Urban Life Without Water

via allAfrica.com: Zimbabwe: An Urban Life Without Water. 11 June 2014 by Sekai Nzenza


In one section of Chitungwiza, an outer suburb of Harare, some children under 10 years old walk to the “toilet” at the same time. “But that is not possible,” I tell my niece Shamiso and her husband Philemon.

“When there is no water, the kids have been trained to use the bush. Vana havanyare,” says Shamiso, meaning the kids are not embarrassed about being seen using the bush as a toilet in public.

My cousin Piri and I are on our way from the village.

We have stopped over in Chitungwiza to see Shamiso, baby Prince and Shamiso’s husband Philemon.

Shamiso is the one who left the village more than a year ago and went to Harare to look for work.

Unemployed and in love, she ended up living with Philemon, a nice 25-year-old guy from way down past Buhera in Bocha. He made his living selling airtime, phone car chargers and fake designer sunglasses.

As Shamiso’s aunts, vana tete, Piri and I tracked Shamiso down and told Philemon to do what was right by our family and pay lobola, the bride price for Shamiso.

Unless he did that, we told him that she was not allowed to live with him.

We took pregnant Shamiso back to the village last October.

Within a month, Philemon and his relatives followed and paid $1 000 for lobola, promising to come back another time with the rest of the cows.

After the lobola, we took Shamiso to Bocha, Philemon’s village, against her will.

On the way there, she cried and said it was not fair for us to drag her to a place where she was forced to live with Philemon’s grandmother while Philemon lived in Harare.

What kind of marriage was that?

But Piri and I said we were following traditional rules of marriage even though we did not live in the village any more.

Shamiso did not last long in Bocha.

She moved back to our village and that is where she delivered baby Prince.

A month later, Philemon came to see the baby and take Shamiso back to Bocha.

He said everyone back in Bocha was expecting Shamiso to return and help Philemon’s grandmother with the weeding.

Shamiso flatly declared that she was not going to Bocha and she was not married to Philemon’s grandmother.

In the end, Philemon reluctantly agreed to live with Shamiso in town.

Now we are in June.

Philemon is still selling airtime, fake designer sunglasses, coat hangers and phone chargers.

Because they needed a bigger room than what they had in Glen Norah when they first met, Philemon and Shamiso live in one section of Chitungwiza, not too far from the road with the biggest humps in town.

Across the road with humps, there is an open field of grass. This is where the 10 kids from the house where Shamiso and Philemon live go as a group to the tall grass and use the bush as a toilet.

Shamiso and Philemon are renting one of the eight rooms in this big house full of tenants.

There are five families in the eight rooms.

The caretaker lives in the front two rooms with his wife and four children. He has use of the verandah and the sitting room because he is related to the landlord. The landlord inherited this house from his parents and lives in the more affluent suburb of Harare.

The tenants see him once a month when he comes to collect the rent, $80 per room. The bigger rooms, like what Shamiso, Philemon and baby Prince have, are $80 per month.

The smaller rooms along the corridor are $60 each. There is one toilet at the back of the house and one shower for everyone, men, women and children. Visitors are welcome to use the toilet too.

If they wish to stay the night, permission is sought from the caretaker.

Water and electricity bills are shared among all five families. Because there are problems with the pipes, people often go for a week or even more without water in the house.

The borehole, drilled by donors, is about a kilometre away.

We are sitting on the bed in Philemon and Shamiso’s one room.

Philemon sits atop a bucket opposite us. Piri then says she wants to use the toilet.

“Iii, tete, munonditukisa na landlord. Hatina mvura kwesvondo rese,” says Shamiso, reminding Piri that the landlord will not be too happy to see visitors using the toilet when there is no water.

Piri turns to Philemon and says, “Babamunini, when one drinks beer, one must throw away the water that comes with drinking. Is that not true?” Embarrassed, Philemon nods and looks at me. I look the other way.

Without answering, Shamiso hands over the baby to Piri and dashes out. Philemon smiles, looks at me and says, “Tete, mahwani.” Mahwani is such a common saying these days. It is not Shona, Ndebele or anything. It’s just a good humoured way to say life is hard. “Why?” I ask.

Philemon tells me to follow Shamiso to the other tenant’s room along the corridor. And I do.

There is Shamiso, begging for half a bucket of water from a heavily pregnant lady lying on a single bed surrounded by everything from plates, pots, blankets, suitcases and a bicycle hanging loosely on top of the wardrobe.

