Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
Thousands waited in the sun which was uncharacteristically hot for a winter afternoon. Their endurance spoke volumes of a community patiently waiting to see their President.
Chants and songs which made up the soundtrack of the wait grew wilder as President Mnangagwa stepped out of his vehicle.
“ED Pfee” became the illuminating decibel around Matapi Flats in Mbare as the country’s first citizen navigated puddles walking among the people.
But his was neither a social visit nor a sightseeing exercise; he had come to talk to families, victims of a Tuesday morning blaze which left 65 people homeless.
Among those whose plight prompted President Mnangagwa to take time off his busy schedule to make the surprise visit, was Mbuya Eunice Kapikinya, a senior citizen who does not remember the year she was born.
She recounted how she first came face-to-face with the fire which robbed her two dependants of a home.
“I went to fetch water and left the candle in the room. When I came back the room was on fire. The fire was already too strong and we could not save anything,” Mbuya Kapikinya said.
She lives with her son and grandson, both of whom escaped unscathed but lost everything.
“I have been sleeping at my friend’s flat, my son and grandchild have been sleeping at their uncle’s flat in Block 7. We do not have many blankets, the past few days have been difficult,” said Mbuya Kapikinya.
“The way we live, rooms are partitioned and the set-up makes it difficult to save anything when a fire breaks out,” she said.
After President Mnangagwa’s visit, Mbuya Kapikinya was left hopeful despite the tragedy that befell her.
“It is an honour that the President came to see us, we thought we were alone. I believe he will assist us like he promised, the houses are already being built for us,” she said.
A total of 12 rooms, housing 14 families, were gutted in the inferno, leaving 65 occupants exposed to the winter cold.
Mbare Member of Parliament Tendai Savanhu and Ward 3 councillor Innocent Maseko intervened and arranged temporary shelter for the affected families.
They have converted parts of the now defunct Zororo Bar to provide a tentative haven for the fire victims.
Each family received three blankets and a combined kitchen was set up for the 14 families.
Chipo Jiri (38) shared a single room with her five children on one side of the curtain partition, her brother with his wife and three children took up the other half.
Their burnt room housed a total of 10 occupants who were left homelesswhen tragedy struck.
“The fire started in the room next to ours and the way it happened, we only managed to escape with the children,” she said.
“We were given two large rooms to sleep in, men are sleeping on one side and women on the other side. That is how we have been surviving. We are grateful that we are sheltered under the circumstances,” Jiri said.
“President Mnangagwa brought a message of hope to us, my whole life I had never been that close to a president. The visit was uplifting,” said Jiri.
Misheck Makaya, a father of four, said the fire undid all the progress he had made over the years.
“I only managed to escape with a pair of shorts, everything happened so fast. Well-wishers had to buy us clothes in the morning. I am still wearing the same clothes,” he said.
His heart rending account summarised the extent of the damage inflicted by the fire.
“I watched my belongings go up in smoke. It was a painful experience, it felt like a movie. Up to now I still imagine I will wake up and all this was a dream. I am a tailor, six of my machines were burnt,” Makaya said.
Getting assurance from President Mnangagwa showed him the country is under a caring leadership.
“President Mnangagwa today showed us that he is a listening President. He promised us that soon after the elections, we will get better places to live in,” said Makaya, adding: “I am confident he will deliver because all the previous words he has said have been fulfilled. Our local ZANU-PF leadership has already started showing us that they care, they stood with us in the early hours of the morning.”
Part of Block 5 Matapi Flats was razed in the fire, leaving a sombre atmosphere in Mbare. It took the unexpected visit to inspire smiles on the faces of many in Harare’s oldest suburb.
“I have been living here all my life. The former president never visited us, we never thought this day would come where a president would walk among us,” said Ephania Pfende, an elated Mbare resident.
The visit also brought into perspective the deceitful nature of Harare City councillors who were at pains to clean up the area after hearing word that the President was about to visit.
Mbare residents scoffed at the superficial attempt, vowing to expose the city fathers’ failings to the President, which they did.
President Mnangagwa promised to provide decent homes for those in Mbare soon after the elections.
“It was prudent for me to come here to see for myself what befell you. We cannot have our people live in such a disgraceful and deplorable condition. After the election you will see the abundant work I will do for you,” President Mnangagwa said.
July 26 was not an ordinary day in Mbare, the euphoria that gripped the suburb on the day showed magic that a listening leadership brings.
In the aftermath of a tragedy of such magnitude, President Mnangagwa brought smiles to Mbare, with a promise of more soon after elections.