The settlers at Ngozi Mine, in the city dump of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, must either walk a kilometer to get legally limited amounts of clean water or gather dirty water from a nearby stream, and they say the shortage leads to disease. A program under which tankers brought water to them was ended in 2014 due to financial constraints, but a ward councilor says he will address the scarcity issue.

NGOZI MINE, BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE — The city dump is home to people who illegally settle there, but those residents say they lack water and have to walk more than a kilometer to the nearest water source.

The Bulawayo City Council has at times provided water to the area, but people in the settlement say they haven’t seen a city water tanker since 2014.

Since then, residents say, they’re unable to keep the area clean, making them vulnerable to diseases.

Women and girls carry 20-liter buckets of water on their heads after fetching it from a water tap at the local housing authority office about a kilometer away from the slum. Their bare feet are covered in mud and their faces drip with sweat as they head to the asbestos shacks they call home. The visibly exhausted women say each family’s water haul is capped at 40 liters, regardless of the family’s size — a rule enforced by a local police officer.

Thokozile Sibanda, 54, has lived in Ngozi Mine for 13 years, since she became homeless. She says she wakes up as early as 4 a.m. to fetch water. By 8 a.m., the queue for water is long, and sometimes there’s none left for latecomers. Sibanda’s early morning trek is filled with fear, as she worries about being mugged on her way to the water source.

“I have stayed at this slum for a very long time, and I must admit life is very hard and miserable for me and my family,” she says, holding back tears. “The struggles I have faced in accessing water are not only numberless, but disheartening and strenuous.”

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Thokozile Sibanda, 54, rests after walking about 1 kilometer to fetch water. She says she wakes up as early as 4 a.m. to begin the trek to the public tap.

Linda Chinobva, GPJ Zimbabwe

The scarcity of water in the slum has contributed to her two grandchildren’s diarrhea, Sibanda says.

“As much as we want to keep our environment clean, we are limited by the unavailability of water because we have to conserve the little that we get, and in the process we are subjected to different illnesses that are left untreated,” she says.

Four hundred people live at Ngozi Mine, according to local estimates. Those people literally scrounge for food and other needs. Basic amenities don’t reach the slums, most of which are illegal settlements, in the zones at the margins of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.

The illegal settlement at Ngozi Mine is more than 15 years old, according to some residents. It cropped up as Zimbabwe’s dire economic situation forced numerous people to move to the city’s fringes and set up homes there, often due to a lack of job opportunities. Some residents were born there.

Homes there are temporary structures built from corrugated zinc, asbestos and even plastics. They are susceptible to harsh weather conditions.

As much as we want to keep our environment clean, we are limited by the unavailability of water because we have to conserve the little that we get, and in the process we are subjected to different illnesses that are left untreated.

Residents say they once fetched water from a nearby dam that was on private land, but in 2013 the owner of the farm on which that dam stood banned people from taking water, a measure meant to conserve the precious liquid for his farming activities.

In 2012, the city council introduced bowsers — water tankers — which then became a clean water source for the slum dwellers. The bowser would deliver water at the slum once a week, and the slum dwellers were required to pay a $1 fee for 40 liters per family. The bowsers supplied the slum dwellers with clean water for two years, but in 2014 financial constraints ended that program.

Gideon Tshuma, an informal representative known as the resident chairman of the Ngozi Mine slum dwellers community, says water shortages are causing disharmony among the slum dwellers and neighboring communities, because Ngozi Mine residents take water from a stream in Cowdray Park, a nearby suburb, as an alternative to the city council tap.

Ngozi Mine residents acknowledge that they fetch stream water. Forty liters from the city tap isn’t enough, says Patricia Ndiweni, a 15-year resident of Ngozi Mine.

“As a result, my family has resorted to fetching water from an unpurified stream,” she says.

The stream gurgles with brown water. Empty bottles and plastic bags float on its surface, and a stench pervades the area.

Ward Councilor Collert Ndlovu, responsible for the slum area and neighboring suburbs, says he was not aware that the city council had stopped providing water to the slums.

“I am aware that there have been serious water issues at the slums. In the past, I have engaged the local authority to avail a tap for the slums so that they access clean water, and that is when the bowser was introduced,” he says.

But he says he didn’t know that the bowser had stopped delivering water.

“The challenge we have with the slums is that they are illegal settlers, so their plights are overlooked,” he says.

Ndlovu says he plans to engage the council on the issue at its weekly meetings.

Stephan Sibanda has lived at the slum for five years. He says water scarcity is a challenge for him and his eight family members.

The 40 liters the family is allowed to take from the city tap have to stretch far enough so they can bathe, cook, drink and wash clothes.

“The water runs out before we accomplish all these,” he says.


Linda Chinobva, GPJ, translated some interviews from Ndebele.