SAMANTHA has to carry her three months old baby while she makes the ardours trip to fetch water. She is unable to hold the baby properly and carry water at the same time. Her flip flops are fine for walking around town but are unforgiving on an eight kilometre round-trip trek with a baby on her back and a 20litres bucket of water on her head.
The predicament is worsened by the current pandemic of Covid-19 which emphasise the regular washing of hands to prevent the spread of the lethal disease. Shortage of water also create a breeding ground for cholera and typhoid with people at the risk of contracting water borne diseases as they fetch water in dams.
‘Water crisis’ best describes the situation in Kamativi. For many years the dilapidating town has been hit hard by the unavailability of portable water. Walking down to the nearby dam is a perilous journey as snakes crawl out on to the path making people to maintain vigilance for slithering and striking snakes. Sometimes someone will drive down to the borehole to get water, but as the nearest petrol station is over an hour’s drive away, this option is not always feasible. The roads are also in very poor condition making the journey more difficult.
Kamativi is a tin-mining town in Hwange district of Matabeleland North province. The population of the town, and its peripheries, is an estimated 7,000 people, most of whom are former miners, laid off from work following the closure of the mine in 1994.
Mining operations ran for about 58 years prior to then, before low tin prices at the time forced indefinite suspension of business. The Hwange Rural District Council (HRDC) subsequently took over the administration of the town from the Zimbabwe Mining Development Company (ZMDC).
This takeover included the running of the town’s water supply system which uses surface abstraction from a local dam to supply its reticulated system. The mine was the main source of economic income in the area so its closure led to deterioration of everything in Kamativi, and water problems have dogged the town ever since.
Ernest Dube, a former Kamativi mine worker cited lack of commitment by authorities to fix the challenges facing Kamativi, “our challenges are not unique and they are not much demanding. For a start we need portable water, electricity and social infrastructure. For roads they can start with gravel roads.” Many residents echoed the same views. Kamativi is disconnected to the world in every aspect of basic infrastructure, resulting in the town becoming a charity case.
A community leader who preferred anonymity told this publication that the major challenges of the once recognised town can be fixed with less than US$500 000, “many assessments has been made and submitted to the higher authorities but up to now, people are suffering.” This is supported by a report by Faustina Reidy and Rose Needham who visited Kamativi in 2015 prompting them to crowd fund £70 000, £7-10 000 being for Water Pump & Filtration System for community, livestock & crops, the balance catered for various human needs. On 20th June 2015 they successfully raised £70 000 with 4 supporters in 28 days.
There are no many shops in the town; mainly a few convenience stores, the nearest supermarket and bank are about 100km away. Maize is the main crop cultivated in Kamativi, fortunately this year there are promising rains and the crops are expected to do well.
The water pump in the town is completely broken down. People have had no running water for months. The only sources of water are the nearby dam and boreholes which mean people have to carry 20litres of water often for long distances to their homes many times a day in the blazing heat. These buckets are usually carried by women or young girls on their heads; sometimes a wheelbarrow is used to carry more.
The dam is crocodile ridden and is hazardous for anyone trying to draw water from it. Now the town is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis as the other sources of water have become contaminated and people are falling ill. The only solution to avert this crisis is to get a new water pump and filtration system. The town is characterised by extreme poverty.
The people have no money to pay their rates. Unemployment is high due to the mine closure. Now all that remains of the once prosperous mining town are an abandoned derelict mine and buildings, the former mine workers were left occupying the mine houses in abject poverty, the town resembles a ghost town. The roads are in very bad condition making driving an obstacle course, not to mention trying to avoid the poor starved cattle and goats trying to graze the very few blades of grass on the side of the roads.
Samantha, a mother of two with the younger aged three months said, “the dam, which is a 4km walk from town which makes it eight with the return trip. We draw water from there and carry back to town on our heads or in a wheelbarrow. It is a life threatening exercise. The dam is crocodile ridden. There is also one lonely hippo. When darkness fall he leaves the water and walk around the area making it very dangerous for anyone to walk in the dark. The hippo likes to go into the field with the cattle for company.”