Rural suburb of Bulawayo: 16 years of Cowdray Park without water, electricity, sewage network

By Léopold Munhende, chief correspondent


More than a thousand homes in Bulawayo’s largest suburb, Cowdray Park, have been without electricity or water for more than 16 years, with no hope that the situation will improve.

Launched as part of the government’s Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle operation, the newest and largest part of the suburb was intended to provide housing for victims of a previous one, Operation Murambatsvina, which destroyed houses deemed illegal in Zimbabwe’s cities.

Under Operation Murambatsvina, tens of thousands of people whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed had to start afresh in identified catchment areas.

Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle aimed to provide affordable housing and homes to hundreds of thousands of people on the waiting list of Bulawayo City Council and other local authorities in four provinces across the country.

After having started in earnest, in June 2005, the government abandoned the project midway, placing all responsibility on the councils.

The government failed to meet building targets that a parliamentary portfolio committee had set, failed to install sewers and water pipes, and decided that residents would have to do it themselves in 2009, just after one of the country’s worst economic crises.

Cowdray Park is 16 kilometers northwest of Bulawayo’s central business district (CBD).

“When we came here, the council promised to install water meters which people resisted, but then it took time to install standpipes,” said Ileen Munhuwakare, a resident of the suburbs for 11 years.

“Most people draw water from taps that are too far away, while others have had to dig wells in their yards against municipal regulations.

“The council doesn’t care about this area, we have no roads, no schools and we are very backward. We complain about all this every year, but it’s very little, at most municipal roads during the rainy season and that’s it.

A small part of the suburb, where Munhuwakare lives, now has a few houses connected to the main water pipe.

“Those who don’t have water survive by asking for it, some sell it to them and that’s not the only problem we have to face. We don’t have electricity.

“Living without electricity is a challenge. We used to fetch firewood from nearby farms before deciding to start an electrification project ourselves.

“However, while we thought we had done enough and had a transformer sent to us from Harare, the ZESA employees here didn’t seem interested in signing him for us.”

eGarikai as the locals call it, is littered with illegal bush toilets, some of which are uncovered and pose a hazard to children who roam freely in the area.

The only development that has been recorded in the past 16 years has been annual maintenance of gravel roads, carried out during the rainy season.

Some of its first residents were registered in 2005, fleeing exorbitant rentals in older suburbs to stay and build on their own stands in the hope that water will be connected.

The council’s spokesman said the area was what the council called “a self-funding project”, where residents serve their own areas without financial or resource assistance from city authorities.

“Cowdray Park, Hlalani Kuhle is a self-funded project, which means residents contribute to the upkeep of the residential area,” she said.

“During the handover, Bulawayo City came up with a financial model for Cowdray Park, Hlalani Kuhle residents, it involved how much each resident was supposed to pay at the same time being given a tariff holiday for a duration of 6 years (which was the proposed project timeline). Due to the slow payouts, the expected duration of the project took longer than that.”

Parliament cited funding as the main obstacle upon completion of the project, valued at Z$100 billion for Bulawayo alone in 2009, just before the introduction of the US dollar as legal tender.

“We dug our own sewer pipes, but some pipes are not dug yet. The council always tells us they will fix this problem for us, but they haven’t done anything,” said Sifiso Ncube, another suburban resident who has been staying there since 2012.

“We know the government has no money, we know ZESA has no money, and they have made that clear.

“We survive like people in rural areas, there are people without sewage or water here, but they live.

“Some people just get water to drink from others, and they celebrate when it’s the rainy season because they can put buckets and empty the water.”

Power utility ZESA said it was currently overwhelmed with power demands across the country, with hopes that areas such as Cowdray Park will be served within the next two to three years.

“There are a number of homes we need to connect over the next two to three years and ZESA Holdings is raising funds to meet those needs. The current backlog stands at 305,000, but it is growing every day as more people apply,” ZESA Enterprises (ZENT) Acting General Manager Burusa Mandipezano recently said.

“ZENT has an order for 1,000 transformers from the Zimbabwe Electricity and Transmission Distribution Company (ZETDC) and over 1,000 from the Rural Electrification Fund, which it must fulfill. He must manufacture to satisfy these orders.

“We have an order book of 2,300 transformers to be precise, which emanates from our inability to produce at maximum capacity and from vandalism. We cannot focus on new connections due to vandalism.

“We are under capacity because some machines are old. The equipment is old and is now slow. Some of the machines, even though they do the job, are slow.

“Right now we’re making 250 to 300 transformers, depending on the size. This will translate to approximately 3,000 processors each year. But we want to increase that number to around 10,000 each year to cover the backlog, vandalism, new connections and total electrification in rural areas.

Some residents who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity expressed hope that the run-up to next year’s election could bring some development.

They said this is usually the period when politicians, from both ruling and opposition parties, come to them with promises and piecemeal developments as a means of persuading them.

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