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Candid Comment

Chickens coming home to roost

By Joram Nyathi

“NO power means no pumping. We cannot provide water when there is no power,” said Water Resources and Infrastructural Development minister Munacho M

utezo in response to the water crisis playing out in Harare and Chitungwiza. “Morton Jaffray (waterworks) should be treated like the intensive care unit by both parties.”

The implication was that Zesa Holdings and Zinwa were to blame for the water shortage.

Before that, Zinwa general manager Lisben Chipfunde had warned that Harare and Chitungwiza residents should brace themselves for a week without water. He blamed this on intermittent power supplies by Zesa Holdings. The spokesperson for the power utility, Fullard Gwasira said it was Zinwa’s responsibility to raise money for the installation of a third dedicated feeder power line to the waterworks to avoid disruptions.

“We have advised them of the costs involved and we are awaiting their response as regards the way forward,” said Gwasira.

This was a week when Zesa power outages were more frequent and longer than previous load-sheddings; Chihota villagers in Mashonaland East announced that they were using raw human waste as manure because there is no fertiliser on the formal market or they can’t afford it; and a consultant in water and sanitation advised urban councils to “relax sanitation bylaws” and allow residents to build pit latrines on their premises to cater for emergencies caused by frequent water shortage.

It was a week when the two-month-old cash crisis became most manifest as parents scrambled to pay school fees, buy uniforms and groceries for their children, and provide bus-fares. It was a week when everything that could go wrong chose to go wrong.

Bad policies have become the hallmark of the Zanu PF government. For years the people of Zimbabwe have endured arrogant incompetence masquerading as policy. Food shortages have become synonymous with every agricultural season while the fuel shortage has become a way of life. Nobody seems to have a solution beyond defending the revolution.

But never did I imagine that it would get to this despicable depth where we would use human excreta as fertiliser when five years ago we had companies which could support the whole farming sector. Nor did I imagine it possible that as a health precaution, we would be advised to revert to the bucket toilet system and pit latrines in what should be a modern capital city.

Lack of clean water has already claimed a few lives from waterborne diseases. While some Harare residents may be alarmed by the inconvenience of a week without water, residents of Tafara and Mabvuku have gone for more than a year without potable water. In the main, Bulawayo residents have given up hope of central government coming to their rescue, hence their demand for a federal system which will allow them to sort out their priorities.

Self-important state apologists attribute these grave grievances to imperialist influences. Perhaps the same imperialists are recommending pit latrines for Harare and Chitungwiza to undermine the revolution. The effrontery of it is staggering.

The real problem is that everyone in authority is in denial. Zesa says it is not our fault. Zinwa says it is not our fault. And the ratepayers are left high, dry and in the dark as the blame game assumes a life of its own.

In a way, Zinwa has a point in denying culpability. In taking over the supply of bulk in urban areas, it was fulfilling a cabinet directive, so we are told. It has never claimed any competence in this field. When they say they are not to be blame, in their ambiguity they are blaming those who issued the directive.

Every month they are happy to announce the latest city or town where they have taken over the role of supplying water. It doesn’t mean they will supply any. And service delivery has deteriorated sharply since Zinwa took over that unenviable task from Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo’s commissions. Not that they were any better, having themselves been imposed on urban ratepayers to spite freely-elected MDC councillors.

What is evident from this convergence of crises is that government has never learnt to plan and formulate any workable policies in anticipation of growing urban populations. While it has built token housing projects in addition to those inherited from the colonial era, there is no evidence of a conscious effort to expand infrastructure in the form of new dams and electricity generation.

For some strange reason, it was hoped that through the disastrous Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 government could kill two birds with one stone: lessen the strain on urban infrastructure by reducing overcrowding in the townships, and defuse a political time-bomb by chasing the lumpen proletariat into remote communal lands away from the MDC influence. This has not worked.

The long and short of it is that the entire government administrative system is in the intensive care unit. The chickens are coming home to roost.

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