Initially, the Harare City Council wanted to demolish the Mbare hostels, citing inhumane living conditions.
They said the squalor was too ghastly to contemplate and renovating them was not an option as they were built “abnormally”.
A proposal was later tabled for the refurbishment of the hostels and in 2017, council announced that it had commenced renovation works in partnership with CBZ Bank.
The renovation process would also entail building new blocks, which would house the families in the hostels originally built as single quarters.
Council said a deal had been struck with a local bank and renovation works had commenced.
It is estimated that the hostels house about 70 00 people.
A health time bomb has for long been ticking for residents of Mbare’s Shawasha, Matapi and Nenyere flats, which were initially aimed at housing council workers but are now occupied by people who have migrated mainly from rural areas over the past four decades.
Up to now, only two of the apartment blocks have been renovated and the fire that gutted one of them on Wednesday afternoon brought to the fore, the squalid conditions for residents and the urgent need for corrective measures to be taken.
The affected residents of the top floor of the block of flats at Matap , decried the bad conditions they have been living under for many years and pleaded with the authorities for urgent intervention as they had been left homeless by the inferno.
It emerged after the fire was put out that each room houses an average of six people.
The fire which destroyed 12 apartments, and on Thursday morning there was a sombre atmosphere as the victims tried to come to terms with the loss of their valuables.
A few of the victims were hopeful of salvaging something from the ashes, even teaspoons!
They could be seen scouring for their valuables, but sadly, virtually everything had been reduced to ashes.
Even the children who normally play near the heaps of uncollected garbage at the flat wore gloomy faces and sat next to their dejected parents who were pondering their next move.
In room C18, where the fire started, only ashes and shells remained to serve as a reminder that there used to be something.
The room’s tenant, Mr Alexio Matanhike said his family was now surviving on the mercy of well-wishers.
“We were eight people staying in the room that was gutted by fire. Since yesterday (Wednesday) we have been assisted by neighbours to clean the next room where we slept. We are getting food, blankets and clothes from neighbours,” he said.
Mr Matanhike said he was alerted to the fire by his child.
“When the fire broke out, my child called a neighbour before rushing to advise me that the room was on fire. When I eventually arrived, the fire had already spread into the other room. I joined others in trying to extinguish the fire,” he said.
Room C20 tenant Mr Obert Hodzi, who was the first to arrive on the scene, said he immediately noticed that there would be a lot of damage as there was thick smoke all over the passage.
“Most of the families occupying the other apartments on the ground and first floor slept outside as the smoke was choking. For now, we are living from hand to mouth and depending on well-wishers.”
Another victim, Mr Kelvin Ronzi, who stayed with his wife and four children in one room, lost his entire furniture and equipment that he used to earn a living.
“I lost my sewing machine, grass cutter and knapsacks that I used for spraying. They were all gutted by the fire.
“These were my means of survival so as it stands, it is a difficult situation for me and the family,” he said.
Fortunately no fatalities or injuries were recorded in fire incident which, however, should serve as a reminder to authorities to urgently improve the living conditions of the residents.