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Editor’s Memo

Zinwa stretching our patience

By Vincent Kahiya

SOME time ago I made it my business to call the then Harare town clerk Nomutsa Chideya whenever I spotted water leaks in Harare. Despit

e Chideya’s weaknesses — perceived and real ones — he often responded positively to the calls — in some instances visiting the trouble spots personally before ensuring that repairs were carried out expeditiously.

Two cases stand out; one close to our office where a burst pipe was sending up a three-metre high fountain into the air. The leak was attended to and fixed within an hour.

Then there was one of the largest water leaks in the capital between Sunningdale and Prospect along Cranborne Avenue where hundreds of litres of water were being lost every minute from a damaged valve on a huge pipeline connecting the east and south western suburbs. The wake up call to Chideya on a Friday afternoon brought a large team to repair the leak the next day. They managed to plug the hole but only very temporarily.

This week large amounts of water were gushing from the pipe but the water Tsars Zinwa appear uninterested in repairing the water loss.

I have called Zinwa to complain about the problem they already know about. There is a standard answer: “We are aware of the problem and our engineers will be at the site as soon as we get the replacement valve and diesel…”

The current bunch of hopeless technocrats at Zinwa is not responsive to what should be their core business. They have an excuse for every one of their failures which have become a national crisis as the authority continues to grab water reticulation infrastructure in urban areas and at rural service centres.

Chideya, despite his said lassitude was a bullet train compared to the glacial slothfulness of Zinwa. This has come at a huge cost because all the treated water gushing from broken pipes and antiquated ancillary infrastructure is paid for by residents. A friend has revealed to me that we are all being made to pay for Zinwa’s inefficiency.

Water going to various residential areas is metered and its value is recovered at the end of each billing period. If the sum total of individual households’ water usage in a particular area is less than the water pumped into the area, the difference is divided and factored into the bills.

This partly explains why consumers who do not have water for extended periods are at the end of each month saddled with monstrous water bills.

This is the same Zinwa that has applied to government for intermittent water charges hikes in the name of recovering costs. The greatest cost factor on its books should however be its demonstrable failure to carry out the simple task of plugging holes in its system.

I recall a study commissioned by the Harare City Council in 1995 in which it contracted a UK firm, Biwater, to carry out an audit on the city’s pipeline network. The results of the study were staggering. The city was losing at least 50% of its treated water through leaks.

Considering the deterioration of service at the moment under the stewardship of Zinwa, I can only surmise that the city is losing more water now largely due to the ineptitude of Zinwa which has made water an expensive commodity and not a basic need.

It appears not to bother Zinwa at all that residents at rural service centres such as Murewa and Mutoko are paying water vendors $50 000 for a 20-litre container of untreated water yet the same residents receive huge water bills every month. At these service centres residents cannot even demonstrate against Zinwa’s incompetence because the parastatal is ring-fenced by powerful political arms of the state and ruling party.

But it must be noted that requesting that water be part of one’s daily life — whether one has money or not — is not an unreasonable demand. Water is not a luxury but a need. It’s a basic human right which millions of Zimbabweans are being denied by political leaders who do not appear to care about the impact of their actions.

Water minister Munacho Mutezo and his cohorts at Zinwa should be told that they represent a clear and present danger to investment and housing projects which have stalled due to the unavailability of water.

I am always intrigued by Water ministry and Zinwa officials’ love for cameras to capture them standing next to leaking pipes and sewerage ponds in the townships as if that would endear them to the suffering residents.

One phenomenon that the crisis in this country has created is forced patience in queues for everything. Zinwa officials believe we should be patient with effluent in the backyard. Never! In Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe advised: “Let us not reason like cowards… If a man comes into my hut and defecates on the floor what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? No! I take a stick and break his head. This is what a man does.”

Zinwa: Be warned.

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