From Prisoners Of War To Prisoners Of Filthy

By Nhau Mangirazi

Kadoma, July 12, 2014 – A blocked sewer system with a stench smell greets any visitor in the dusty road of Kadoma town’s Old Ingezi high density suburb exposing them to a sad yet ordinary story of “imprisoned residents of dirty”.

This is the same suburb that housed “prisoners of war” during the Second World War from Italy and Poland during their time in foreign jails mining gold under captivity.

During the Second World War, the then Rhodesia government was a safe haven of prisoners whose duty was to extract gold in the rich mining town of Kadoma, but the old tale is haunting women and young girls battling to get clean water and sanitation here.

Prison complex houses which used to shelter prisoners of war were later turned into living quarters for residents but without better ablution facilities and reliable water.  Though the houses were regarded as single quarters, they are now being used to accommodate bigger families than originally planned.

Old Ingezi is situated about three kilometers from Kadoma in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province and about 141 kilometers from Harare.

No reliable water

The dilapidated housing complex can easily be indentified with a line of locked and depilated buildings of what used to be toilets that are always out of use.

It is more like a prison even today as residents go on with their daily chores without an ache as it has become part of their lifetime to live without water and in squalid conditions.

“Water is not reliable and conditions are deplorable as toilets are no longer serviceable. Our children bath in overflowing sewage during the rainy season. It is the vicious cycle of our life here. We are not enjoying it at all.” says 38 year-old Regina Makanda, who is married to a prison officer.

Haunted by 2008 cholera

A mother of three children aged between four and 12 years, Regina is literally haunted by the 2008 cholera outbreak that ravaged the country at the height of the country’s economic crisis and claimed more than 4 000 lives. Regina lost her mother and a brother due to the deadly cholera epidemic which claimed the lives of 489 residents in Kadoma. 

Jonasi Machina, a 78 year old retired prison officer who moved here in 1959 following the demise of Polish prisoners of war says the suburb was created for two classes of people with kuMatariana section meant for Italian prisoners while the other was labeled kumaPolishi that was meant to house prisoners from Poland.

Dent of bad luck

According to Machina, the prisoners of war’s remains were repatriated back to their countries of origin but their stay left a dent of bad luck that still revisit Kadoma residents up to now.

“We were allocated single quarters of prisoners of war lodgings but the toilets were never tailor-made for new tenants. The toilets are no longer sustainable for the ever growing population as pipes are worn-out. We are prisoners of dirty here,” recounts Machina.

He adds, “We are relying on unclean water from some unprotected wells and it is affecting some school going girls who bear the brunt of household chores including fetching water before attending lessons. It is a form of violence against them and that has great effects on their future”.

Kadoma Mayor Muchineripi Chinyanganya agrees that the town is facing financial constraints after several companies ceased operations since 2000 when the economic crisis set in.

“We are failing to get enough revenue from residents to rehabilitate Old Ingezi. Our plans to assist residents in Old Ingezi are hampered by lack of funds. We have a dedicated power line to supply us with electricity to ensure undisrupted water supply but we are failing to settle a $50 million outstanding bill to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority. The town is now a ghost town just like major mining areas after many companies closed in the country since early 2000,” adds Chinyanganya.

Chinyanganya said a government decree to slash outstanding bills prior to last year’s general elections in which President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party were declared winners and which was a vote buying exercise is affecting development and service delivery in Kadoma.

“We cannot raise enough money to pay our debtors but residents look forward to better service. We are facing a real challenge on sanitation. Funds are straining us as an institution,” Chinyanganya said.   

Improved water sanitation

The Kadoma Mayor Chinyanganya said since 2009, his council managed to improve the water reticulation system through the assistance of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other non-governmental organisations.

An official with the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation only identified as Ulmer confirmed that the organisation is working with several Zimbabwean urban councils to ease water and sanitation challenges faced in the country.

“We are working hard to ease water challenges faced around the country and we are implementing various projects that will assist the people of Zimbabwe as part of humanitarian aid,” said Ulmer.

Water for life

According to a Gender, Water and Sanitation policy brief developed by the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Gender and Water (GWTF) in support of the International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Life,’ 2005–2015, sanitation and water is a major concern for developing countries ahead of Millennium Development Goals.

“Lack of sanitation, poor hygiene causes water-borne diseases including diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and parasitic infections. Moreover, the incidence of these diseases and others linked to poor sanitation – e.g., round worm, whip worm, guinea worm is highest among the poor, especially school-aged children,” according to the policy document.

2.2 million die each year

The policy document says each year more than 2.2 million people from developing countries die from preventable diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

“The social and environmental health costs of ignoring the need to address sanitation (including hygiene and waste water collection and treatment) are far too great. A focus on gender differences is of particular importance with regard to sanitation initiatives, and gender-balanced approaches should be encouraged in plans and structures for implementation,” says the document.

Women and girls affected

Mashonaland West provincial medical director Wenclus Nyamayaro admits that lack of good sanitation and water affects the wellbeing of every  person especially women and girls.

“The health ministry is concerned over lack of clean water but is being assisted by various organisations and we are grateful that the issue of sanitation is being addressed though at minimal level from what we expected due to lack of funding. We hope things will improve,” says Nyamayaro. 

The provincial medical director said lack of water and better sanitation has a negative impact for women and the girl child who are the backbone of every family set up.

“Women and girls play a critical role in every family but some are forced to endure some form of brutality at early ages for some girl child,” said Nyamayaro.

According to UNICEF which manages a $30 million program to improve access to safe water and sanitation for 500 000 inhabitants in 14 urban towns in Zimbabwe including Kadoma, there is need for improved clean water in both rural and urban centers.

Hope restored 

However, despite all the miserable and filthy living conditions that Kadoma residents have to bear with hope seems to be on the horizon as a non-governmental organisation Women Leaders for WASH, an initiative that brings together a group of distinguished women leaders all over the world to advocate for improved WASH services has intervened to help educate and empower the Kadoma community particularly women and children on water, sanitation and hygiene.

Through the initiative Women Leaders for WASH is promoting women at the centre of water supply, sanitation, and hygiene activities.

The organisation says women are the most affected by lack of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene services and are best placed to manage and raise awareness of WASH interventions due to their roles in the household.

This article was supported through funding to carry out research by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR).