Living among the dead

HARARE - Picture this; houses built among graves, sharing the night with the dead and the chilling spectre of residents meeting a ghost whenever darkness descends.

Well, as revolting as this might seem, it is a chilling reality for many residents of Chitungwiza’s Unit L and Harare’s Hopley and Southly park suburbs.

To them, the graves are no longer something sacred as they are within their premises.

What about the fear of ghosts and all those stories associated with the dead?

“I have been living here for the past three years now and I have never come across a ghost. At first I used to get scared at the sound of the wind but now, I am used to living here, it is better here than anywhere because it is my home,” said Anna Nyakudya, who lives close to Unit L cemetery.

Children play with the dead, thieves steal from the dead, and indeed dead men tell no tales of how their rights are being violated. They might have been the first on the land but they now no longer have rights to that land at least according to their living neighbours.

“We are living here peacefully and we do not worry about the dead. We just live life like in any normal neighbourhood,” said Nyakudya.

Dusty lanes cut across homes of those resting in peace as people engage in activities of any normal neighbourhood; a group of boys play soccer, adults play cards; here and there, couples canoodle besides the sprawling graveyard meant to offer a safe haven for vice.

Zimbabwe has a massive housing shortage with close to two million people on the housing waiting list, hence the urban poor must find somewhere to live, not only on, but also in.

They build or cobble together houses on available space and political opportunism has seen some political parties parcelling out stands in buffer zones, reserves, wetlands and even near graves.

Chitungwiza mayor, Philip Mutoti said a government audit unearthed serious irregularities in the allocation of stands, including some which were allocated on top of graveyards.

“Some of those homes are illegal and if you go there you find out that there is land that has been allocated to the people by the land barons which is actually in a cemetery. Sometimes the houses are just a metre away from graves.

Council has never allocated that land to people,” said Mutoti.

Graves cost $70 and a residential stand goes for as much as $4 000, thus it makes more economic sense to sell residential stands, with the barons profiteering from the living than the dead.

Chitungwiza and Granvile popularly known as (Kumbudzi) cemeteries have lost the peaceful aura associated with graves. Robberies and muggings are common, residents admit.

Exploiting the desperation among home seekers, land developers have made a killing, and residents say they are paying rates to council even as they border graves.

“We are not illegal, if the authorities feel we should not be here, then they should remove us, the fact that we have been here for three months shows that we have a right to this land,” said Eunice Gwena.

Dreadful as it might seem to live among the dead, children who play hide and seek in the thicket are not scared at all, they are used to the graves.

“We are scared but we do not have any other option, this is our home and we have to live like other people,” said one 13-year-old.

While the residents of Chitungwiza are civil, the eyeshort crew was received with hostility by those who are living among the dead in Hopley.

“Go to Highfields, there are cemeteries there, is this the only place where people live close to graves,” threatened a woman who only identified herself as Mai Cabbage.

Although her husband cooled her, she warned the crew against taking photographs of the graves as that would lead to serious repercussions.

Political patronage has resulted in politicians parcelling out stands to their supporters. The houses have no water and no electricity just like grave yards.

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