Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Correspondent
“I wake up at 6AM every day to fetch water from a nearby community tap. I’ve to wake up this early because if I don’t do so, I may end up spending the whole day queueing for water as many of us in this suburb depend on these taps. Water is a scarce resource in this area. Sometimes, I’ve to fetch water from a well a distance away,” said Mrs Nomsa Mthombeni, a resident of Cowdray Park’s Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai Phase 2.
She said her life now revolves around searching for water for domestic use.
Mrs Mthombeni’s situation is a reflection of the predicament of scores of Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai Phase 2 residents in Cowdray Park.
She said she is a beneficiary of Government’s residential stand allocation programme that sought to improve living conditions in cities.
Mrs Mthombeni said after being allocated the residential stand, she thought her life had changed for the better as it gave her an opportunity to own a home.
But seven years after moving to her new home, life has not been rosy for her and her family.
Mrs Mthombeni says she is distressed as authorities do not seem to care about their situation.
“Life has been tough since we moved here in 2010. We don’t have running water, sewer reticulation systems and electricity. Our roads are in bad shape and we use blair toilets. Due to the rains, the toilets are now spilling with sewage flowing along our roads. It’s a bad sight and a health disaster is looming but what can we do? This is the only home we have,” said Mrs Mthombeni.
She said their lifestyle is divorced from the one being enjoyed by a significant number of urban residents in the city blaming the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) for failing to address their problems.
In a move to force residents into connecting water taps at their homes, the BCC in partnership with the Bulawayo Home Seekers Consortium Trust recently removed some of the community taps in the suburb.
This did not go down well with residents who said the BCC was out to worsen their plight as they could not afford to connect water taps at their homes.
“We don’t have the $380 that’s required. Due to the removal of limited communal taps, we’re now fetching water from wells just like rural folks,” said Mrs Mthombeni.
Another resident, Mr Fidelis Karanda said the BCC blundered in removing community taps.
He said the unfriendly economic environment prevailing in the country at the moment was making it difficult for residents to raise the required money to erect taps at their homes.
“There’s no substitute for water. We’re being forced to drink from unsafe water sources. We’re neglected here. We don’t have shops and it’s promoting illegal tuck shops,” said Mr Karanda.
The road infrastructure in the suburb is deplorable and some areas have become inaccessible due to the recent rains that pounded the city.
Mr Christopher Khumalo, another resident, said due to the bad state of the roads, emergency services teams such as ambulances cannot access the area which has become detrimental to the welfare of patients.
Public transport operators have also shunned the area forcing residents to commute twice to get to the city’s central business district.
The first ride transports them from the Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai Phase 2 area and leaves them in better developed areas of Cowdray Park suburb from which they get transport into the central business district.
The area has been nicknamed “edark city” rightfully so as it becomes extremely dark during the night because there is no electricity.
There is also massive deforestation in surrounding areas as residents depend on wood as a source of energy.
There is a high prevalence of crime in the area.
Last month, vigilantes assaulted a self-confessed thief who had broken into two homes.
Several cases of rape and robbery have also been recorded with some of the perpetrators of the crimes unaccounted for by the police.
Officials from the BCC are on record as saying Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai Phase 2 residents are shooting themselves in the foot if they expect to receive services from the local authority without paying bills.
Residents are supposed to pay $15 each for the servicing of the area but it seems most are not willing to do so.
Instead, they blame each other for failing to pay bills. “Some of these houses are occupied by tenants who don’t care about the development of this area.
They know that the servicing of stands will see the house owners evicting them so they’re content with the situation,” said one resident who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The BCC has remained defiant and continues to call on residents to pay for service delivery.
“We can only deliver a service which is paid for. Right now they don’t want to pay for water which is right at their door step,” said the city’s town clerk, Mr Christopher Dube.
Recently, local councillor Collet Ndlovu and MP Cde Ntandoyenkosi Mlilo met residents in order to come up with solutions to the plight of Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai Phase 2 residents.
It was resolved that residents would pay the required $15 for service delivery.
Clr Ndlovu said the local authority was making efforts to address the problems being faced by residents.
“We had earlier resolved to start by fixing the sewer and water situation. Significant work has been done in that regard. Roads are also an urgent issue.
Graders are already on the ground and we’ll be fixing 6,5km of the road,” said Clr Ndlovu.
Bulawayo Home Seekers Consortium Trust chief executive officer Mr Mkhululi Nyathi, who is sub-contracted to offer various services in the area, said residents are reluctant to pay rates adding they have a rate holiday and are too comfortable in their situation.
“That area is a self development area. Residents are supposed to be paying for the services they get. We’ve been there from the time the project was still being run by Government. We’ve continued to develop even after it was handed to the BCC which sub-contracted us. But residents are not keen to pay the bills yet the money is for developing their area,” said Mr Nyathi.
He said residents were initially meant to pay $50 per month but rates were reduced to $15 after they said they could not afford it. Residents still fail to pay the $15.
Through its partnership with the BCC and its donors, the Consortium has managed to make piped water accessible to 80 percent of the houses in the area whose occupants still fail pay for the connection of the water.
Cde Mlilo weighed in on the matter saying the BCC was negotiating in bad faith with occupants of the Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai houses.
He said occupants of the Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai houses needed special treatment as they are low income earners.
“The $300 to $400 that the Council needs to connect water in the area is already too expensive for them. Remember this was a low cost housing project initiated by the Government for poor people. These people are not gainfully employed to raise the required money once off,” said Cde Mlilo.
He accused Clr Ndlovu of failing to represent residents saying he takes the side of the BCC management instead of standing for the people.
Turning to the roads, Cde Mlilo said he had already tabled the matter with the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Dr Joram Gumbo.
He said Dr Gumbo promised a special grant for the development of roads in Cowdray Park suburb.
Meanwhile, Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Saviour Kasukuwere said local authorities should work with beneficiaries and land developers in servicing areas which have been without facilities such as electricity.
“Local authorities are urged to work with beneficiaries and land developers to provide the areas with water and sewer reticulation facilities. This talk of waiting for central government to carry out the task is not progressive,” said Minister Kasukuwere.