It is dusk at Mbare Flats, in the eponymous township, as darkness fast descends around Harare’s oldest suburb – a valedictory to the day’s typical tumult of activity in this area where most people rely on informal activities for survival.
As the train of activity goes around, close to 100 men, women and children gather at a spot outside the flats where there is a big truck drilling a borehole to provide water for the flats, housing hundreds of families in barely sanitary environments.
At dusk, much of the work by the drilling team has been done having reached preliminary levels to get water – witness the muddy puddle at the rear end of the truck where the rig has worked throughout the afternoon.
Amid the waiting and excitement, Cynthia Butau, with a baby strapped to her back reflects on this moment when clean water is about to be provided to the area for the first time.
And soon enough, the moment arrives: following the final drilling, the engineers let the water out powerfully from the borehole for several minutes, drawing loud cheers and ululation from residents whose numbers have swelled considerably, with a politician providing light from his car after darkness has finally engulfed the area.
It is a moment of celebration and hope.
“The provision of borehole water is timeous because most of the time we were not getting tap water from the council but now we can now fetch water from the borehole any time which means we no longer have water challenges like we used to do,” Butau tells Review & Mail.
The borehole is one of 10 sites provided in Mbare under the Presidential Borehole Scheme which will serve at least 40 000 people in Mbare.
They are being fitted with solar pumps and will have water piped into residences such as Mbare flats.
A private company, Prevail International Group was contracted to drill the boreholes under a Public-Private-Partnership with the Zimbabwe Water Authority. The company is involved in delivering water in a scheme that will see over 35 000 boreholes being sunk to provide water nationwide.
Butau said: “President Mnangagwa has brought a good development by drilling boreholes for us in this area of Ward 3.
“The increase in the number of boreholes will guarantee the accessibility of water and reduce chaos and congestion at boreholes.”
According to accounts by residents, the shortage of water had not only been a health challenge.
Few places where there were boreholes had become war zones with residents fighting viciously to access the water with competition rife during the day, while during the night men had to keep vigil for their wives to have favourable positions to get water in the morning.
The relief felt by residents is palpable .
Finance Chizvaro, who was born here and is a youth leader told this publication that the scarcity and poor quality of water had posed health hazards for congested flats that are served by communal toilets.
“A day without water is a disaster in our public (read communal) toilets as no one will be able to use them also considering that the toilets are used by everyone including children,” Chizvaro said.
Options have been limited.
There are some boreholes where water is sold, but this is beyond the reach of many, who have to be content with public system. Unfortunately, in the scarcity of resources and poor to non-existent service delivery, conflicts have arisen.
Chizvaro said: “There are records of conflicts at the Police which were caused by congestion at the only borehole we used to have such that people would even hurt each other because of pressure.
“We want to thank this programme which has made it possible for us to access clean and safe water for Mbare National, Majubeki and Mbare Flats to drink unlike unsafe water to drink from the council.”
Harare water is notorious for its poor quality and has consistently failed standard tests because of the presence of contaminants, including human waste due to effluent pumped into the main water source, Lake Chivero.
Harare has faced a number of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery which have increased in regularity and severity in recent years.
Politicians in the area, representing the people here, commended the water provision drive by Government.
Aspiring Member of Parliament for Mbare, Martin Matinyanya commended the workmanship displayed as well as the capacity of the boreholes.
“If you check the meters of the boreholes being drilled here, you will realise that these boreholes will provide adequate water,” Matinyanya said.
He said the community was in support of the project and would safeguard the infrastructure jealously and provide security against theft, vandalism and misuse.
For aspiring councillor, Sinbarashe Chanachimwe, the spearheading of the project by the ruling Zanu-PF party means that in this election, the party may have increased its appeal to the voter.
“Mbare constituency was taken by the main opposition party CCC who have demonstrated that they have failed to run the council,” Chanachimwe said.
“Our President has drilled 10 boreholes for us hence that is the programme we have rolled out in line with President Mnagwagwa’s vision 2030. The boreholes will help over 24 000 in Mbare and therefore we are saying that the winning party ZANU PF has made it possible.”
Away from partisan politics, the people of Mbare united in celebration of the provision of water, which marks a watershed moment – literally.
Officials from the technical partner. Prevail International, explained that the exercise was in support of President Mnangagwa’s call for inclusive development and “ leaving no one and no place behind”.
The company is spearheading the nationwide drive that will see over 35 000 boreholes being drilled, including in rural areas where irrigation schemes are also being set up for nutrition and household income.