The Sunday Mail
Gender & Community Editor
DELIVERY ventures, big and small, run by both men and women, have made a massive comeback since the coronavirus-induced lockdown that began at the end of March in Zimbabwe.
Several online platforms have sprung up too and those that are tech-savvy can make orders for anything – from groceries to booze from the comfort of their homes.
Even bicycle delivery men have made a comeback, complementing the motorbikes, three-wheelers and all other kinds of vehicles.
In the middle of this flourishing business — another breed of delivery crew has emerged — the water tout.
Those who grew up on a staple of Nigerian movies (read African movies) will recall the shock they had upon seeing one movie after another with characters that sell potable water in little packets of just 350 to 500ml.
It was unheard of in these parts of the world.
But with fast growing settlements, legal and illegal, largely administered by incompetent city and town councils that are concerned with fattening their own pockets at the expense of service delivery — the water hawker is now a common sight in most dry neighbourhoods in Zimbabwe’s major cities.
Of course, those with adequate funds either have private boreholes or have water tanks at their houses and buy theirs in bulk — up to 20 000 litres.
However, it is the small runners, selling 20-litre buckets of water for households’ daily use, that recently caught the eye of this writer.
The Sunday Mail spent time with a team of water runners, a couple that lives in Retreat, Waterfalls.
Every year, Onias Kuzondishaya and his wife, Anesu Zhanero, become busy when the winter season gives way to summer as demand for water increases.
Their community is serviced by a just a single borehole.
The water source has not been able to meet the daily demand of this locale as its catchment area is vast and seems to be growing every day. It can take up to 24 hours in the queue just to get an opportunity to fetch water.
Alternatively, there is another borehole a few kilometres away, a tough ask for a busy urban working family. This is where Kuzondishaya and his wife come in — making money and providing a service to many families in the area.
The couple charges $25 to fetch a 20/25-litre bucket for willing customers in their neighbourhood. They make an average of US$8 from a pushcart which carries about 20 buckets per day.
“It’s almost a month since we resumed fetching water for people here. We only run this service in the dry season because in the rainy season, demand goes down,” said Kuzondishaya.
“The new stands area has a huge water challenge. We started with very few people but now there are so many, we are struggling to service them all.”
With such an initiative, the couple has joined the runners movement, which has taken Zimbabwe by storm, albeit in a unique way.
Runners are couriers but in local parlance the more apt substitute word would be lackeys or minions — people prepared to do the dirty work on behalf of others, ostensibly their “bosses”.
The service they offer can stretch beyond a country’s borders for importation of goods, sometimes even using dubious cheaper means to get things done.
For Kuzondishaya and his wife, they make about four trips per day fetching water beginning their day normally at 8am and finishing around 4pm.
Of course, there will be after hours emergencies, and these are scrutinised and they carry an extra fee.
This is because the Kuzondishaya home has four other members who need water, food and a clean home.
So, mom and dad are not immune to the daily chores around the house after the strenuous eight-hour
day job delivering water to different households.
Zhanero, the wife, said she decided to set aside domestic chores to assist her husband as the work is demanding.
“People used to mock me saying I was being abused by my husband, but I do not mind assisting him.
“This kind of work is strenuous. And we need our own 10 buckets that we use on a daily basis as a family of six,” she said.
The couple has established a relationship of trust with their clients who have no doubt that the water brought for them is clean borehole water.
“It’s just like any business, it’s based on honesty. We definitely get clean water and deliver it, that is why so many people rely on us to fetch water for them for a fee.”
Those who have busy schedules, older persons and people who have no capacity to carry heavy buckets – find the service offered by the couple very handy.
Availability of potable water is a global challenge, which according to the United Nations (UN) affects one in three people worldwide.
The UN worries that a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030 coupled with a rising world population, has the world careening towards a water crisis.