THIS is one of Mutare’s oldest buildings with a strong colonial background.
Surprisingly, 36 years down the line, no meaningful renovations have been done to met new age housing standards.
When it was built during the colonial times, Matida Flats in Mutare oldest high-density suburb of Sakubva it was home to bachelors who worked at Rhodesia Railways.
It was strictly a men’s world and no-one else other than the workers was allowed in.
Over the decades things have changed with the ever-increasing population putting pressure on housing facilities.
The 148-roomed flats which housed not more than 300 workers – two people per room – are now overcrowded with close to a 1 000 people finding shelter in the run-down building which needs urgent renovations.
As one makes a turn into Mutare’s oldest location from the city centre, the four storey flats are clearly visible, not only because they tower above every other building, but because of their dilapidated nature.
Raw sewage flows everywhere, engulfing the surrounding areas and locations with an obnoxious smell that travels distances.
Litter is everywhere.
The Manica Post this week paid a visit to the phenomenal flats to have an insight into the trials and tribulations of the families housed there.
Their stories are both interesting and painful to hear.
We caught up with Mr Daniel Derera who gave a brief historical background of the flats.
“These flats were once owned by Rhodesia Railways, but were later handed over to the local authority in exchange for land in Sakubva which is now Devonshire. The Mutare City Council is now renting out these flats, with occupants paying monthly rentals.
“There are 148 rooms and each room is being shared by two families. Some families have up to 10 people and at times you have a situation whereby the parents sleep on the bed while the children take cover underneath. There is no secrecy here. In that big room the two families partition it into two halves using boards, curtains or wardrobes,” he said and added:
“We are facing critical water shortages because of burst pipes. The city council is dragging its feet to repair the pipes. We are living in overcrowded conditions and the provision of clean water is very important. Besides that, we have electricity problems. At one time we spent almost a year without power,” he said.
Residents at the flat pay fixed electricity charges to the local authority which in turn pay Zesa for power used. There is a giant metre which captures the amount of kilowatt hours used by all the tenants.
“The problem we have is that despite paying the money to council, the local authority was not paying the same to Zesa. So at the end of the day we had supplies cut off because of a ballooning debt the local authority was not servicing, yet we would have paid on our part. Council was using our money to pay its workers,” said Mr Derera.
The tenants said they were living dangerously at the mercy of exposed electricity wires that can start fires in the halls any time.
“Hardly a day passes without hearing that a fire almost broke in one of the rooms. We don’t have fire extinguishers to put out flames in the event of a break out. Any time this building will go up in smoke and there is nothing we can do about it. Government must do something to avert our dire situation. We are living on the edge,” said an elderly woman who identified herself as Mai Lynette.
The local authority’s electrical department was blamed for not repairing the exposed wires despite several calls made by the tenants.
“We have opted to hire private electricians to repair the cables, but it is costly on our part. To tell you the truth, we are sitting on an electrical time bomb because the electricity network is bad and heavily compromised. We will only realise this when tragedy strikes,” said Mr Derera.
Matida Flats is well known for harbouring criminals of all sorts who run away from law enforcement agents and seek refuge in the rooms. Beer is sold in the flats by shebeen queens who are making brisk business. Drugs are also reportedly exchanging hands.
“Literally, it is a free for all situation. This is not a good place to raise your children because loose morals are exhibited everywhere. Commercial sex workers ply their trade here, thieves hide their loot here, drug peddlers sell their drugs here and you can name it. It is Sodom and Gomorrah. If we had somewhere to go we would leave, but we have no option, but to endure.
“In the corridors married couples can fight in the full glare of little children. Sex workers will also fight with their clients with our children hearing all the obscenities that come out of their mouths. At the end of the day, the children we raise copy the errant behaviour they are exposed to daily. They end up being thugs. This is the type of life we are living here,” said Mr Derera.
He said they were at the mercy of politicians who visit them during elections to solicit their votes.
“We are being used. Politicians come here promising us heaven-on-earth. They get our votes and disappear soon after we cast them in their favour. Some come promising to repair broken windowpanes, while some offer to repair the damaged sewage line,” he said.
When contacted for comment, Mutare Housing and Community Services director, Mr Stenard Mapurisa, admitted that there were a lot of challenges at Matida Flats.
“Matida Flats are facing various challenges that range from over-crowding and poor sanitation services. We have since proposed to renovate the flats, but our efforts are being hindered by financial problems. Our thrust was to look for alternative accommodation for all the families and renovate the flats to meet temporary housing standards. As we speak, we don’t have anywhere to house the families if we remove them there. We are caught up between a hard surface and a rock,” he said.
There are fears that the overcrowding conditions have over the decades weakened the building for it is now carrying more people than it was designed to.
This has been worsened by the fact that natural weather phenomena like erosion and corrosion have also badly weakened some structures at the building and repairs and renovations need to be done quickly.
The towering building might succumb and fall down killing people.
Something must be done urgently.