“I have visitors, please give me some water and when I go to the borehole, I will give you your water.”

The friend greets me and struggles to get up. Then she reaches for a bucket of water from behind the door. She pours water into a 5-litre tin and gives it to Shamiso.

Back in the room, I ask Piri why does she not spare Shamiso the trouble of looking for water and control her bladder until we get to the public toilet at Chikwanha bar. But Piri says she cannot stop nature. If it was night time, she would not have hesitated to use the tall grass. If she had the need to do the other business, then she would never consider doing that in this part of Chitungwiza. Instead of living without water, she would rather go back and live in the village where Blair toilets are safe and clean, no need to flush the toilet. Besides, the Simukai Project had introduced borehole water for washing and growing vegetables. Why would she live in town, in a house where water is scarce and kids are rounded up to use the grass for toilets. That is not hunhu, humanness.

“Teaching a kid to squat in the grass, in this day and age? The village is better, if you ask me.” Philemon nods his head several times and with sudden excitement, he gets up, shakes Piri’s hand and says, “Taurai zvenyu tete.” Speak your mind, aunt.

“I keep telling Shamiso the same. She should go back to the village. This is not a good life for a young mother.”

“Which village should I go back to? Yours or mine? And what will I do there?” Shamiso asks with a tone of new arrogance in her voice. There is something about motherhood that makes young women grow up too soon.

Shamiso is enjoying urban life. She spends her time nursing Prince, talking with other women, going to church and waiting for her husband to come back from work.

Philemon says Shamiso is living a life of laziness. She should go back to the village and live with Philemon’s grandmother as every good muroora should do. But Shamiso argues that she is looking for a job.

“And what will you do with the baby?” Piri asks.

“I will look for a nanny,” Shamiso says. “I can find a job as a maid, a waitress or even a receptionist.” She wants to do any job. Basa rese rese. Piri frowns at Shamiso, shakes her head, takes the bucket of water and goes to the toilet.

Then Philemon appeals to me saying I should convince Shamiso to go back to the village because he is not happy with Prince growing up in town. The boy would soon grow up to join the others in using the bush as a toilet.

With her voice raised a little, Shamiso says the lack of water is not a major problem for her. Besides, how many villages were miles and miles away from water? She reminded Philemon that back in Bocha, people were still using the bush as a toilet. So what was new? Right here in Harare, a place full of donors, the kids are being trained to use the bush. Here they do it in groups, unlike in the village. But, like in the village, the sun is hot here and everything they do over in that grass dries quickly and decomposes to make organic manure.

Piri comes back smiling. She says, “Yaah . . . mahwani. Next time I will not drink beer on the way here.”

Hopefully, by the time Prince is pot trained, Philemon and Shamiso would be renting a house where hot and cold water comes from the tap and their son would be spared from fertilising the public grass plains of Chitungwiza.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is CEO of Rio Zim Foundation. She writes in her personal capacity.


  • comment-avatar
    The Mind Boggles 8 years ago

    You voted for it now you enjoy it? And don’t say you didn’t vote for it remember 1980.

  • comment-avatar
    The Mind Boggles 8 years ago

    You voted for it now you enjoy it? And don’t say you didn’t vote for it remember 1980.

  • comment-avatar
    Terry Hwesa 8 years ago

    Really enjoyed this article. The village has come all the way into town. Zimbos are docile. South Africans would not accept this sort of nonsense.

    • comment-avatar

      I am glad I no longer live in Zim. I live in the USA. the toilet is indoors and the flush system works. We have mvura

  • comment-avatar

    A government that cannot even provide the most basic of necessities such as water should be removed. The people are suffering under this evil regime. People are being reduced to animals, even worse, while Bob and his cronies live in luxury and spew out rubbish. Zimbabwe desparately needs new leadership. We pray to that end because God is a God of justice.

  • comment-avatar
    David Mutambirwa 8 years ago

    This story reflects the daily struggles of city. unfortunately the abnormal has been normalized. A human mind is known to be stupid, for it con adapt to any environment.

  • comment-avatar

    34 years of independence!

  • comment-avatar

    Clean water for all by year 2000!!!!

  • comment-avatar
    munzwa 8 years ago

    all urban managements need closer inspection!!!

  • comment-avatar
    TrendsZim 8 years ago

    Fantastic article Dr Sekai Nzenza, please write more articles and maybe a book on the new Zimbabwe that we live in.