Mzembi’s call in the wilderness

THE deputy Minister of Water Resources and Infrastructural Development Walter Mzembi says government is working on a “framework allowing residents and ratepayers to be directly involved in the m

anagement of water” so that they appreciate the problems faced by Zinwa.

“What is critical is a buy-in from residents and it should not take the whole minister to come down to residents and explain to them on water delivery but they should be asking among themselves through their representatives,” he told residents of Chitungwiza during a tour of the suburb by a joint parliamentary portfolio committee on Local Government, Public Works, Urban Development and Health.

As we read this, we were reminded of equally plaintive calls by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono for an end to further farm invasions if the nation is to achieve food self-sufficiency. They have fallen on the deaf ears of those in charge of the Zimbabwean ship of state. We don’t expect Mzembi to fare any better given government’s voracious appetite to have its fingers in every pie.

As if to confirm this gloomy forecast, instead of listening to objections by Bulawayo residents to Zinwa taking over water delivery and sewage reticulation in the city, government has issued a “directive” for a forced takeover, according to a press release by the Bulawayo council. This is despite overwhelming failure by this imposition to provide adequate services in all the other cities where it has taken over such as Harare, Mutare, Masvingo,Victoria Falls, Kariba, Chinhoyi and Bindura.

Explaining the implications of the takeover, Bulawayo executive mayor Japhet Ndabeni Ncube said council would lose 40% of its revenue to Zinwa without a concomitant assurance of improved service delivery. He said people had no faith in the parastatal’s capacity to reverse a crippling water crisis in the city for the past few months.

The evidence is there for all to see, but that is really not the point. What government is interested in is money as demonstrated in the latest rates increases for water even as residents go for up to two weeks on end without a drop of water from their faucets.

Mzembi warned of disease outbreaks in high density suburbs which have gone without water for a number of weeks. Hospitals and clinics have been badly affected as well, with most of them reporting a rise in cases of diarrhoeal outbreaks.

But the tour by the parliamentary committee must have been the proverbial eye-opener for some MPs who have been leading cocooned lives from the rest of us ordinary mortals. One MP is reported to have ended the tour prematurely after being sick when she witnessed raw sewer flowing in front of residents’ houses.

One Chitungwiza resident said the raw sewage had been flowing in front of his house for at least three months. Zinwa took over these functions nearly a year ago from commissions imposed by Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo who had unilaterally fired popularly-elected MDC councillors.

This then begs the question as to where Mzembi is getting the latest fable that government wants residents to be involved in water management through their elected representatives? That is precisely what government is fighting. It wants to impose its will everywhere, from mining to manufacturing to civic affairs.

Conversely, city residents and ratepayers are not interested in the “challenges” which Zinwa is experiencing. They did not invite it to assume their responsibility and they have no representatives in its structures. Given the option by a government concerned about people’s opinions, they would rather revert to elected councillors and mayors who would be accountable to those who elect them.

The essence of democracy is that you choose those who rule over you. You vote them out when they fail to deliver on their promises. Decentralisation of power to local authorities calls for no less. Yet in Zimbabwe you have the archetypal power-mongers who will not brook the formation of something as basic as an independent ratepayers’ association so long as it is perceived as a possible power base for opposition politics.

We would all love to be optimistic and believe that Mzembi is correct about this framework which includes all stakeholders in water management. Unfortunately the Zanu PF government’s behaviour over the years has not prepared us for such naïve optimism so long as there is a threat to its hold on power.

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