Crystabel Chikayi, Features Reporter
MAKOKOBA suburb in Bulawayo is always awake.
At any time of the day, people flood the streets; children chase after each other, youths sit at street corners while others charm girls as they pass by.
Middle-aged women chat over fences and the elderly lie under shades of trees at their homes.
Makokoba is the city’s oldest suburb whose small three-roomed houses are heavily dilapidated.
But what is amazing is not so much the ramshackle state of the houses but the number of people that live in each of them.
“Makokoba is the Mbare of Bulawayo; it’s overcrowded with scores of people sharing limited accommodation. I was born in 1985 and raised here in Makokoba. We lived in a three-roomed house as an extended family. Now, my two sisters live here with their children and my brother at some point lived here with his family as well,” said Mrs Janet Karova, a Makokoba resident.
She continued: “The lounge had to be divided such that my brother and his wife would sleep on the other side of the curtain while all the boys occupied the other side. Girls slept in the kitchen.”
Mrs Karova said her brother later found a place of his own and moved out.
“After my brother relocated to Pumula suburb, the lounge became bigger to accommodate the boys. But in essence, nothing really changed as my sisters continued to bear more children. There’s nothing new about 15 people living in a three-roomed house here in Makokoba,” she said.
To the ordinary person, Mrs Karova and her family’s living arrangement seems absurd.
It poses various health risks due to overcrowding and insufficient ventilation.
But to Mrs Karova, Makokoba is where she grew up and she knows no better living condition.
An elderly resident in the suburb, Mr Steve Moyo, said it is a growing trend to see several families sharing a house in the neighbourhood.
“Most times, three families rent a three-roomed house. This is why you find many incidents of crime and prostitution here. Having to live in such a small house with so many people is a reflection of abject poverty. It’s impossible for three families to live harmoniously in such a set up,” said Mr Moyo.
Families take turns to clean the shared accommodation and fights always ensue when things go missing around the house.
The introduction of prepaid electricity, Mr Moyo said, further complicated life for some residents sharing accommodation.
“With the introduction of prepaid electricity, you can imagine what trouble we have. Imagine a case where I buy electricity today, then tomorrow evening I come home from work and discover my housemates have used up all the electricity. It’s hard to ask people to use electricity sparingly especially if they are the landlords. I buy electricity that I hardly ever use,” said Mr Moyo.
Some people believe people swarm Makokoba because rentals are cheaper but Mr Moyo argues that it is not true.
“People see the suburb overpopulated and assume rentals here are cheaper. I pay $60 for rentals excluding water and electricity bills. The reason some of us are in Makokoba is because it’s closer to town so we don’t have to board a kombi to get to work. It’s called being economic,” said Mr Moyo.
He said Makokoba is like a nursery for all other suburbs as most people live there before relocating to other suburbs such as Cowdray Park when they earn a better income and can afford boarding kombis to and from work.
Mr Hebert Nyathi, another resident in the suburb, said the shared accommodation promotes the spread of communicable diseases.
“If you’re living with someone with TB, chances of contracting it are extremely high,” said Mr Nyathi.
He said a significant number of youths in the suburb are unemployed and end up being sex workers with others having to deal with numerous unwanted pregnancies.
“These children start being naughty while at secondary level. After writing their Form Four exams, they sit at home and have nothing to do, so they end up getting pregnant countless times, increasing the population in the suburb.
“The girls here are pretty but with no brains. They don’t learn from each other’s mistakes, they all fall into the same trap knowingly,” said Mr Nyathi.
Because refuse is not collected in the suburb, residents have turned to illegal dumpsites, which have earned Makokoba the title of “Bulawayo’s dirtiest suburb”.
Environmental Management Agency Bulawayo provincial manager Mr Decent Ndlovu said waste levels in Makokoba keep increasing and a lot has to be done to bring an end to illegal dumping.
“We appeal to the people of Makokoba to take note of illegal dumping sites as the suburb is now the worst in Bulawayo. We will start moving at night to catch those who dump waste illegally,” said Mr Ndlovu.
Bulawayo City Council (BCC) public relations officer Miss Bongiwe Ngwenya said to quell disharmony in the suburb, they shift around people who would be failing to co-exist.
“The BCC tries to address challenges that are faced by people who share accommodation. Please be advised that in some instances, people who’re sharing houses would be living in disharmony and the home environment would no longer be amicable. In such instances, the situation gets very bad and ends up involving the police.
“There have been police cases where the members in question start threatening to kill or maim each other. In such cases, we’re obligated to move them around and interchange their houses so as to try and maintain order and peace in the community,” said Miss Ngwenya.
Most of Makokoba’s problems date back to the country’s pre-independence era where blacks were relegated to the city’s peripheries.
“I grew up here and the suburb has continued to face the same problem, especially regarding shared accommodation. I’ve continuously raised the issue with Council because this has a serious bearing on health matters in the suburb. Often I’ve been told there’s no funding to develop houses,” said the area’s Councillor, Jason Sithole.
He said it was unfortunate that residents could not afford to leave the suburb.
“It’s unfortunate that the 2006 resolution to decongest the suburb is not being effected because up to now you find a single room with four families and nothing is being done to address this.
“I believe both the BCC and Government should come together and solve this matter before it blows out of proportion,” said Clr Sithole.