In May last year, 70-year old pensioner, Yotamu Mwale watched helplessly as bulldozers razed his three backyard shacks in Mbare in Harare. For Mwale - and many other retirees in this old suburb - the shacks were a source of critically needed additional income to augment a small pension that has virtually lost all value due to rising inflation. But barely a year after the military-style home demolition campaign, the regime is at it again - this time sanctioning an astronomical hike in rates that has hit hard defenceless pensioners.
With no steady income after the demolition of his backyard shacks, Mwale says his life is miserable as he battles to eke a living in what has turned out to be an inhospitable city. "I can now hardly afford to pay my monthly rates let alone buy enough food for myself," he says dejectedly.
A government appointed commission running Harare last month arbitrarily hiked rates by more than 1 000 percent, to levels well beyond the reach of most people. Mwale, who retired some five years ago, says he gets a pension of Z$3 000 a month – enough to buy 4 slices of bread at its current cost of 65,000 a loaf. Residents must now fork out Z$5 million for water and services, up from an average of Z$700 000 that they used to pay last year. "When the postman delivered my water bill for the month, I could not believe it. I thought he had delivered it to the wrong address. I also thought it could have been a computer error. But when I heard a widow down the street wailing in protest over her bills, I knew I was not the only one with such a huge bill," says Mwale.
"There is no way I can pay the amount with the $3 000 pension I receive every month," added Mairos Gawura. A spokesman for the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), Precious Shumba, said residents must take collective action against the commission running Harare over its arrogance and insensitivity to the plight of the poor. CHRA says it is still planning to calling for a rates boycott or demonstrations against the rates increases.