FOR most of Bulawayo’s poor, home is a room in one of the city council’s dilapidated flats that have suffered years of neglect in one of the poorest neighbourhoods.
About 600 tenants are each forced to share a single tiny room in the squalor of Burombo, Vundu and Sidojiwe flats in Makokoba.
Forced by skyrocketing rentals to live in cramped, dirty and unsafe conditions in these flats, the plight of these tenants highlights one of the biggest headaches facing the Bulawayo City Council – growing public outrage over poor service delivery.
Up to four people share a room and beds take up half the space leaving barely enough room to stand up in.
The rooms are jammed with possessions ranging from plastic bags filled with clothes and cooking utensils in the corners of the room.
The cramped living space in these virtual cage homes has become the choice for hundreds of families as the economic crisis worsens triggering further company closures and throwing thousands out of work.
They wash their clothes in buckets in the open and bathroom facilities consist of six communal toilets.
Council charges them $8 per person or $23 a room.
A Southern Eye crew witnessed the levels of dilapidation firsthand during a visit to the flats yesterday.
Sewage gushes out of long burst pipes producing an unbearable stench, which has, however, become a part of the residents’ daily lives.
They are now so used to the stench such that the foul smell seems virtually not to affect them.
Uncollected garbage takes up the little space available at the flats and huge green flies that feast on the garbage and sewage have become a permanent feature at the flats exposing residents to potentially serious disease outbreaks.
Window panes are all broken and residents use cardboard boxes and plastics to protect themselves from the elements.
There is no electricity and the corridors are dark even during the day resulting in some tenants and visitors being mugged.
Residents told Southern Eye on Monday that the local authority had abandoned them in the filth and squalor.
“We appreciate the council move to accommodate us in its apartments, but they have not been renovated for as long as one can remember. We live in a filthy environment and constantly have toilet and shower blockages,” Andrew Magadu of Vundu Flats, said.
“What makes it worse is that we pay rent to council, but we don’t see why we continue to pay as that money has never been used to improve these filthy flats.”
Another Vundu tenant, Ndaba Nxumalo, said they have had to collect money from residents to repair burst pipes in the flats as council had long ignored attending to them.
“As residents, when there is a major fault in the flats, we come together and contribute funds towards repairing burst water pipes and sewages because even if we report to council, they do not attend to our pleas,” Nxumalo said.
“Usually we contribute money depending on the problem and get a professional who can fix the problem for us, but as we are unemployed, we cannot continuously do that because we have no money.”
Vundu Flats has over 600 tenants, but there are only six communal water taps and six toilets for them to use.
Burombo Flats residents raised similar complaints saying they used cardboard boxes as all window panes were broken.
“We wonder why we are paying rent when they are letting the flats deteriorate to such an extent. We are paying as much as $23 per room, but we are not getting any services from the council,” Vusumuzi Hadebe said.
Thando Msipha said the living conditions were not conducive for children.
“We are worried about the young children in these flats because they are filthy. “We try by all means to clean them, but as long as we have constant sewer blockages and burst pipes, our environment will remain filthy and this will subject us to diseases like cholera,” Msipha said.
Nothando Chirwa from Sidojiwe Flats said some of the roofs were leaking and during the rainy season, they had to patch up with plastics.
“We have to patch the roofs with plastics during the rainy season because they leak heavily.
“As we are approaching the rainy season, we are yet to patch our roofs so that we protect our properties from being rained on,” Chirwa said.
They requested for council to decongest the flats as the increase in numbers of people sharing rooms worsened the squalor.
Bulawayo deputy mayor Gift Banda said it was council’s wish to renovate the flats but due to financial constraints there was nothing they could do at the moment.
“We are aware of the conditions and we want to make their living conditions better by renovating the dilapidated flats, but it is unfortunate that we are financially constrained as council because of the shortfall from ratepayers.
“They are our priority and we have not abandoned them,” he said.
“In terms of electricity, when their turn comes, prepaid meters will be installed for them.
“In terms of service delivery, we do repair burst pipes and collect garbage, but it is unfortunate that you visited the area when there were burst pipes and garbage.”