Tenants protest against church elders

Gibson Mhaka
PERCHED on a slope, two dilapidated buildings which could be best described as structures from a refugee camp in a poor, war-torn country is part of the residential area developed in 1870 by the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), Hope Fountain Mission on the outskirts of Bulawayo.

The buildings which present pictures of filth and decay and characterised by cracks running across its reddish-brown walls, damaged roofs, broken doors and shattered window panes that have come off their frames, letting in the wind, rain, snakes and rodents  are “sweet” home to about 15 families who are allegedly sharing one toilet and a bathroom.

15 families are allegedly sharing this bathroom.

15 families are allegedly sharing this bathroom.

Mountains of refuse, uneven floors which look ready to cave in and many other sights indeed speak clearly and loudly of neglect at these UCCSA owned structures.  UCCSA also runs Tennyson Hlabangana High School.

But even as rats and cockroaches run wild in the walls and around them, the 15 families who are occupying the two structures and paying $35 per room to UCCSA church authorities have decided to stay put and fight for their dignity.

Last week, they joined hands and protested against their landlords-cum church elders Reverend Mathias Moyo and David Nyathi alleging that they were on an illegal campaign to replace them with tenants who will pay higher rent in the graceful but dilapidated old buildings.

The elders reportedly courted the anger of the tenants after they proposed to increase the rent from $35 to $50 per month.

Meanwhile, during a visit by B-Metro at the UCCSA run properties all tenants looked demoralised and frustrated.

Apparently hoping for a reversal of fortune, they willingly took the news crew round their squalid accommodation.

However, all those who spoke did so on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“We are up in arms with these elders who are treating us like we are nothing. We want them to sleep in one of the rooms for a night and have a feel of the conditions. Since we stayed here 10 years ago these rooms have never been renovated.

“The rooms have no windows, the doors are broken, and the walls are peeling off and roofs are damaged. They have promised to renovate them but nothing has been done despite the fact that we pay rent every month.

“We are not animals and shouldn’t be treated as such. All we ask is that the money that we are paying should be used to renovate these dilapidated and inhospitable structures.

“Just imagine 15 families both male and females sharing one toilet and bathroom. And because of the unmanageable state of the bathroom, sometimes we bathe in the open, and we must do that very early in the morning or in  the evening,” said one of the tenants who requested strict anonymity.

The tenant further said when it rained they were drenched as water pours through gaping holes in what passes for a roof, drenching those who sleep on the beds and creating an indoor mud bath for those that sleep on the floor.

Another tenant who also preferred anonymity said school and church authorities cut power.

“What pained us is that these elders have proposed to increase our rent from $35 to $50. There is no electricity in our rooms. Power was switched off by the school and church authorities because these two elders (Moyo and Nyathi) were not paying the bills despite the fact that we were giving them money.

“Whenever we tried to engage them for a meeting they refused. But to our surprise they are always threatening us saying they will enlist the services of riot police to drive us out of the rooms.

“Really no child that is brought up in this environment would turn out good. It takes the grace of God for any child to make progress here. We are also living with snakes and rodents here. Just imagine every week we kill about four snakes,” he said.

However, tenants liked the fact that they stay close to “their” church and the school-Tennyson Hlabangana High School- which is convenient for their children.

Reverend Moyo declined comment saying he was not allowed to speak to the Press.