ELPHIGIOS Makarudze is a long-serving Harare City Council gravedigger and has watched decent to pauper’s burials in a period spanning two decades.
In all, Makarudze says he is the architect of 6 000 graves and counting, but his employers, the country’s capital city, have failed to pay him for almost half a year now, and now a pauper’s burial for him in future is a possibility.
“My wife has been ill for some time now, but I cannot afford medication even to take her to hospital. For me to travel to work, I should be able to pay for transport, so I am forced to walk. When I get here, I am tired and famished, but still have to go through back-breaking digging. It is hard to imagine how we have survived. I have a family to support. These people should have mercy for us,” he pours out his heart.
Council spokesperson, Michael Chideme, in response to questions, said Harare has paid salaries up to January this year.
“They were paid for December three weeks ago. We are in the process of paying for January. The city urges ratepayers to pay their bills to allow council to meet its obligations,” he said, promising to provide more clarity on the issue.
But with a meagre salary of $250 a month for a grave digger, it is not an easy job. The shift starts at 7am, and ends at 3pm — seven days a week!
Makarudze and his colleagues watch as families come one after another to lay to rest their loved ones, having paid money to council, but the cash does not translate to his salary.
Obviously, council has other priorities, staked higher than their survival.
Graneville Cemetery, located on the south-western fringes of the capital along the road to Masvingo, about 20km from the city centre, better known as kuMbudzi, was opened to the public in 2005 and is now home to more than
60 000 bodies.
Makarudze has been working in the city’s cemeteries for the past 20 years now, digging the hard surface on cold, windy, rainy and at times hot and humid days.
As he talks to NewsDay Weekender, for a moment, resting his strained hands on his shovel, Makarudze wipes away beads of sweat, his veins rippling his skin and his cracked hands bearing testimony of his toil.
His sentiments are echoed by Petros Muringi, who has been with the council for five years.
“I am hungry as I speak, but in my case, it’s not a big deal. I worry for my children. On Saturdays, I’m made to work for free and I don’t know what’s happening now. We used to be given milk to help us with chest problems, but that has since stopped. Even a mentally ill person is given tablets so that his senses are brought back,” he says, as he continues digging .
Of concern to these workers is that those occupying high offices continue to turn a deaf ear to them, as they drive luxury vehicles, yet they are not being provided with adequate gear in the form of gumboots and work suits for their job.
“I was forced to live with relatives because I could no longer afford to pay rentals,” Nomore Mambara says, adding he is crammed in a single room with his wife and five children in the high-density suburb of Rugare.
“We have suffered long enough. The conditions that we work under are so bad. We are not given gloves to handle bodies of unclaimed victims that would require pauper’s burial.”