City vlei houses the homeless

Tafadzwa and Romeo emerge from their “home”  (centre) along the Marimba River in Monavale as a woman (right) does her chores outside a makeshift home along the river

Tafadzwa and Romeo emerge from their “home” (centre) along the Marimba River in Monavale as a woman (right) does her chores outside a makeshift home along the river

Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
For most people in Harare, water ways, canals, channels, streams and rivers criss-crossing the city have their own attractions. They provide natural ingredients necessary for the growth of the beautiful flora found along stream banks. Some of the waterways have become dense with bushes of trees, reeds, grass and weeds. They now form an integral part of the green part of the city.

And these species have provided what could come as a surprise for many people.
Not only has the tree species provided traditional medicines, poles used as building materials or even the domestic traditional brooms that are sold in the suburbs, they have also provided accommodation for various animals and birds.

The waterways, however, have also become home to many people who have been turned destitute by the social and economic challenges facing the ordinary Zimbabweans.

Mukuvisi, Harare’s main river, has over the years, dominated news headlines with its cross-pollination of characters living on its banks. The trend has spread to other little tributaries connecting with or making their way to Lake Chivero.

Mukuvisi River banks have also been a home to many destitute and commercial sex workers for decades now.
Its rich and thick bushes have also housed criminal elements that people are even afraid to use the paths along its course.

Its banks have also seen victims of such crimes as robberies, kidnappings and even abortion dumped along its course. Stories of commercial sex workers trading their bodies in daylight along the river are many.

However, today, the trend has shifted. Most of the little streams in the city have seen a growing population along their course.
Among them is the Marimba River (also known as Avondale Stream) which, according to the digital version of the Harare News, starts as “a mere trickle at the University of Zimbabwe) heading south via Avondale Shopping Centre”.

The river passes directly by the Avondale Gallery and runs through a narrow channel through to Kensington Shopping Centre into the Monavale vlei, where an accumulated residue of waste is filtered out by the expansive wetland.

Heading further southwest, the river merges with a stream flowing from Meyrick Park wetland and flows between National Sports Stadium and Long Cheng Shopping Complex.

Fuelled and strengthened, it meanders south through the high-density suburbs of Warren Park and Kambuzuma, through to Marimba on its way to Lake Chivero. Here it gains an entirely new character, the stench waters carry heavy deposits of sewage and industrial waste, as it makes its final journey to Lake Chivero.

Among the common birds found along the channel are the white-faced duck (or whistling duck) feeding off underwater tubers and seeds of aquatic plants.

It is supposed to be a serene area.
The quietness is, however, broken by a teeming number of destitute people who now stay along the riverbank.
It’s a common feature to see women doing their laundry along the river especially behind the Avondale Shopping Centre.

“This place is associated with the affluent in Zimbabwe and there is really no way people living in the flats can take their laundry to the river,” queried Jacob Chinosiyani in a recent interview.

Chinosiyani notes the growing number of people along the stream especially during the summer.
“The numbers are growing with each day. The women come with their babies for their laundry especially during weekends and there is concern that the river carries a large number of homeless people as it meanders towards Lake Chivero.

“The people we see here are an indication of a growing number of people who are living along the river while there is an urgent need to address the situation,” he said.

Avondale resident Emelda Njani expressed concern that the destitute could pose a danger to the surrounding communities.
“The phenomenon is scary especially when we do not understand their source of income. The bushes could be harbouring criminals who can take advantage of the tall reeds and thicket,” she said.

Njani said the increased number of muggings and other crimes could be attributed to the people living along the river.
“It is now dangerous to use foot paths that pass through or along the stream because of increased muggings. It could be that criminals have taken advantage,” she added.

Of concern is the area just before the confluence of Bishop Gaul Avenue and Drummond Street.
Here, stories of men, women and children being mugged are told.
Farmers are already preparing their fields ahead of the forthcoming summer agricultural season and say they are undeterred by the growing populations along the stretch of the stream.

Sekuru Chiromo, who has a piece of land along a stretch of land next to Monavale said, “They are just people who have experiencing problems in their lives and they do not mean any harm to anyone. They sell various goods including some dried flowers, baskets and some coloured grass on the streets.”

A woman who preferred anonymity said residents were not afraid to use the path networks crossing the stream during the dry season.
“It’s safe to walk during the day when people have harvested their crops but it’s a bit risky to do the same when the grass grows tall and some of the crops especially maize taller,” she said.

The police could not immediately comment on whether the people living along the river are a nuisance.
Harare provincial police spokesperson Chief Inspector Tadious Chibanda indicated that he was preparing for the Harare Agricultural Show.
But, the inhabitants claim they do not engage in any criminal activities.

It is difficult to come across the people who live along the river as they are uncomfortable talking to strangers.
They are elusive but not hostile yet they become suspicious whenever approached by a stranger. In most cases it is common to find an abandoned makeshift home as the occupants can easily disappear in the intricate paths they have created along the liver.

Even the thick reeds and trees conspire to hide the homes from strangers.
On a particular lucky day, Ovingo, Tafadzwa and Romeo, although suspicious, decided to entertain strangers at their “home” in the reeds.
Tafadzwa who was busy repairing a bicycle and was the most vocal in the group attributed their situation to poverty.
He said they have been living in the reeds for sometime but would be willing to work for a living if the opportunity arises.

“Mudhara hakuna mabasa (There are no jobs). I stay here because it is cheap and we live comfortably without any hustles from other people.
“Occasionally we get a bit of some work from our bosses selling sand. Soon we will be selling worms to people travelling to Kariba, Darwendale and other dams in Mashonaland West,” he said.

His friend, Ovingo dismissed reports that they are engaged in criminal activities.
“We have a good relationship with the people. No-one in this area engages in criminal activities,” he said.
Ovingo said they actually report suspicious people to Milton Park Police Station.

“When there are muggings or any other criminal activities the police ask us whether we would have seen any suspicious people.
He said people need to understand that if criminal elements invade the area they are the first to report to the police.

“We want peace. We do not want to break any laws. There are cases reported to the police but we believe these are perpetrated by criminals from other areas in Harare,” Ovingo said.

Romeo said while people say different things about their lifestyle, they are not moved.
“There is a man who has been living along this river way beyond independence. He is now mentally unstable but will tell you how he has been here since the 1970s.

“There are also those who weave their baskets along the stream and are earning an honest living so the river is not only providing shelter but an honest living for the artistic,” he said.

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