There is nothing nicer in these times of greed and want to find someone who does something really good and useful for no reward, but only because it had to be done.
And it’s verging on saintliness when the person doing it can barely afford his next meal but lays out his own hard-earned cash to do it.
Meet Munyaradzi Zowa, the patron saint of clean public toilets.
He has a small locksmith business in a little blue trolley in the dead-end lane in Avondale shopping centre, between a clothing shop and an estate agent on the west side of King George Rd.
In 2008, when all services in Zimbabwe went to hell in the billion percent inflation, the public toilet behind the trolley was vandalised. The water pipes were stolen and the toilets blocked. No-one came to fix them. People relieved themselves against the wall and dumped their rubbish there.
The filth of urine and excrement was overwhelming, but still nobody did anything, not even the well-heeled shop owners and bankers. Two years ago, Zowa had had enough. “It was terrible. The place was a health hazard.”
“I wrote a letter to the city council’s waste management department and asked them to fix the toilet,” he said. The department said it had no money, but sent plumbers to do the job. But first, he said, “I had to buy everything. Sometimes I even had to fetch them when they didn’t have transport.”
The filth was removed and the concrete floor inside and outside the toilets were washed clean, the building had gleaming new water pipes, new plastic flushing water cisterns for the open-pit toilets in the gents, and new seats in the ladies.
The council provided a permanent woman cleaner. Then Zowa welded a bright-blue painted steel fence with a gate that he locks at night to prevent another round of vandalisation. It all cost him $300 from his own pocket. The little stretch of gravel around his trolley is kept swept and tidy. If the toilet blocks, he calls the council. If they haven’t come in three days, he fetches them.
“The only way was to fix it,” he says matter–of-factly. “Where you are working, you are supposed to be clean. You see people in town doing vending, they see rubbish lying around, and they just leave it.”
When he started his project, the council asked him if wanted to make it a pay toilet or free. “I said I don’t want a pay toilet. If I was after money, people would have to pay. I did it for the community.”
The Avondale public toilet is a unisex affair for now. The only place the cleaning woman has to store her cleaning materials is in the ladies, which has to be kept locked to deter theft. So if a woman needs relief, she has to use the gents. Zowa checks first to see no men are there.
His next project is to build a steel-plated cupboard to store the cleaning material, and open the ladies again, and give women their dignity back.