Despite being established a hundred and thirty-one years ago as a United Methodist missionary community, Epworth remains a squatter camp, with little or no development punctuated by shanty dwellings and shacks.
Epworth Mission was established by the Reverend Isaac Shimmin as a Methodist Mission Station in 1890. Epworth then and to this day is divided into seven wards. A large influx of people occurred during the late 1970s and early 1980s with the population rising to 20,000 in 1980, and 35,000 in 1987. The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (MCZ) could not control the influx of people and transferred ownership of the farm to the ministry of Local Government in 1983.
The unchecked influx of people turned Epworth into a slum in the 1970s and this sorry state of affairs continues to this day as if to represent a colonial hangover to the east part of Harare. The slum is the setting of an ongoing clash between the Epworth Local Board (ELB), land barons, residents, and politicians. The persistent cause of conflict is the allocation of residential and industrial stands. The authority of the Epworth Local Board (ELB), the legitimate statutory body tasked with running Epworth, is undermined as land barons parcel out land willy-nilly – in defiance of but also with the alleged knowledge and tacit approval of the ELB.
As recent as 10 July 2021, the Epworth Daily, an online publication carried a story about a gang of illegal settlers attacking mourners who had gathered to bury a 62-year-old woman who succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic. Funeral proceedings were stopped and the body taken back to the funeral parlor. The cause of the attack was caused by illegal settlers calling themselves “grave settlers” who argued that the land on which the ELB allocated a cemetery was sold to them by land barons.
Another area was designated for building an Africa Game Stadium by the ELB. Unfortunately, construction work on the stadium cannot proceed because of political tussling between Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists and those from Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU- PF), with the MDC forcefully occupying the stadium site. This is a clear demonstration of polarisation as the MDC supporters occupying the ground earmarked for the stadium construction want ZANU-PF activists illegally occupying stands on the other side of Epworth to be evicted first before they will agree to vacate the stadium site.
Reminiscent of Thomas Mapfumo’s song ‘’Corruption in the Society,’’ corruption is indeed ubiquitous in Epworth. The biggest concern is that the ELB has not been able to submit its books to the Auditor-General for its 2019 and 2020 financial years. It is believed the ELB has only hired private auditors.
“The Epworth Local Board must submit their books to the Auditor –General‘s office. The Auditor-General will then make recommendations and also publish the financial reports,” said a resident who did not want to be named. (video)
Looking miserable with its ill-planned settlements, Epworth continues to be a slum, attracting bad publicity in the local media – especially for its poor urban planning. Epworth is certainly the epitome of unplanned settlement, with its lack of potable, clean, and safe water, and proper sewer reticulation. Unfortunately, the regularisation of the Epworth Settlement as a properly planned residential area has been parked indefinitely and the residents say they have no idea as to when the action will be taken to construct roads, sewer, and water pipes, among other important basic facilities.
Epworth has remained acutely underdeveloped even though it lies 15 kilometers southeast of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. It is an unfortunate truth that poor urban planning lies at the heart of Epworth’s problems – influencing all aspects of life there. The settlement, linked by road to Harare City, Ruwa, and Chitungwiza towns, as well as Harare International Airport, has seen little development since independence. However, it is endowed with natural wonders like the Balancing Rocks and Domboramwari rock outcrops, which could be potential tourism money-spinners.
The potential importance of Epworth tourism and heritage is not in doubt as the Balancing Rocks found in the northern approaches of the squatter camp are famous, and are featured on all banknotes issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ). Despite having such heritage sites, Epworth is starved of proper development.
Tele-communication corporates erected Infrastructure to facilitate access to information, so mobile phone operators such as Telecel, Econet, Netone, and Telone have a footprint in Epworth. This brings a brighter hope for the people of Epworth to connect to phone through voice calls, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, sharing their hopes, frustrations, challenges, and aspirations.
Despite remaining a slum, Epworth has a huge population which according to the 2012 national census is the fifth largest in the country after Harare, Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, and Mutare. This makes it logical that planned residential, industrial, and commercial stands are made available to inspire development in Epworth. Abundant granite deposits ideal for industrial quarrying could prove an economic activity crucial for Epworth to develop.
Rural-urban migration in search of better living conditions and work has driven the rise in Epworth’s squatter settlements. Here the problem of squatting is related to housing shortages caused by urban growth which is not accompanied by an equal growth in the provision of housing facilities.
Epworth boasts three home industries, but they have little hope to seriously improve the welfare of residents. Formal industries cannot be established as most of them that were designated business stands have had those stands occupied by illegal squatters drawn largely from high-density suburbs such as Mabvuku, Dzivaresekwa, Mbare, Mufakose, and others. The effects of Murambatsvina and other subsequent demolitions of people’s settlements are also believed to perpetually drive desperate home seekers to take up illegal residency in Epworth.
Consequently, this has led to a sprouting of illegal and ill-planned settlements making it an eyesore. Ordinarily, informal settlements do not attract meaningful development such as referral hospitals and well-developed civic centers.
More worrying is the absence of potable water, as the ELB does not own water facilities of its own. What further compounds the situation is the unavailability of sewer treatment sites. Lack of potable water and sewer treatment does not augur well for Epworth whose proximity to Harare has brought in high demand for housing and other services.
A disused quarry mine in Epworth largely known as the “Pool of Death’’ is used for water as residents have no other choice after being let down for several years by the local authority. The quarry is now sustaining people’s lives in this vast squatter settlement as the locals have no other sources of clean water to fall back on. The name Pool of Death derived from several bodies found floating on top of the water over the years – some of them murder victims while others drowned while fishing
“Our wells dry up, especially during the summer season when temperatures rise; so those with wells sell water to us at exorbitant prices and most of us cannot afford and hence we resort to getting water from the quarry,” said Sara Njanji https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Pikj9h6aFOtTqe-1TkWZAgm-fvBSd1yq/view?usp=sharing
It’s time that the Zimbabwean authorities walk the talk in relation to ensuring potable water to the residents of Epworth. Section 77 of the Zimbabwean Constitution obliges the state to take reasonable legislative steps and other measures to, within the limits of the resources available to it, achieve the progressive realization of the right to potable water. This is very important as dirty water may result in the outbreak of water-borne diseases. In 2008, over 5,000 people succumbed to cholera countrywide, with Harare’s Budiriro high-density suburb as the epicenter.
Residents of Epworth actually need to be allocated stands and get them serviced so that they may be able to lead normal lives. Residents feel duped as they have not been allocated stands, some have applied for stands over two decades ago but up to now, they have not got anything. (Insert video).
The government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Local Government and Urban Planning and the Epworth Local Board must hasten the process of regularising the Epworth settlement.
“We are not happy with the chaotic manner in which the Epworth Local Board is pursuing the regularization process. The people are paying for land on which they are staying but we are seeing a lot losing their properties when even they are paying for their land. This is affecting the elderly, the orphans, and the sick,” said a community resident association https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OFVdEB1sh8EwzjkNItISydW8C9SRSI2L/view?usp=sharing
Mr. Peter Nyepetwa requested the mayor to be specific on the residents association he is talking about.
‘’ I would like to ask the mayor of Epworth to be specific on the residents association as we have other residents associations acting as if they are the planning authority, said Peter Nyametwa. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OFVdEB1sh8EwzjkNItISydW8C9SRSI2L/view?usp=sharing
Mariette Nyaunga spoke against the regularization process saying that it has been left unchecked resulting in serious accidents as people usually find themselves trapped in disused Blair toilets and abandoned wells. Recently, a local Councillor of Ward 6 was called to attend to a case of a resident who fell into a disused toilet.