CHII CHIRIKUITA : WHAT’S UP? Two: In Search of a River

At 6.50am today, International Women’s Day, I joined hundreds of women all around Harare in search of a river. 

The search took me down the beautiful tree lined Josiah Tongogara Avenue, past what Zimbabweans now know as the hanging tree.  The tree where Mbuya Nehanda, a spiritual medium and revolutionary war heroine of Zimbabwe’s first chimurenga, was hanged, after capture by colonial forces in 1896.  

But the freedom from oppression for which she fought and died remains elusive.   Zimbabwean women are still waging wars against oppressions, a reality made even starker on this 8th of March.

Today the struggle takes the shape of resistance to deprivation.  To the lack of a basic need – water.   The entire city of Harare has been without water for the last 4 days. 

Harare City Council, which recently reclaimed water management functions from the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) said it was battling to restore supplies. 

The grapevine tells a story of sabotage.  That Zinwa is withholding much needed chemicals because of the takeback by the city council.  But Harare is a city rife with rumour.  The more conventional understandings speak of a lack of chemicals for water purification, an outdated and dilapidated water treatment system and a lack of electricity to pump.

Whatever the reason, the taps are dry and Zimbabwean women are taking to the streets.

Walking or driving, carrying plastic bottles, buckets, containers of all shapes and sizes, pushing wheel barrows or bearing the weight of full buckets on their heads women go in search of water.  It’s a massive movement that will continue throughout the day. Like a relay. A rolling demonstration for life, against all odds. It is a form of resistance.

For some women the only water source they have is unprotected and the chances of contamination are high. There are boreholes that are also contaminated due to the overflow of sceptic tanks. There are schools with wells and there are some private residences who have installed taps near the roadside of their properties for public use.

The one I found had a queue.  It took me an hour to reach the tap.  You learn to make the water stretch.  You bath in a litre – 4 cups. 

While waiting for my turn, we talk.  We talk about sanitation, cholera and how difficult it is to live in this man-made drought. 

Death is always imminent in this demonstration for life.  On this women’s day, standing around a tap on the side of a suburban road we also talk about Susan Tsvangirai. 

Mainstream news in Zimbabwe has been circumspect around the details of her death. While late last night the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) reported that the wife of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, bore the full impact when the landcruiser they were traveling in was sideswiped by a USAID truck near Beatrice, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and roll three times.   Today the news is more circumspect.  They are giving minimal detail.  Rumour, speculation and conspiracy theories are rife.

But for now, my bucket is full.  Who knows what will happen next in this place where water = life and where death is never far away.

Prespone Matawira

About Prespone Matawira

Prespone Matawira is a Zimbabwean feminist organizer, educator, writer.