Derrick Jimu, "I put the blame for his death squarely on the city officials and the government"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Derrick Jimu, 56, has still not come to terms with the death of his son from cholera in the low-income suburb of Budiriro, in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. So far more than 20 lives have been lost in this area, and the epidemic has now spread beyond the city.

"Samson had just graduated with a degree in community medicine from the University of Zimbabwe. I remember the days when he would come back from university and we would discuss a host of disease outbreaks that we faced in this country. He always warned me that our suburb was sitting on a cholera time bomb.

"My son was in the process of obtaining his work permit, after being promised a job in Namibia. A day before he was taken ill, he told me that the job was well-paying and he promised that he would look after the whole family.

"I put the blame for his death squarely on the city officials and the government. They have turned a blind eye to the health hazards in our area for too long, despite repeated pleas from residents.

"For the past six months we have had no running water, the health department is not repairing broken sewer pipes, and every time we approach them for help they tell us they are on their way, or simply inform us that they do not have the vehicles or fuel.

"Samson was correct when he said we were sitting on a time bomb. We are now accustomed to sewage flowing on the doorsteps and sometimes inside the houses.

"Children play in the sewage, and ponds of the contaminated water are attracting armies of flies. Without regular supplies of clean water, it means the food we eat is unhygienic, and most of it is sold in the open.

"In order to beat the water problem, most of us here have dug wells, but that will not solve our problem because raw sewage from underground burst pipes seeps into the wells from which we draw water for cooking, washing and drinking.

"My son would still be alive if the health system was still functioning normally. When he developed severe diarrhoea, we rushed him to a government hospital but we were told that they could not help us because nurses and doctors were on strike.

"Private hospitals now demand foreign currency upfront and by the time we managed to raise it, Samson's condition could not be salvaged.

"Besides losing him, I am now also deep in debt. Because mortuary staff were also on strike, it took me three days to be able to claim his body for burial, and that was after bribing one of them. Municipal cemetery attendants also demanded a bribe in order to allocate me a grave number, and to dig the grave.

"My woes did not end there, because city health officials came to the funeral and instructed me to delay the burial because the body had to be wrapped in special plastic paper that we could not readily get, while a quarrel between them and my relatives erupted when body viewing was limited to the immediate family.

"If water is not restored and nothing is done to fix the sewage problem, Harare will definitely run out of burial space, because the cholera outbreak is spreading too fast."