THEY have been dismissed by their community as low lives and good-for-nothings.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
But astonishingly, they have saved many people from painful death by drowning in the infamous “pool of death” in Epworth, about 10km outside Harare.
The group of seven young men, in their early 20s, has taken on an unusual mission of rescuing suicidal people who throw themselves into the murky waters of the pool.
For several years now, the pool has claimed more lives than anyone would care to remember.
Notwithstanding the dangers that lurk in the deep, still waters, the determined young men — most of whom grew up in the area — take pride in their work.
“We spend the larger part of the day camped here and play a few games,” says Wellington Tshwala, gesturing towards a rickety pool table.
Their “calling” was however accidental since they sort of stumbled upon it.
From saving one life to the next, the youths have now taken it upon themselves to be the guardian angels of the pool, which is infamous for the many suicides that have been committed there.
Murder victims have also been dumped into the disused quarry, usually at night.
On Tuesday last week, the youths saved yet another life; a young boy believed to have come all the way from Mabvuku to commit suicide at the pool.
In a bizarre incident, the young man attempted to take his life twice by throwing himself into the deep waters.
This was despite the fact that a body of another victim of the pool, a woman, was still floating in the dam.
“On Monday, a body of a woman was discovered floating in the dam and we alerted the police,” said Tshwala. “However, on Tuesday morning before police came to retrieve the woman’s body, a young man came from nowhere and threw himself into the dam. People managed to save him before he drowned.”
“But to our surprise, he came back again around 6pm and once again jumped into the dam. He was saved by Solomon Fungurami,” said another young man, who only identified himself as King Shango.
Narrating the incident to The Standard last week, Fungurami said on the second attempt the young man bolted from a commuter omnibus and ran all the way to jump into the dam.
“I went in after him and managed to drag him out. It was a scary sight because only the whites of his eyes were showing,” said Fungurami. “He nearly died.”
Fungurami showed The Standard crew scuffle marks which were made during the rescue mission. He said police attended the scene and a docket for the incident under OB ref number 947/14 has since been opened.
Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent, Paul Nyathi referred all questions to one Assistant Inspector Dube of Harare Central who promised to get back to the reporter with details.
Efforts to talk to him later were fruitless.
The young men are not the only ones who have saved lives at the pool.
Shepherd Magaso, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said he has rescued quite a lot of “lost souls” who wanted to end their troubled lives in the pool.
“I work in the industrial area and so every morning and evening I use this path close to the pool on my way to and from work and I have rescued many people especially women who wanted to throw themselves into the dam,” he said.
Magaso said the rescue missions had their fair share of challenges.
“A few weeks ago, I was nearly drowned by a pregnant woman. As I was trying to drag her away from the pool edge she grabbed me and would have pulled me along with her into the water if I had not screamed for help,” said Magaso. “When the woman’s husband arrived, I slapped him twice for upsetting his wife to an extent that she chose to commit suicide.”
He added: “In another incident, I came across a suicide note placed under a pair of shoes and when I rushed to the pool’s edge found a girl who was about to jump into the pool and I whisked her to safety.”
The dam has become a serious cause of concern as there are houses a few metres from its edges. This is worsened by the fact that there is no security fence around the pool.
The locals also come to the pool to do their laundry at great risk of drowning.
School-children use a path, which is barely two metres away from the dam, on their way to school and the nearby shopping centre.
“There used to be a fence around this area but thieves tore it down,” said King Shango. “Our leaders should come up with other means of securing this place.”
Other youths suggested that the water could be harnessed for meaningful projects like fisheries.
“Most of us young people are not working so it would be a great idea to come up with projects that would benefit the community,” said one youth.
One of the young women, who was doing their laundry by the poolside, said the area must be sealed off from the public.
“We have young children and sometimes they follow us here and their safety is not guaranteed,” said Sekai Masvonda. “Some come to bath here and it is very easy to lose one’s footing because the rocks are slippery.”
A senior Environmental Management Agency (EMA) official, Steady Kangata said they were still to look for more information about the “pool of death”. He said an environmental impact assessment should have been done first before mining activities were carried out.
“Before any extraction or mining activity is carried out, there are strict regulations that guide the involved parties and these ensure that there are no negative impacts on the environment,” he said.
Kangata said once the project had been carried out there was need to cover up the quarry or utilise it in such a way that it did not cause adverse effects on the environment such as had become of this pool.
Plans to secure the area have been held off for years.
In 2005, the Ministry of Water Resources and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) pledged to look into ways of making use of the water.
However, eight years down the line nothing has been done despite the increasing number of deaths at the disused quarry pool.