Epworth: Harare's own version of Kibera

HARARE - Among its major claims to fame are the famous balancing rocks that have since been barricaded from residents.

Maybe one can now add drama- sensation-turned-singer Freddy Manjalima of Mai Nga hit to Epworth’s fame.

Epworth, a largely informal settlement 12 kilometres east of Harare, is arguably Zimbabwe’s biggest slum settlement and a conduit into Harare for poor newcomers.

Although not on the same level with Kibera of Kenya, Petare in Venezuela, Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio, in Mexico City or more closer to home Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa, Epworth has most of the notoriety that goes with slum dwellings across the world.

Slums are notoriously difficult to measure because they often serve as a conduit for people shifting from the countryside to big cities. They however, share a common thread on the basis of crime rate, size, and population.

Take the story of a pastor who was murdered at Cleveland Dam on the eastern reaches of Harare. His car was dug up in Epworth.

The suspects of the recent ritual murders in Dombashava were arrested in Epworth. This is only a tip of the kind of offenders one can meet here.

Away from the glitter of Zimbabwe’s biggest metropolis of Harare Epworth is a place of grinding poverty that is a 20-minute drive from Harare’s central business district.

Visitors to Harare travelling by air actually come within a whisker of the settlement when they fly in as Epworth lies adjacent to Harare International Airport.

The Daily News on Sunday team took time to find out what really makes this “city” within a city tick.
“You can buy firewood for one $0,10 or cooking oil for $0,50.

“In fact, if you are a bachelor you can comfortably get by with $5 in two weeks,” says Lazarus Kamasula, our tour guide.

There is not much that goes on economically here. Most buildings are mud and brick, as residents are too poor or in transit to invest in permanent structures.

Fortunately Zimbabwe is not a windy country.

“You see my brother nhamo hairovi kaviri (we have enough trouble already) God would never have made the place windy. We get by somehow.

“Even for someone who cannot afford firewood they can at least afford saw dust from sawn timber or wood,” says Kamasula.

Two-litre empty cans that have been systematically opened with two rectangular holes on the sides serve as an intelligent stove that uses saw dusts and two pieces of wood to cook a meal.

The numbering system of the houses here is a nightmare, one wonders how the Central Statistical Office enumerators who recently carried out a census exercise made it out here.

Stickers from the CSO show that they indeed lived the nightmare.

“There is always movement. Tenants move with their “house”. It is easy because we use mud to build these structures, one just takes off the bricks and moves to the next house,” Kamasula said.

The irony is that within this sorry state of affairs we are greeted with satellite dishes and intermittently brick and tile mansions.

CSO says in 2002 Epworth had around 120 000 residents but that figure has shot up, thanks to a government sanctioned clean-up exercise in 2005 when 700 000 people were made homeless. Many displaced from Harare through Murambatsvina made a bee-line for Epworth.

Residents say the population has swelled since the clean-up exercise.

“This place is now bigger than Chitungwiza and despite the fact that most people are settled here illegally government has never been harsh with us.

“Politicians though have taken advantage and started parcelling land which is not theirs to desperate home seekers. This is what led to the recent demolition of houses here,” says resident Enita Chinamano.

In some part of Epworth, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party officials are fingered in the illegal selling of land that belongs to a quasi-state developer to buy votes and now some residents are stranded after the firm destroyed the “homes”.

“We have nowhere to go and we are building again. There is little loss for us.

“There is no cement and I made the bricks myself,” said a woman suckling a five-months-old baby who had been sleeping in the open for two days following the demolitions.

The settlement is also an area of gruesome and mythical stories.

Domboramwari (God’s rock) is on the south western end overlooking Kutsaga Agricultural Research Station.
Kamasula claims that at times a “fit all” human footprint is seen at the rocks.

“If you go there with a plan to see it you will never see it,” he says, trying to explain why we have failed to see the footprint during our visit.

From here we are taken to the “sleeping pool” in Overspill where people have committed suicide and murders.

Some residents believe that long ago, a company that was mining for quarry lost its equipment after water gushed from underneath.

Some workers are believed to have died turning it into a mythical place that is also a hub for crimes such as murder.

The mystery deepens as much as the poverty does. On the northern part is KwaJacha, an area notorious for muggings and ladies-of-the-night.

“You can get a woman for less than $2. The market is small. You cannot see many of the ladies because in the afternoon they are all sleeping. But it is easy when you know where they stay, of course.

Someone like me can be charged less because I am known around,” our guide tells us.

He adds with a notorious smile: “Despite the poverty we also like to have a good time and let the hair down. And we do have our good times here, for less than you guys.”

But life is tough in most instances.

There is no regular running water, no sewer system and maybe there never will be.

The way the houses were built makes it terrifying assignment for any city planner but politicians seem to have a plan and part of it is violence.

Elections are coming next year and Epworth has seven political wards, which makes it a key constituency.

“When that time (elections) comes we have to be very afraid. We know trouble is on the horizon.

They (politicians) come in all shapes and sizes,” says Kamasula, pointing out that crime and political violence were some of the worst nightmares.

And he makes it a point to warn us as we head out back to the city.

“Hey before you go there is a curfew here. It is a law. No one moves after 10pm. You will meet the boys coming from a night job and they will work on you,” he calls out.

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