Mutare sitting on health time bomb

HARARE - Clearly, this is their dirty little secret. They need to survive.

Often staying for more than a week — sleeping side by side with vagrants on shop verandas at Sakubva Bus Terminus, rural vendors who travel to Mutare to sell wares end up relieving themselves in drains, backyards, roadsides and alleys, and bathing only their privates under cover of darkness.

Come mornings, they are busy selling vegetables and fruits to locals, who are yet to lift the lid off the life fruit and vegetable producers live when they come with their merchandise to Mutare from faraway places such as Honde Valley.

Women constitute the bulk of these traders who have to endure tough conditions to either feed households they lead or supplement their husbands’ paltry earnings.

With council’s health department denying travellers, vagrants, rank marshals, vendors, drivers, conductors and guards usage of toilets at night at the 24-hour terminus, the city is sitting uneasily on a health time bomb.

Sakubva, apart from hosting the city’s main fruit and vegetable market, is also a transit route.

Traffic from across the country as well as to and from neighbouring Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa pass through here.

One of the vendors, Susan Chiwaya, says they sleep three nights a week on average at the market to sell-off their wares.

We travel in groups of relatives and we have to stay together, otherwise our husbands would not allow us to come,” she said.

She said while there are people in Sakubva Township who offer rooms at a $1 per night per individual, the collective nature of their travelling and living conditions make it difficult.

“If other members of the group feel they cannot afford it then you will have to put up in the open — out of comradeship. We watch over each other. Everyone is a witness,” she said.

“We sometimes return home ill and remain in bed for days. We also worry about the health of our families because we are never too sure of what diseases we catch here,” she said.

Some of the women however, bath and wash their clothes at the toilets at Sakubva Stadium, whose perimeter has all but collapsed hence the easy access.

Council senior health and hygiene officer Matthew Dukwa said council was too resource-constrained to open toilets round the clock as that would require hiring more cleaners.

“It would have been ideal (to have the toilets open) but it is not tenable due to manpower and security issues,” Dukwa said.

Dukwa said it was illegal to sleep at the terminus, which had no accommodation facilities. He blamed out-of-town fruit and vegetable vendors for extending their stay in the city and putting up on shop verandas.

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