DESPITE a steady drizzle, women in a group take turns to fetch water from a shallow well next to Granville Cemetery, commonly known as Mbudzi, in Hopley, 15 kilometres south of Harare.
The dead are sharing their space with the living. While wells have dried up in Hopley and surrounding areas, water sources near the cemetery have not run out of the precious liquid, hence the living invading the space reserved for the dead.
The harmony between the dead and Hopley residents has left many dumbfounded. For Hopley residents, the question of whether it is taboo to draw water from a graveyard does not arise. It is a question of survival and nothing else.
“This graveyard is like any other place. I even come to fetch water at midnight,” Berita Takadii (37) said.
“Water is a perennial problem here and we have no choice but to come here every day, even if it means coming in the dead of night,” Takadii said while doing her laundry.
Takadii, a mother of three, said while she is often concerned about the quality of water, desperation leads her back to this well daily.
“I am concerned that I may be drinking contaminated water, but there is no other choice. We only have a few reliable water sources here. People walk more than two kilometres to fetch water daily, it is a real problem. Government should do something, we are suffering,” Takadii told The NewsHawks.
With a bucket of water firmly fixed on her head, Isabel Marere (17) makes haste to reach home as the December drizzle threatens to soak her. She has lost count of how many times her family has drunk the graveyard water. This is the only life she knows.
“I fetch water here daily. Sometimes, my family and I complain of stomach aches, but we have no choice,” Marere said.
“All we need are decent boreholes, but in their absence, this is the only source of water.”
Clad in a worn out T-shirt and jeans, Munyaradzi Masinjana (41) monitors residents drawing water about 14 metres from the graveyard. He claims to own the shallow well, which has saved thousands from thirst in Hopley.
“My well provides water to 500 residents daily, I am helping many people. I just get a token in the form of money, cigarettes or clothes, but I believe I am doing good work for the community,” Masinjana, who is known as Rasta in Hopley, said.
“This is the purest water you will always find around here. None of the people, who come here have ever felt ill.”
Norman Saurombe (43), a grave digger, has often shared his concerns about the graveyard water, but it has landed on deaf ears.
“I really fear for the residents because the rainy season is now upon us and graves are likely to be washed away. As you can see, the soil here is sandy so the decomposed particles from the bodies may contaminate the water,” Saurombe said, pointing at one grave, which has already been destroyed by recent rains.
A hydrologist and water resources management lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Webster Gumindoga, said the residents could be drinking water contaminated with fluids from decomposed bodies.
In groundwater management, wells should be at least 200 metres from contamination sources.
“Because of the physical distances of the shallow wells and the graveyards, there is high chance that the water is contaminated by fluids from decomposed bodies. Past studies that have been done also point to the fact that the groundwater, more so from shallow wells, is contaminated,” Gumindoga told The NewsHawks.
To ascertain contamination, Gumindoga said the authorities should take samples from the unprotected wells for testing, as well as analyse the microbiological and physico-chemical constituents of each sample to derive meaningful inferences on the contamination of the wells.
“We discourage authorities and communities from developing water sources close to graveyards.”
Those who have reservations about using water from the graveyard, like Bernard Masawi (46), have to endure a two-kilometre journey to Waterfalls suburb to fetch water from a burst pipe belonging to a water-supply company, AdLife, which also sells potable water to residents.
For $10, one can buy 20 litres of water. Some residents, especially women and girls, make three or four trips per day to get sufficient supplies, while other enterprising residents fetch water for resale. Since the Harare City Council in partnership with some local NGOs installed water pipes in June, residents have not seen a drop. This was the first time Hopley residents saw water pipes since they were resettled here after Zanu PF’s 2005 Operation Murambatsvina — a political ploy to depopulate the urban areas — created the informal settlement where residents live in squalor.
Since Hopley was formed, the area has had no sewer system or water supply.
“Water is our daily concern. I must bring a cart so that my family has enough water for at least two days,” Masawi told The NewsHawks during a visit to Hopley.
“I am more concerned about women and children, who wake up as early as 4am to fetch water. As you can see, this place has a few houses, there is not enough security for them.
“One day we will wake up to hear that something bad has happened to them, it’s not safe,” he said with a cursory glance.
Masawi, a street vendor, said council should address perennial water problems in the area to combat water-borne diseases like typhoid which often haunt residents.
“When we saw water pipes being erected in June, we thought our water problems would be over, but we continue to suffer. Council has taken long to listen to our pleas, it is like they don’t care at all,” Masawi.
Everjoy Mabhuku (27), another resident of Hopley, wakes up at 5am every morning to hunt for the precious liquid. This is her third trip of the day. Her crestfallen face is testimony to her daily struggle in Hopley, one of the poorest townships outside Harare.
“My vending business was destroyed by the Covid-19 pandemic, so I am doing the business of fetching water for my neighbours. This is my fourth bucket, and I hope I can fetch some more,” Mabhuku told The NewsHawks.
She sells a 20 litres of water for $30.
Harare’s water woes have become a perennial problem, with millions of residents at risk of contracting diseases like typhoid and cholera.
While major cities like Bulawayo are already grappling with a diarrhoea outbreak, Harare residents are bracing for an outbreak as the city authorities maintain stringent water rationing where taps remain dry for weeks.
Another resident, Manfred Muipi (46), said council has a responsibility to provide water for the residents.
“The water problems are not new here; it is a perennial issue. When government resettled people here in 2005 there was no water. Water problems became more pronounced in 2014 because the wells that residents had dug dried up due to drought,” Muipi said.
“Now that there are no sufficient rains, the water table is now very low. Since then, we have been in a crisis. So, we are in a deep crisis. We are asking for clean water from government.”