Overcrowded, Unfulfilled Promises: The Story of Jahunda Residents

After decades of living in crowded and squalid conditions, Jahunda residents make fresh calls for help amid COVID-19.

As night time draws near, Obert Moyo* mounts a shack just outside the door of his one-roomed hostel in Jahunda, for him and his three sons to sleep in.

The hostel which has been his home for the past eight years is not big enough to accommodate him and his wife and their five children aged between five and 19-years-old.

To resolve the problem he sometimes sleeps outside with his three boys while his wife and two daughters sleep in the room.

It becomes really difficult for them when it rains as they are forced to all squeeze into that one-roomed hostel or to seek sleeping space from neighbours.

“Sometimes my wife sleeps in the room together with our daughters aged 5 and 8 while I sleep outside with the boys who are aged 10, 16 and 19,” says Moyo*.

“It’s really difficult to live under such conditions and it’s difficult for us to enjoy our conjugal rights as we would want so we have to make use of the very limited opportunities we get,” says Moyo.

Moyo says they bath in the same room in a big dish. When an elderly family member is bathing or getting dressed the others have to wait outside for the sake of privacy.

Moyo says he cannot have relatives or friends visiting overnight as they do not have space to accommodate them. He says they spend most of their time outdoors to avoid congestion in the house but it becomes very difficult when it rains.

“There is hardly space to move around when we are all in the house. Especially now that it’s raining daily we have to cook in that room and sit in that room which already has furniture,” he says.

Moyo is one of the residents occupying the hostels owned by the council that were built about 70 years back. They pay ZWL $800 a month for rentals.

The municipality built the hostels made up of three to four rooms per block with the intention of providing low-cost accommodation for its workers and residents. The residents cannot develop the houses as they are owned by the council. Some relocated in a bid to escape the harsh living conditions while those who are desperate have stuck to those rooms with the hope that they would be turned into homes.

The residents rely on filthy community toilets which are located a few metres from the hostels and collect their water from a community tap. The Gwanda Municipality passed a resolution to develop the hostels into three-roomed houses. The council developed some of the hostels and the project came to an end in 1999.

About 60 families, some with seven members, are still living in those dilapidated one-roomed hostels and they are eagerly waiting for the council to build decent homes for them as promised.

During the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic some of the residents have been arrested by the police for violating the curfew after being seen moving around at night while on their way to the toilets.

Nomsa Khumalo says the living conditions are harsh but she cannot afford to find alternative accommodation. Khumalo who stays with her young brother and three children says she has an arrangement with a neighbour for some of her children to sleep there.

“The toilets are really filthy, just walking past them is torture because of the unbearable smell and we have to use them over and over again. Those toilets are not ideal, especially for children. The rooms that we live in are in a bad state and at any time the roof might just collapse on our heads. Having to collect water from a communal tap isn’t easy especially when you have a big family. We are expected to wash our hands regularly to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but it’s very difficult when you don’t have running water within your house,” she says.

Gwanda Municipality mayor Cllr Njabulo Siziba says a resolution was passed in 1999 to have the one-roomed hostels demolished and replaced with three-roomed houses. He says the project kicked off and came to an end shortly due to financial challenges.Under the plan, each household will have an ablution facility.

He says they are now revisiting the project to ensure that it is completed.

“As a municipality, we are seized with the matter. We submitted our layout plan for the Jahunda redevelopment programme to Harare and we are awaiting approval. We are making continuous follow-ups on the matter. Once the plan has been approved we will start working on developing the area. We will turn some of the hostels into three-roomed houses while other hostels will be demolished and houses will be constructed on virgin land which is yet to be identified,” he says.

Gwanda Residents Association secretary for youth, Wellington Nare, says it’s risky for residents to share common facilities which are not properly maintained such as toilets especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says an outbreak of the pandemic in such an area could cost many lives.

“According to the Constitution everyone has the right to shelter and decent accommodation and as a state organ; the municipality has to try by all means to ensure that the living conditions of the Jahunda residents are improved. No one should live under such poor conditions that don’t promote human dignity. As a nation we have to conform to set standards when it comes to preserving human rights,” he adds.

Nare says the resident’s association has been engaging the municipality over the matter for several years now but to no avail. He says the feedbacks residents continue to get are empty promises and it is high time the officials deliver before a major health crisis breaks out.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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