All over the world, graveyards or cemeteries are sacred.
They are serene and shielded from the public by hedges and precast concrete walls, giving them an aura that is both melancholic and sombre.
This has resulted in most people respecting graveyards.
However, this is not the case in Hopley and Epworth where water abstractors and sand poachers have invaded cemeteries and desecrated some graves as they chase the dollar.
In Hopley, some residents have invaded Granville Cemetery where they dug shallow wells from which they draw water and sell it to people living in area 4, 5 and 6 for $1,50 a bucket.
“Today I am allowing people to draw water for free because it rained yesterday, so the water is dirty and I cannot charge them for dirty water.
“I only charge for clean water,” he said.
He said he was forced to encroach into a section of the graveyard because wells within Hopley settlement had dried up.
“As you can see, this is a wetland, so I knew that if I dug a well here I would get water and I have been selling water from this well for over a year now,” he said.
Mr Masinjara said on average, he gets 80 to 100 clients per day.
“I have been helping a lot of people since August. Initially, the idea was to use it to water my garden here (that is less than five metres from another section of graves), but now I charge people $1 to $1,50 per bucket or one can just bring a cigarette,” he said.
One of the Area 6 residents, Mrs Sarah Tichagarika said circumstances have forced them to use such water, although it exposes them to water-borne diseases and other issues.
“As you can see, our homes are less than 10 metres from the graves, but our wells dried up a long time ago. This has compelled us to fetch water from these shallow wells despite the water being unsafe.
“Due to this situation, our area is now prone to a lot of water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and bilharzia, especially during this rainy season,” she said.
The situation in Epworth is particularly dire as sand poachers have dug deep pits in a graveyard located in Zenyengere area from which they are extracting sand for their brick moulding businesses adjacent to the cemetery.
Residents and the industrial companies have in turn also used some of the disused pits as dumpsites for their waste.
A number of graves have since been destroyed by the land poachers while other graves are being used as a dumping ground for scrap material. Both Hopley and Epworth have haphazard settlements areas that are yet to be regularised by the Harare City Council and the Epworth Local Board.
In an interview, Epworth Local Board chief executive Mr Wilton Mhanda said they were seized with the matter and will address it soon.
“We are seized with the matter and we are aware that we need to restore sanity.
“We have been trying to deal with people that come to dump waste at that graveyard. However, our efforts are limited because our Acts have not yet been approved by the Government and we are only relying on the EMA Act,” he said.
He added that the plan is to relocate the residents that are on the edge of the graveyard.
The board’s chairman Councillor Batanai Masunda said they have requested for a dumping site and were waiting for a response form EMA.
Efforts to get a comment from EMA officials were fruitless as their phones went unanswered by the time of going to the print.