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Bulawayo’s death pits…Fury as boy drowns in abandoned pit

By Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu/ Obey Sibanda

A 15-year-old Pelandaba West boy drowned in an abandoned pit on Tuesday, a development which has sparked fury over the number of people who continue to drown in similar pits around Bulawayo.

ZRP and a family member retrieve the body of a boy who drowned at a water-filled pit in Pelandaba West suburb, Bulawayo yesterday
ZRP and a family member retrieve the body of a boy who drowned at a water-filled pit in Pelandaba West suburb, Bulawayo yesterday

The pits are scattered all over in Bulawayo with some in Luveve, Pumula East, Mpopoma, Pelandaba West, Nkulumane, Cowdray Park, Matshobana and in Entumbane.

The pits, which have claimed many lives, are a creation of illegal sand poachers.

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As heavy rains continue to pound the city, the pits continue to deepen.

While some have been a source of water for residents who have been going without water for five days a week, the pits have become death traps, especially for children.

The latest incident occurred on Tuesday when the boy identified as Keith Ncube was playing near the pit with his two friends.

His uncle, Mr Sonny Mpofu, says Keith was looking for worms around the water body before he slipped into the pit.

His friends then went back home and notified his guardian about the incident.

The boy was only retrieved yesterday after his body was found floating inside the abandoned pit.

Some of the open pits dotted around Pumula and Cowdray Park suburbs which pose a danger of drowning to residents

“We received news that Keith had fallen into the well and when we came some of the residents tried getting into the water but because the well has deepened, they came out without his body. We spent the whole of Wednesday trying to look for his body without any luck.

“His friends also claim that before he jumped into the water, he bade them farewell which leaves us wondering if his death is in any means associated with superstition,” said Mr Mpofu.

“His body was then spotted floating today with flies hovering around it and we had to notify police who retrieved him. We are saddened by this incident and we do not want to imagine what his mother is going through as she lives in South Africa.”

Ms Senzeni Ncube of Pelandaba West said this is the second child to drown within a space of two months. She appealed to the city council to fill up the pits as they pose a threat to other children who now fetch water from open pits due to shortage of water.

“The lockdown is also contributing to this because children are spending so much time at home as schools are closed. They tend to engage in dangerous activities like swimming in these abandoned pits,” said Mrs Ncube.

Mr Khumbulani Maphosa from the Matabeleland Institute of Human Rights said it is saddening to note that the abandoned pits have claimed another young life in the city. He said his organisation had tried to engage the Environmental Management Agency and the Bulawayo City Council a month ago to no avail.

His organisation cited the death of a 12-year-old girl who drowned in the same pit on December 8 last year.

In March 2020, a 12-year-old boy drowned in a sewer pit between Nketa 8 and Nkulumane 5 suburbs. Mr Maphosa said it was time Ema held the local authority accountable for the continued number of deaths being reported from the abandoned pits.

“I engaged council and Ema a month ago and sadly nothing has been done. In response, the council said they would attend the pits once resources are available. The pits are all over the city; Luveve, in Mpopoma, Pelandaba West, Nkulumane, Cowdray Park, Matshobane and in Entumbane suburbs,” said Mr Maphosa.

“Some of the pits were left by council and some by private sand companies and they have proved to be a human risk besides being a violation of environmental stewardship,” he said.

Efforts to get comment from council were fruitless as the mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni and his deputy Councillor Mlandu Ncube did not respond to phone calls.

The area’s Councillor Alderman Siboniso Khumalo said the council was working on getting resources to fill up the pits.

Some of the open pits dotted around Pumula and Cowdray Park suburbs which pose a danger of drowning to residents

He called on residents to accompany children whenever they go to fetch water from these pits to avoid such tragic accidents.

“I am pained by the loss of life which occurred within our community and sadly the only thing we can do now is warn members of the public to desist from leaving their children unattended in those areas. Resources permitting, council is going to work on closing those pits so that they don’t pose danger to our children and residents,” said Alderman Khumalo.

“We are in a water crisis and we understand that residents are making use of the water in those pits for watering their gardens, toilets and for washing. Therefore, they need to exercise extreme caution and ensure they do not let their children go unattended or unguided to save lives,” she said. The Chronicle