Zimbabwe: Raw sewage delivers sucker punch to festive spirit in Harare

HARARE - Five-year old Edwin Tarusarira stands knee-deep in a pool of sewage in Harare's poor suburb of Kuwadzana.
For Tarusarira, the "new pool" opened up new forms of recreation for him and his small circle of friends despite the serious dangers of water-borne diseases that lurk in the dirty waters.

In contrast to the bright Christmas lights in Harare's First Street Mall, residents here say it was the pungent smell from the raw sewage flowing freely in the streets that literally extinguished the Christmas spirit.

"It is difficult to convince these children that this is dirty water and that they may contract diseases," said 26-year old Mutsa Tarusarira, wiping off a thick cake of dirt from her son.

"What this means is that I have to keep an eye on him for the whole day or else he will swim in this dirty water. I wish the council could fix these problems for once and let us enjoy the festive season in peace," she said.

Tarusarira's neighbour, Agnes Gahada, said she had to take her son to her sister's house in Avondale, a middle-class suburb in Harare, for the Christmas holiday where conditions are better.

"I was forced to take my son elsewhere because of this looming health time bomb. The burst sewer pipes are a recurrent problem here. We have reported this problem to council several times but nothing has been done," she said.

Social services, like all sectors of Zimbabwe's economy, have crumbled after years of gross mismanagement and under-funding. President Robert Mugabe's government, battling a severe five-year economic recession, has also failed to maintain infrastructure in cities and towns because there is no hard cash to buy spares.

Zimbabwe is battling a severe foreign currency crisis after Mugabe disrupted the country's key agricultural sector - the country's biggest foreign currency earner - through his often violent seizure of white-owned land for redistribution to landless blacks five years ago.

Most suburbs in Harare have gone for weeks without running water, forcing residents to fetch water in unprotected wells. Rubbish bins have also not been collected for months because of the crippling fuel shortage gripping the country. Traffic lights in the city have been vandalised with no sign that anything was being done to repair them.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and civic groups blame the crisis in the cities on mismanagement by Mugabe's government in power since independence from Britain 25 years ago.

An opposition-led council running the city was last year kicked out by the government and was replaced by a commission headed by Sekesai Makwavarara. But the problems in the city have continued unabated.

While Harare commission gloats over its endless turn-around strategies to restore order, the city is literally suffocating under a plethora of problems ranging from burst sewer pipes to mounds of uncollected rubbish.

The burst sewerage problems are a microcosm of Zimbabwe's failed economy. Residents in Kuwadzana say the problems are also symptomatic of the collapse of the country's economy under Mugabe's tutelage.

For Gift Kondowe, the burst sewer pipes really spoiled his holiday as he had to grapple with stinking raw sewage right on his doorstep in addition to the "usual" problems of shortages of basic foodstuffs like bread and cooking oil.

"Our house was like an island surrounded by this vast pool of sewege. The stench is unbearable and mosquitoes feast on us at night. We are at great risk," he said.