By Martin Muleya.
MUTARE, Zimbabwe. (News Of The South) – As I cruised past a cluster of dilapidated rooms that were yawning for face-lift, I was jerked into a reality check by some whistles that were coming from the towering windows in the stinky smelling area of Matida Flats, where hunger is at the doorstep.
At that juncture I realised that I was within the vicinity of Sakubva Matida Flats, an area in Mutare’s oldest sprawling high density suburb. This is the neighbourhood in which angels may sometimes fear to tread on- a neighbourhood in which social ills are rife and rampant.
This is the neighbourhood that Takudzwa Chirau (not her real name)has called home since birth 17 years ago. Takudzwa appear older to be a teenager due to a plethora of reasons among them an insecure and stressful background brought about by grinding poverty that has taken its toll on her, especially after the passing on of her parents three years ago, leaving her to fend for her young siblings at a tender age.
Already a mother herself, she desperately tries to lull her infant to sleep through a cliche’ of a lullaby…
The infant is sweating profusely under the scotching heat, defies her mother’s soothing lullaby and continues to sing from a different protest songbook, much to the chargrin of her youthful mother.
Upon realising that she was fighting a lost battle, Takudzwa unstraps her child from the back, fishes out one of her breasts from her brazier-less top and starts to suckle her infant who hungrily tugs at her breasts.
In no time the infant appears to have soiled himself, soundly drifts into dreamland.
Takudzwa admits that she has not brought any nappy or diaper from her room upstairs and prepares a makeshift bed on the traditional fire kitchen, a bit away from the gossiping mothers. There she lays the baby!
The dire situation is only saved by a passerby who ‘donates’ one of her child’s pampers. Takudzwa is an orphan and a single mum whose child was sired by a teenage urchin from the same neighbourhood.
This is the typical example of a life being led by people at Matida Flats, a life that a local Non-Governmental Organisation Rebuild Sakubva (RESA) wants to breath a new life to a community that has been suffering in abject poverty, poor living conditions among others.
Resa executive director Lucy Nkomo paid a visit recently to the phenominal flats to have an insight into the trials and tribulations of the families housed there. Daniel Derera the longest serving tenant at the flats narrated the ordeal.
“There are 148 rooms and each of the rooms is being shared by at least two families. Some of the families have to up ten people at times you have a situation whereby parents sleep on the bed while the children take cover under the bed. There is no secrecy here!
“In that big room the two families partition it into two halves using boards and curtains or wardrobes.
We are facing critical water shortages because of burst pipes. The local authority is dragging its feet to repair the pipes. We are living in overcrowded conditions and the provision of clean water is important. At one time we spent almost a year without power, complained Derera.
Rents at the flats pay fixed electricity charges to the Mutare City Council which in turn pay the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) for power used. There is a giant metre which captures the amount of kilowatts per hour used by all tenants. The tenants said they are living dangerously at the mercy of exposed electricity wires that can ignite fires in the corridors anytime.
Apart from that, Matida Flats is also known for harbouring criminals of all sorts who would have had a brush with the law, seeking refuge in the rooms. Beer is sold in the flats by shebeen queens who are making a brisk business, capitalising on this catastrophic situation.
“Literally, it is a free for all situation. This is not a good place to nurture children because loose morals are exhibited almost everywhere here. Thigh vendors ply their trade here, thieves hide their loot here, drug paddlers sell their drugs here and you canm name it.
“It is Sodom and Gomorrah. If we had somewhere to go, we would gladly leave this place, but we are holed here because we have no option. In the corridors married couples fight in the full glare of little children. Commercial sex workers can also fight with their clients with our children hearing all the obscenities that come out of their loose cannons. At the end of the day, the children we raise copy deviant behaviour they are exposed to daily. This is the type of life life we are living here and wish if we could be assisted in terms of making the flats a better place to live with affordable housing standards, reiterated Derera in despair.
There are fears that the overcrowding conditions have over the years weakened the building for it is now accomodating more tenants that it was designed to.
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