LIKE a faithful “tither”, Rhoda Masawi (45) has been paying her monthly dues to Chitungwiza Municipality, fearing the likely backlash of defaulting and — in the same breath — hoping that she would witness a turnaround in the services due to her as a ratepayer.
But her hopes of access to clean, potable water and timely refuse collection have continued to fade against the municipality’s continued failure to honour its obligations to residents.
Masawi, who enjoys nursing flowers and seeing them flourish at her touch, has had to shelf that pastime. There is hardly any excess water from the taps to entertain such an indulgence.
“Water is too precious here,” the Zengeza 3 resident says. “I have been forced to dig up the lawn here (at her house) and build a concrete pavement because there is no water for the flowers and the lawn.”
Like many other women in Chitungwiza, she has had to devise unique water preservation mechanisms to ensure that the available water is used sparingly and for important tasks such as drinking and cooking.
Water for bathing and laundry is fetched from open wells, while used water is recycled for toilet use.
“There is no way I can use clean water for flushing the toilet,” the mother of three teenagers says. “That would be a waste. We have to re-use the water we would have used for laundry to flush the toilet.”
When she started living here, nearly 25 years ago, there were no such problems.
In recent years, however, those in positions of authority at the town council have been accused of spending more time at the feeding trough and not in the trenches fighting to ensure that the town is properly serviced like a civilised, modern metropolis.
Residents reduced to water scavengers
LIFE characterised by the scavenging for water and struggle to dispose of waste is now too old, too familiar a tale.
The current rainy season, however, has provided a ray of light as Masawi’s family can harvest rain water from their roof.
However, for Susan Machiri (35) of Zengeza 2, this is a privilege she cannot enjoy because she is a tenant, and has to find other ways of accessing water when the taps dry up.
“You can’t be in competition with the owner of the house in harvesting water from the rooftop. So if there is no invitation for you to share in that, you don’t do it,” she says, adding that when her own stored water runs out, she has to go searching for the precious liquid.
There is a lone borehole pump close to Zengeza 2 shopping centre — servicing thousands of residents daily — where queues are seen virtually throughout the day and night.
“This is a sorry sight,” remarks Maxwell Chapotera, a vendor at the shopping centre’s vegetable market. “Every day is like this. You see women and children fetching water.”
Chapotera is angry, he says, because he feels betrayed by the local authority which he strongly believes has been a big letdown.
He accuses those appointed to steer development in this sprawling satellite town of reneging on their duty.
The continued deterioration of services in the dormitory town, 27km south of the capital, Harare, has courted the fury of residents, who are now demanding greater accountability from the town’s authority.
It is evident that principled officials who tread the straight and narrow are desperately needed to counter head–on the multi–faceted problems plaguing the town.
For Anna Marumahoko of Unit C in Seke, it is an unforgiving life. Fear of a resurgence of the cholera outbreak that struck the town with so much venom in 2008 that it claimed at least 13 lives continues to stalk her like a shadow.
The outbreak was blamed on persistent water cuts, bursts in the sewerage system that allowed raw sewage to flow into the streets, and council’s failure to collect and dispose of domestic refuse.
“I worry about my two children,” she says pensively. “They are still young and like any other children, they enjoy playing in the streets. But that’s where the sewage flows, and they pick up things to play with at the garbage dumps.”
Following the outbreak which attracted the attention of aid agencies, several boreholes were drilled much to the relief of residents.
Today, however, most of the borehole pumps are broken down. Many residents have since drilled boreholes on their private properties without the requisite permission from council.
Perhaps hard–pressed by the mounting challenges before them, and their own failure to provide the precious resource consistently, the council has been tolerant.
“We don’t normally encourage people to drill boreholes. The water table is high, so the chances that the water could be contaminated are also high,” Chitungwiza town clerk George Makunde says.
“Drilling boreholes is also a misnomer, but because of the water problems, we just encourage people to make sure that the water (from boreholes) is used for other things and not drinking.”
Chances that the water may be contaminated by faecal matter are high.
Too many fingers in the honey pot
THE scandalous revelations emanating from the “Salarygate scandal” in Harare, where council managers and director have been pocketing between
$12 000 and $37 000 monthly salaries per individual, have seen Chitungwiza residents placing a demand on their municipality to pull open the “accounts drawers” and allow them a peek.
The Chitungwiza Progressive Residents’ Association (CHIPRA) recently gave a seven-day ultimatum for the council to release the salary schedules for all directors and management.
Although the collapse of service delivery has been largely attributed to government’s “suicidal” decision to scrap off debts owed by residents ahead of the July 31, 2013 harmonised elections, emerging realities are increasingly pointing to how managers were creaming off income that should have been poured into service delivery.
Exuberant and oft–repeated claims of low income due to non–payment of rates by residents have become a hard sell and no longer find many takers among sceptic stakeholders who have watched the council’s administration reduced into a playground for jackals.
A 2012 investigation into the operations of the municipality excavated rampant abuse of funds, with the monthly bill for management alone pegged at $299 179.
The council’s top-earning employee was reportedly taking home $31 000 monthly, excluding perks and allowances.
The managers had also reportedly awarded themselves personal loans of up to $90 000 each to buy luxury vehicles at a time the municipality claimed it had no functional refuse collection trucks. It has since been established that loans in excess of $347 000 have been given out.
At one stage, Chitungwiza Municipality was regarded as the most corrupt, with the then town clerk, Godfrey Tanyanyiwa, directing affairs in the town.
He is currently serving a three-year jail term after he was convicted of defrauding the municipality.
In January 2012, Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo appointed a team to revive the town while auditing its books, led by Manicaland administrator Fungai Mbetsa.
Three months down the line, the team was reportedly costing council thousands of dollars in salaries and allowances.
Workers threatened to embark on a strike alleging that Mbetsa was getting $26 525 in salaries and allowances per month, his deputy
$14 500 while, seven committee members were getting $13 500 each. Each member of the team got 100 litres of fuel weekly.
Mbetsa, however, denied earning that much, saying he got $12 000 as ordered by the minister and an additional $4 000.
Apparently, Chombo had directed the municipality to pay the chairperson $12 000, vice-chairperson $11 000 and committee members $10 000 per month.
At one time, the story of Chitungwiza fitted snugly into the essence of a comic soap opera, with city officials riding roughshod over a hapless population against the grim backdrop of collapsing service delivery.
Need for viable solution to the water crisis
URBAN planning experts believe that a lasting solution to Chitungwiza challenges will only be found once the town has its own water source.
At the moment, the municipality gets water from Harare, and has been struggling to settle its debts with the capital.
In September 2013, the town signed a Memorandum of Agreement with a South African firm for the construction of a dam and a new water treatment plant.
Makunde is confident dam construction will start before 2015.
“We have identified a partner from South Africa who will spearhead the project. The partnership also includes Greater Harare entering into partnership with another company which will come and construct dams and water treatment plants,” he says.
Chitungwiza has reportedly undertaken to pay $240 million needed to finance its part of the deal from money generated from water billing.
The town requires about $400 million to address the water crisis and has identified Muda Dam, 35km south of Chitungwiza along Beatrice Road, as the one to be used for the town’s water needs although it was originally meant for agricultural purposes.
Meanwhile, thousands of residents who feel hard-done by the municipality await better fortunes, but the uncertainty lingers on.