'The bewitched, dying' town of Karoi

CHINHOYI - Karoi, a town whose name is derived from a local river and which uses a symbol of a witch clutching onto a sweeping broom, is in shambles.

The council is failing to clean up the mess clogging the town.

The town, situated about 204 kilometres along Harare-Chirundu Road, is now a pale shadow of its former self.

A highway separates the small central business district of the town from the residential area. The place is slowly turning into a ghost town.

The recreational park is now used as a bush toilet by flea marketers and those going to hospital and the magistrates’ courts. The road was aptly called Rose Way because of the roses that used to line the road. But all the roses are long gone.

Karoi is dry even though a dam is a few hundred meters away. Most companies including garages such as Cartrac, Dennis Candy, Checkers Motors, Karoi Motors, Karoi General Engineering, Farm and City closed in late 1990s.

Karoi Hotel has also closed due to ballooning water bills with workers battling to get salaries since 2010.

Agrisellex, then led by Ian Montgomery, used to sponsor a local rugby team.

But the sponsorship dried up after police took over Agrisellex complex as its district headquarters.

The late council chairperson Davidson Mufunga made huge commitments for former Division One side Karoi United Football Club through personal financial commitments, putting the town on the sporting map.

It is all gone now. Financial survival of the town budget now hinges on surrounding farms.

Farm workers have kept economic activity alive in the town by making a beeline at monthends to buy groceries and furniture.

A week-long strike by council workers has paralysed council operations. Beerhalls and public toilets are closed.

Town secretary Maxwell Kaitano is at loggerheads with 200 council workers demanding unpaid salaries for six months.

Council says there is no money, but workers insist that council is raising enough for their salaries through ventures such as beer sales, bus termini, rentals, guest houses among other daily pickings.

On the other hand, management shifts blame to ratepayers who they say owe the town council over $2 million.

Council workers maintain cash inflows can sustain their monthly salary budget of just above $80 000.

“We know how much we are getting but where is the money for our salaries?

Someone is not telling us the truth,” said a junior worker who declined to be named for fear of victimisation.

Residents association chairperson Kenston Kumponda is not happy either over the salary stand-off.

“Management must be accountable to the residents and workers,” he said.

Council chairperson Casmell Pemhiwa admits that there is a cash crunch but blames a bloated workforce.
“There is no need for us to keep over 200 workers when we cannot raise their salaries. There must be an audit but it remains a challenge for us’’ Pemhiwa said.

Council workers committee chairperson Andrew Bangura said: “We are pressing management to give us outstanding salaries. Workers are living in abject poverty.”

However, residents want positive action.

“Service delivery is in shambles here and the council has no justification to raise rates and rentals,” said Karoi resident, Tendai Matura of Chiedza.

Council management recently placated its employees with housing stands valued at $1 400 to ease tension but uncertainty still haunts the town.

Until now, Karoi remains bewitched and unmasking the ghost remains a tall order. - Own Correspondent

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