Harare’s ticking health time bomb

Every day at lunchtime I scramble for a dollar to get a ‘fulfilling’ plate of sadza, and I do consider myself fortunate enough to get three meals a day. For many people lunch is a luxury, so worrying about the quality of the food I eat is not really on the top of my priority list.

The need to eat often trumps concerns about the health implications of the consumed food items, at least to my experience.

The need to eat often trumps concerns about the health implications

Living in a city where many throng for opportunities, and none are available, has made me grateful simply to have my stomach full. I just have to have faith that God will keep me safe from any sickness or diseases I may come across.

Open air ‘restaurants’

At lunchtime, I walk over a kilometer from my workspace on First Street to Eight Street, where I get ‘real value for my money’. The restaurant, if I could call it that, is open air, with only roofing shades as sole sanctuary from the elements.  Open fire rages from the braai stands, large logs of indigenous trees heating up the huge pots and pans.

I rush to get ahead of the long winding queues of people who are in the same situation with me.

A stone’s throw away from the cooking place is a car wash, while a garage lies on the other side.  Both are within a hazardous reach of disaster if fire were to spread.

Flowing dirty water is a normal sight, as people wash their hands at a tap that is not hooked to proper drainage.

No class distinction here

The only beauty at the spot is the people, not the sweaty cooks, but the smartly dressed patrons who stand waiting for their chance to be served.

Most of the people are neatly dressed in ties and suits in place, showing off their ‘executive’ nature. Uniformed police officers are a normal site, whether they pay for their food or not remains a mystery.

High turnover

On the menu list is sadza/ rice with beef stew, chicken livers or gizzards, and roasted t-bone steak, all starting from a dollar per plate. This is the cheapest you can ever get in Harare.

The “restaurant” is famous for its t-bone, deep fried steak that redefines the term carte de la menu. The relish which relies on deep frying, is dipped in cooking oil while you wait, not for the art of it, but because of the pressure, as high volumes of people await their turn.

I’d say over 150 people are just during the lunch hour. The meat is not coveted for its preparation, but for its quantity; three palm size large chunks that will definitely fill you up.

Wherever they are getting the meat has to be a mystery market that is not aware of the current pricing.

This is just one of the best places you can score a cheap lunch in the once vibrant and productive capital. It’s one of the many shady backyard restaurants that has invaded the Avenues areas and buildings, both within the central business district and its outskirts, taking advantage of the economy that fails to accommodate a steady income.

Cholera, typhoid

Not so long ago, the city was hard hit by cholera and typhoid, diseases that can easily spread through the ideal conditions at the eating spots. The City Council seems to be turning a blind eye while the council police and ZRP officers fatten their pockets from bribes from the restaurant owners, but it seems people are quick to forget.

The restaurant owners’ excuse is the high licensing fees, high cost of implementing health and environmental standards that restricts them from operating proper businesses.

Most of the restaurants are operated by unemployed women who are just trying to feed their families.

Basic rights

Article 4.34 (b)  of  Zimbabwe’s constitution stipulates that ‘every person has the right to sufficient food; and the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.’

As we stand as a nation, with economic hardships, hunger and starvation are at their great heights.

We are at that point were most people are just grateful to score a meal or two a day, without questioning much on the dietary or health implications of what they eat.


Kundai is a 25 year old freelance journalist with a five year working experience writing for different Zimbabwean newspapers including NewsDay, Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, The Zimbabwean, The Public Servant, Flame News, Suburban News and Harare News. As a Staff Writer at Harare News he won the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust’s (Yett) Youth Voices Award for 2014 Male Journalist of the Year.

He is the founder and Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Arts Journalists Association (ZAJA), a not for profit organization that seeks to improve arts news content through promotion of freedom of speech and objectivity in art and culture journalism. In line with this vision, he has also set up a news website (www.spiked.co.zw) together with some colleagues.