Kwekwe — Those who thought the Redcliff community, smarting from the effects of the collapse of iron and steel giant Ziscosteel had seen enough, were taken aback on Tuesday when the local authority led by Zanu PF Mayor Freddy Kapuya locked out over 200 people from their houses.
By BLESSED MHLANGA
Families with children as young as four months old were condemned to sleeping in the open like wild animals.
“When I returned home with my three children, we found that there was a new padlock on the door. Upon asking neighbours, I heard council workers had locked the doors and would only open once I paid US$60 in rentals. We have been sleeping in the open like wild animals since July 18,” Susan Pepukai said.
Pepukai, who was close to tears as she narrated her ordeal, was breastfeeding her young baby who had a runny nose, a sign the bad weather was taking its toll on the minor.
Redcliff City Council is accused of locking out families of New Zimsteel workers and in other cases widows of former Ziscosteel workers from houses which belonged to their employer. The houses were handed over to council for free some 20 years ago.
The houses in Torwood’s H-section, which were built in 1942, are now an eyesore with dilapidated infrastructure. They do not have basic conveniences of modern life like electricity, tap water and toilets much to the fury of residents who accuse council of neglecting the dwellings.
Sekai Tavengwa whose husband died while still employed at Ziscosteel three years ago, was livid after being locked out of her US$20 per month lodgings by the local authority.
“Council asks us to pay US$12 every month as fixed water charges and US$1 for street lighting as part of the US$20 rentals, yet we have no running water in our homes and the communal taps here are always dry. I don’t know what they are asking us to pay for, even if we could afford it,” she said.
Most Ziscosteel workers want their company to reclaim the houses which council now plans to sell at over US$7 000 per unit.
“Who does not know that we have endured over four years without salaries and that we are suffering because Ziscosteel, in which government was the majority shareholder, owes us over US$20 000 in salaries for individual workers at the lowest level?” asked Luwiza Dube.
“Now that council is throwing us out of houses which were built by our employer, we call on the company to reclaim the houses.”
Kapuya said council had resorted to arm-twisting residents because some of them were resisting settling their bills even if they could afford to.
He however professed ignorance that there were families sleeping in the open.
“We have discovered that if we cut water supplies to defaulters some of them actually pay but if we sit there and just beg them to pay, they ignore our plea,” he said.
“For the record, before we started the process council used to collect US$60 000 per month and after the move we have managed to collect around US$250 000.”
Kapuya said council does not support the fact that families had to be locked out of their homes, forcing children and the elderly to sleep outside.
The council decision contrasted with last year’s election campaign by Zanu PF which saw the party cancelling debts owed by residents to councils around the country. The party also promised to develop thousands of new homes for home-seekers.
Torwood Residents Association (Tora) organising secretary Daniser Ncube accused council of hypocrisy and insensitivity.
“They came here campaigning and behaving as if the Zanu PF leaders cared for the people, cutting debts on the eve of an election and promising us jobs and a decent life if we voted for them,” he said.
“Now they are treating us like animals, forcing us to sleep under trees like wild animals while Ziscosteel remains closed.”
Tora claimed Torwood residents were being treated like animals. The association says it was a miracle that no major disease outbreak has occurred in the town.
Residents in that part of town have no working toilets and are forced to relieve themselves in the nearby bushes. They also fetch water from shallow wells dug in the same bushes.
“We go into those bushes to relieve ourselves and it is inevitable that we bump into each other, but because of the situation we have been lowered to levels where surviving has become unbearable,” said Tora.
In 2012 Kapuya’s company, Wack Drive, was awarded a US$450 000 tender to build a toilet on each of the 850 housing units in Torwood, which used to use communal toilets. He is accused of having done a shoddy job.
The toilets have no doors and are not connected to water or to the main sewer.
Surprisingly, the same council last year, rescinded a 2012 council resolution to sell the housing units to sitting tenants, saying the majority of them were Ziscosteel workers and could not afford to buy the houses.
Most companies which used to operate in Redcliff, including OK Zimbabwe and some engineering firms, have closed shop for lack of business.
Employees of some of the companies were left jobless while revenue for council also plunged downwards.
Redcliff deputy mayor Clayton Masiyatsva said it was unfortunate that council management jumped the gun. He said human beings should not be treated like animals that slept in paddocks.
“We have no such resolution and the honest truth is that denying these people access to their homes, food and decency is just inhumane and diabolic and I will not associate myself with such an act,” Masiyatsva said.
In 2012, Chombo directed local authorities not to cut water supplies to residents over unpaid bills.
The directive came after Kwekwe City Council which supplies Redcliff with water, had resolved to stop water supplies to the town over a US$8 million debt.
It is however the very same council that benefited from Chombo’s reprieve that is now bullying its own people.