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MPs Witness Sewage “Horror”

In tour of Harare suburbs, parliamtarians shocked to see raw sewage flowing in front of locals’ houses.
By Mike Nyoni
Zimbabwe’s state-owned Herald newspaper this week ran a huge colour picture on its front page with the caption, “Legislators and senators looking at flowing raw sewage during a joint tour of the parliamentary portfolio committees of local government and health and child welfare in Budirirro, Harare….”

Next to the picture was a report that the water utility, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, ZINWA, had sharply increased water penalties for domestic consumers who use more than 20 cubic metres a month, with the additional revenue to be used for development and maintenance of existing infrastructure.

The painful irony for most Zimbabweans is that water is never available on demand. In the capital, Harare, posh northern suburbs can go for three days without water. This month they went for two weeks without electricity as well.

Despite the dire water and sewage problems, widespread shortages of fuel and basic food stuffs and skyrocketing inflation at around 8,000 per cent, the ruling party is focusing on the forthcoming special congress to select a candidate - or simply endorse President Robert Mugabe, many believe - to represent ZANU-PF in the presidential election scheduled for March next year.

In the second city of Bulawayo, 450 kilometres west of Harare, the local authority has imposed stringent water rationing measures in poor townships, allowing residents supplies for a few hours every three days. Those fortunate enough to have boreholes sell water to people desperate for the precious commodity.

Back in Harare, Deputy Minister for Water Resources and Infrastructural Development Walter Mzembi warned of the health hazards posed by the lack of constant supplies in poor residential areas and council clinics. During a tour of Highfield, Glen View, Budiriro and Chitungwiza southwest of Harare, members of parliament reported a sharp rise in cases of water-related ailments such as diarrhoea.

Residents complained of high water bills despite going for days on end with no water in their taps; and of sewage flowing in front of their houses, posing a threat to the health of their families.

Mzembi attributed water shortages partly to the failure by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, ZESA, to provide power. “As you know, no power means no pumping [of water] so we are holding meetings with the ministry [responsible for power distribution] to spare areas with water pumps [from power cuts],” Mzembi told Chitungwiza residents during the October 23 tour by parliamentarians.

He said the government was setting up a framework which would put residents “at the centre of water management systems” in the country so that they could appreciate the problems ZINWA was facing.

Unfortunately, that is not what the residents and ratepayers in the country’s major cities where water distribution and the sewage system have been taken over by ZINWA want. They say this has pushed them out of the equation.

Previously, residents and ratepayers elected representatives to local government in the form of ward councilors. In this way, they were able to periodically express their support or disapproval through biennial elections. But government has removed these institutions and replaced them with a state company which is seen to represent the interests of government, not those of ratepayers. ZINWA has neither their support nor their sympathy, so they are not interested in its problems.

In his latest monetary statement on October 1, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono allocated a staggering 14 trillion Zimbabwe dollars (approximately 14 million US dollars) to ZINWA to refurbish major waterworks across the country and improve the sewage system. So far there has been no noticeable change, as the touring MPs discovered on their tour.

The front page picture in the Herald didn’t tell the full story, or the horror that the parliamentarians felt when they came face-to-face for the first time with what for most poor residents has become a “normal” life. None of the daily reports in the official media had prepared them for the degree of squalor they saw.

Anthony Mapurisa in Highfield told the MPs he had been living with the stench of the raw sewage flowing close to his house for a whole month. Another said he had been doing so for the past three months. As the residents spoke, the smell of the sewage flowing in front of the shocked MPs was so overpowering that one reportedly vomited.

Mike Nyoni is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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