By Emmanuel Kafe
The rusty, broken down coaches, disused rail wagons and the unkempt grass at the National Railway of Zimbabwe Harare locomotive yard have become a haven for concubines, street urchins, drug abusers and a favourite location for videographers and photographers.
It has evolved to be a social park for people from different walks of life. While in the past people would enjoy the experience of riding a train, these days people use the train station to get their family pictures taken. The chestnut coaches are visually extraordinary, a sight for sore eyes. The station gives that diamond-in-the-rough feel, the contrast between rust, unkempt grass and a rugged look.
The abandoned rail lines make people outstanding, it gives an almost vintage setting and it’s perfect for shooting videos. Musicians like Alishias Musimbe “Maskiri” and Tererai have used the awe-inspiring and indelible idyllic setting of the mothballed train services to record a video of their hit track “NaMwari” — with the footage a stark reminder of the devastation caused by the hived track-lines.
A contrast between this yesteryear video and that of Oliver Mtukudzi’s song, “Right Direction”, which showed a more attractive and efficient rail service in the late 80s provides a proof that the railway system is now a pale shadow of itself.
Coming closer to the locomotive yard itself — are destitute, hooker goddesses from around Mbare and street commanders that man the place and are also using the “sleepers” as their permanent place of residence. Fracas and fights on who is the territorial commander of the place is the order of the day between street urchins and hookers.
When The Sunday Mail Society visited the defunct locomotive yard last week, there were scuffles on who owns and controls the blue lined first class coaches.
Blue lined first class coaches are the once-famous but now idle sleepers, the ones that are frequently used by hookers for their trade now. On the other side of the wagons, women dressed in skimpy outfits laugh hysterically and make obscene gestures, hoping to attract men passing by. Some of the men cannot resist the temptation and, after whispered exchanges, they disappear into a nearby disused rail wagon.
A young man with unkempt hair is sniffing glue from a plastic bottle, sitting precariously on one of the wagons showing no interest in the women’s affairs and when he makes his sentiments known to the other women, all hell breaks loose.
There is a heated exchange of vulgar words. Street urchins who seem to control a larger stake claim than hookers and destitutes from Mbare are invading their home, turning it into a “brothel”. “Prostitutes are disturbing our peace here. Sometimes we discover used condoms in our apartments,” complained one of the urchins who said he has been living in one of the wagons since 2000. “Our blankets (card board boxes) are torn and they leave the place in a mess,” added Zato, his street name. “We have tried to talk to them, but they rebuke us, shouting obscenities and sometimes we end up having fights,” he fumed.
The sex workers, however, accused the street kids of being naughty as they often disturb the former when they entertain their clients. “These kids just pop in and our clients feel uncomfortable about being seen in the act. They are the menace. No one owns these wagons here. They belong to the National Railways of Zimbabwe. They should learn to co-habit with us or ship out,” Plakie, who was scantily dressed, shouted back.
The sex workers claim that they are making a lot of money since men from the surrounding industries frequent the place to “relieve” themselves. They (the hookers) charge from as little as 50c to $5 for a “quickie”.
A car breaker who has been operating his garage near the locomotive yard for the past five years, Trymore Sanduri, said they have since witnessed an increase of violence and theft around the area. “We have heard worrying cases of men being robbed and beaten up by these hookers. Hardly a week passes without these incidents,” he said.
Social commentators urged the relevant authorities to remove the locomotives and the police to restore order. “This is lawlessness. People know these things are happening and they remain quiet. The relevant authorities should put measures in place,” said Shame Mukondwa, a religious leader and a social commentator.
National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) promised some time ago to remove disused rail wagons. They removed some and left a few which have become the centre of contention between the sex workers and the street dwellers. The National Railways of Zimbabwe spokesperson, Mr Nyasha Maravanyika, said they are aware that the wagons have been turned to bedrooms and they are in the process of removing them. “We are also aware of aspiring film makers who are trying to shoot at the place. We have plans to move these wagons and we do not condone any activities going on at that site and encourage members of the public to stay away,” he said.
Maravanyika added that Government is in the process of recapitalising the NRZ. “The Government is seized with sourcing the funding for NRZ as a way to revive it because it is a key entity to Government operations.”
According to the Auditor-General’s latest report on parastatals, NRZ losses are running into hundreds of millions of dollars. The parastatal was described it as “operationally handicapped”. “The board and management should develop and implement effective operating strategies to restore the organisation to health as a matter of urgency”, the report says. The Sunday Mail