive measures, leaves many residents at the place exposed to the deadly virus.
However, the compound head Gideon Tshuma said it was hard to conduct awareness programmes about COVID-19 after President Emmerson Mnangagwa imposed a 21-day total lockdown, with those accused of flouting the decree facing arrest.
Tshuma said more than 200 homesteads in the compound did not have accurate information on how to combat the pandemic as no council or government official has visited them, forcing many to rely on social media and rumours.
To compound the situation is the lack of education among many at Ngozi mine, with learners going as far as Grade 7 before dropping out due to poverty.
“Even from the City Council health department we have not received any information. I have received messages on Whatsapp and could hardly understand as the messaging was too technical. Most of the people are semi-literate here they can read but understanding the message and the measures we have to take-up is a challenge.
“As you can see a standard family has about 6-10 and most of the them are young and the old. So as a result those who can read and understand what how we should prevent contracting the diseases are very few,” he said.
“As the head of this compound there is no nothing I can do I can’t call for a meeting lest I be arrested for violating the lockdown rules.”
Tshuma pleaded with the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) to ensure a steady supply of water using bowsers to reduce any chances of COVID-19 breakout and spread at the compound.
Mbuso Ngwenya, a resident at the squatter camp, said their survival which is solely dependent on selling recyclable material has been greatly affected after companies closed down for the lockdown.
“There is nothing for us, and our children are going to die of hunger. We have no food at all. We are struggling to make ends meet after companies closed down,” Ngwenya said.
Meanwhile in Killarney, another squatter camp, Thulani Ndlovu a resident there, blamed authorities for failure to conduct awareness campaigns on Covid-19, exposing the risk of exposure and infection to many.
“Sesizwile ngayo leyo COVID 19 mfowethu kodwa kangeke ngitsho okunengi ngoba lami kangizwisisi amabala akhona esikhiwa kodwa sizwe kuthwa iyabulala iCorona (We have heard a bit about COVID-19 my brother although I don’t understand some of the English words used in the messaging but what we know is that coronavirus kills),” he said.
Bulawayo mayor Solomon Mguni was coy when contacted for comment, preferring to say, “the council’s environmental and health department will also be going to Ngozi mine and other places which are viewed as hotspots for Covid-19 where they have been carrying out awareness programs.
“Even the engineering department is trying to provide water using bowsers to ensure not only steady supplies but to make sure that residents there can observe WHO guidelines on COVID-19 which speaks to the need for people to keep washing their hands.”
Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)