Landscape: Chitungwiza water crisis, an epidemic time bomb courting mass protests

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The most basic function of any municipality is to provide water for its people.

A municipal corporation has an obligation to promote the comfort, convenience, safety and happiness of its citizens — the community embraced within the corporate boundaries of that municipality.

A municipality that fails to perform this statutory and constitutional obligation of providing uncontaminated and potable water to its citizens has no justification for its existence — none at all.

The cities of Harare and Chitungwiza are in a water crisis. In the case of Chitungwiza, the unavailability of water has reached catastrophic magnitude.

What makes the situation even more tragic is that those that sit in offices that have the obligation to serve the people of this sprawling town do not have the decency to tell the people what is going on. The level of impunity is breathtaking.

Residents of Chitungwiza have now been forced to accept and live with a routine where they receive water one single day for about five hours only, usually between 22:00 hrs and 03:00 hrs — after every three weeks!

No explanation is given. Residents must just pay the usual monthly water bills without fail, even though they receive water for only five hours in a whole month.

What the people read in the Press is that Chitungwiza does not have its own water sources and depends on Harare and that council is not paying Harare for the water. There is no official explanation from council at all.

The city of Chitungwiza has been transformed into some rural community where the major household chore has become hunting for water.

Scenes of huge crowds thronging boreholes and shallow wells have become commonplace. Everywhere, men, women and children can be seen carrying an assortment of water containers on their heads, pushcarts or vehicles.

The spectacle is frightful for a populous metropolis where fears of disease outbreak have become real. Not that council authorities in this town are not aware of this problem.

The mayor, Philemon Chipiyo, lives in Unit F, very close to the single borehole serving no less than 2 000 households and where, each day, he sees multitudes looking for water from dawn to dusk.

All councillors live in the locations with the people and so do most of the city’s managers, the men and women whose obligation it is to provide citizens of Chitungwiza with water.

But, instead of focusing their attention on the critical water issue, the authorities are busy buying and fighting for cars.

The money that poor residents are paying every month for water that they never receive is being used to reward the same people that so cheat them with new expensive vehicles.

Just recently, Chitungwiza Town Council bought four top-of-the-range vehicles worth over half a million dollars for town clerk Godfrey Tanyanyiwa, who has for years been accused of all sorts of misdeeds including incompetence, corruption and fraud. The entire council’s top management has a reputation riddled with bullets of corruption.

According to Press reports, the vehicles were bought without going to tender. Tanyanyiwa who, not so long ago, wrecked a new Toyota Land Cruiser V8 in an accident that claimed several lives, got himself a similar brand new car worth a whopping $170 000.

Council splashed another $120 000 on a Toyota Prado for the director of health, Mike Simoyi, a Toyota Hilux Virgo worth $80 000 for Alfonse Tinofa, director of works, and another $80 000 on a Toyota Fortuner for the director of housing, Jemina Gumbo.

The acquisition, reportedly done at Mike Harris Toyota for cash, was against a council resolution passed on October 30 last year.

Councillors had resolved that seven utility vehicles be bought first before the luxury cars for managers could be purchased.

The managers ignored the council decision and proceeded to buy the four vehicles using money from the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) which was given to the local authority by government to fund capital projects.

Such selfish and ruinous behaviour, by people that are failing to perform the most basic task required of their offices, should not be accepted.

These are the same people that are forcing millions of people to accept that receiving water once in three weeks is normal – playing games with the lives of people while forcing them to pay for dry taps.

A local authority that fails to give its people water should be held liable for being negligent or for dereliction of duty in maintaining civic amenities.

In the event of a disease outbreak, such a council would not be absolved from being liable to pay compensation.

Water Resources Development and Management minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo is dead right to say people should not pay water bills if water is not delivered to them.

In fact, water is one commodity that could very easily and justifiably attract mass protests.