The Sunday Mail
They were created under the colonial local government policy to house unmarried males who came to Harare in search of employment.
As such, Matapi flats housed ‘bachelors’ who were allocated a single room but shared a communal toilet, bath and kitchen.
The 14 blocks of apartments, on three story floors, contain 2 940 habitable rooms.
Of major note is that the population in Matapi hostels has surged from a static size of about 3 000 males in 1980 to current average of 28 000, being a mixture of men, women and children.
The overpopulation has triggered gross vandalism, messy and blocked toilets as well as an absence of running water.
For years, what the habitat looked like was of little doubt the greater reflection of the morals of the people living in it.
The obsolescence of the building was a direct outcome of the abuse of space by residence and the failure by the local authority to maintain the hostels.
However, many reckon that lately, the hostels have a different kind of story to tell.
And Christina Matange (44), a resident at Matapi flats, is one person who believes a positive image is slowly emerging from the hostels.
“The story that is being told of the flats is quite different from the one we grew up listening to,” she said from a one-roomed apartment, demarcated by a brown curtain to create a cooking area and bedroom.
“Soccer legends, musicians and political leaders came from this area.
“I think everything went wrong when the living conditions were left on a free fall.
“I believe the high prostitution, cases of child marriages, drug abuse and criminal rate were merely caused by our living conditions.”
Christina says she started staying at the hostels in 1986 after moving in — together with parents and three siblings — to stay with her paternal grandparents.
This was after her father had left his job as a gardener in Waterfalls.
“I remember rent at that time was only 75 cents a room and we had to share that single room with my parents, my grandparents, my two brothers and my younger sister,” she added.
“The sleeping arrangements was stressful. My parents slept on the bed, while my sister and I slept on the floor just besides it.
“There was a sofa in the middle of the room where my brothers slept and on its other side were my grandparents.
“It was so humiliating, however, there was nothing we could.”
Christina says she has seen the population at the flats increase daily.
She said the sheer numbers have exerted pressure on ablution facilities as well as the general ability of the properties to withstand the population.
“As time went by, more people came to Matapi and other surrounding flats. However, the spaces were not expanded neither were the water and sewer systems,” she said.
Christina, just like other residents in Mbare has welcomed the renovations that were introduced by President Mnangagwa on Matapi flats.
However, her wish is to see the rooms being renovated into family apartments.
She believes rearranging the living conditions at the flats will go a long in improving the lives of people in Mbare.
“I believe there is a lot that can come out of this place,” she added.
“If real transformation takes place, a lot of positive stories can come out of this place. We just want decent accommodation.”
Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing July Moyo says there is already a master plan on urban renewal, which will see some of the rooms being converted to family apartments.
“We are also working on renovations to make the family apartments so that families have decent accommodation,” he said.
“Our architects, who are on the ground right now, will determine on the type of family apartments and how they will be built.”
At 112 years, residents hope and believe the flats remain firm and will tell a positive story of its inhabitants.