City council defies High Court order…continues water disconnections … risks contempt of court charges

Mrs Mary Munetsi (81) of Highfield, Harare, wakes up to a dry tap after Harare City Council disconnected water supply at her house for non-payment of the water bill yesterday. The High Court recently ruled that municipalities must not disconnect supplies without a court order. —(Picture by William Mafunga)

Mrs Mary Munetsi (81) of Highfield, Harare, wakes up to a dry tap after Harare City Council disconnected water supply at her house for non-payment of the water bill yesterday. The High Court recently ruled that municipalities must not disconnect supplies without a court order. —(Picture by William Mafunga)

Fidelis Munyoro and Farai Kuvirimirwa
Harare City Council risks being charged with contempt of court for disconnecting water to defaulting residents despite last week’s High Court decision declaring the practice unconstitutional and compelling all municipalities to seek court orders before cutting supplies.
Council staff were yesterday disconnecting water to defaulters in Tynwald, Highfield, Glen Norah, Budiriro and Westgate.
Legal experts warned that council officials could soon be cited for contempt of court.

Justice Chinembiri Bhunu’s landmark ruling described Section 8 of the Water By-law Statutory Instrument 164 of 1913, which empowers local authorities to arbitrarily cut water supplies, as unconstitutional.

This was after lawyer Mr Farai Mushoriwa contested disconnection of water to his Harare home.
The section in question reads: “Council may, by giving 24 hours notice in writing and without prejudicing its right to obtain payment for water supply to its consumer, disconnect supplies to the consumer: (a) If he shall have failed to pay any sum, which in the opinion of the council, is due under these conditions or the water by-laws.”

Justice Bhunu said the by-law breached Section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which classifies clean water and food as basic rights. Section 44 of the same Constitution imposes a duty on State and Government institutions, like councils, to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Prominent lawyer Mr Terence Hussein said, “Council must obey court orders and if they choose not to obey a court order those who are ultimately responsible for managing council such as mayors and councilors will find out from the discomfort of a jail cell that it is not a very wise thing to do.”

Advocate Thembinkosi Magwaliba said the city was breaking the law.
“Residents have a right to clean water in terms of the Constitution. They cannot be deprived of water without the due process of the law. There is a possibility that council may be cited for contempt of court if they continue with disconnections.”

Another lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity said the council should be guided by the judgment in its conduct going forward.
“The court has spoken once and the council must hear it twice over.”

But council lawyer Mr Charles Kwaramba said: “The essence of the order given by the court was interdicting council from disconnecting Mushoriwa’s water without a court order and the judgment was specific to Mr Mushoriwa. You must note that the court did not strike down the regulation in terms of which council have been acting all this while.”

Ambuya Mary Maponga of Old Highfield told The Herald yesterday that she had asked her grandchildren to get water from an industrial sites borehole because council cut her off this week.

“I was surprised to see council workmen shutting my water when I can go for days without water. The figures they are charging do not change despite the water shortages.

“We heard they were told to stop shutting the water but we tried to ask the people who came, and they said it was an order from their offices and not the courts.
“We are now using a borehole in the industrial areas where it is risky for my grandchildren to cross the busy Willowvale Road,” she said.

Richard Munetsi said Government should intervene to assist the residents who have resorted to using contaminated water for domestic use.
Mrs Mabel Magura of Westgate, who has a borehole, said her water was disconnected over a US$400 debt.

“There is no water most of the times and we drilled a borehole to help ourselves. The bills unjustifiably increase and we paid the fixed charge but there was no difference.

“They disconnected our water and threatened to disconnect the pipes from the main line if we were to connect it,” she said.
Mrs Felistas Mukangiro of Budiriro 1 said they had gone three months without water but received bills showing monthly consumption.

“Our neighbours get water but we get nothing and we dug a well which is assisting us at the moment,” she said.
Harare Mayor Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni said residents should pay for services.

“Residents should pay for the water they use and that is when they can be assured of it. We are there to observe the law and we will try to comply but we need money for us to avail more water.

“I am not aware that there have been subsequent disconnections after the (court) ruling. I can get further advice about the issue on Monday after getting full understanding of the ruling and the actual position from the management,” said Cllr Manyenyeni.

Local authorities countrywide have been using water disconnections to force residents to pay overdue bills.

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  • Jambanja paSalisbury

    No services can be provided for free where such services cost money to deliver! The learned judge erred, because he did not cite the party that bears responsibility to provide water resources for free, Gvt or Councils! The judgment needs to be revisited. Hameno……Cry the Beloved Country inemitemo iri anti-development! “User pay principle” ensures development, where users cannot pay, Gvt subsidises or pays the bill!

  • L Makombe

    Which taps are disconnecting when most of Harare has been without water for months. Council disconnecting residents because of rates arrears and water usage, that is the fact. We are being short changed by the Council, because the taps have been dry for months in most areas, refuse has not been collected, roads have pit holes. You now find better roads in rural areas than in the so called medium or low density areas. Council is fleecing residents and I challenge the mayor who is a practising Christian to stop this thieving and day light robbery. Mayor Manyenyeni, do not give the Anglican Church a bad picture. Reign in your workers so that you charge and collect what is due to you. You have abandoned service delivery and now concentrate of collecting what is not due to you. Minister Chombo where are you?

  • Matternich

    With the greatest respect,the learned colleague acting for and on behalf of Council and intepreting the wise judgment of Justice Bhunu is errant.A constitutional challenge by a person or persons in a certain class automatically stands for each and every and all other persons in that same class though it may not be cited so and is actually not cited so.The constitution was written for the citizenry and any provision of any law or by-law offending its tenets offend all the citizenry affected.The situation that the learned colleague by his faulty statement envisages is patently and latently impossible of consistence with mere common sense.It follows that every one affected by the Council’s arbitrary action of cutting water supply must individually approach the Court for the Court at the end of each adjudction in ten thousand strikingly similar cases ,to arrive at ten thousand strikingly similar conclusion.That cannot ,may not,will not and shall not be supportable neither supported.That interpretation invites the abuse of the court and the abuse of the court invites strongest censure.

    • ma1

      you seem to be brainless

  • Citizen of Harare

    Please people lets pay for the ‘good’ services we get from city council i.e
    Unclean water not suitable for human consumption
    Uncollected bins from our homes
    Unattended sewage bursts
    Dry tapes in some suburbs
    For driving through potholes in all locations
    Not working street lights
    Not working public toilet
    And so many other necessary services which are now not available.Dai zvavo vati pay so that they can be able to SERVICE THEIR HUGE SALARIES WE, gvt should slush these bills again

  • hondo

    Does this means water is for free, or someone will pay for those with areas. surely this country has gone to the dogs, uku ndikwo kuiurayanyika. The person who gave this judgement does he know that chemicals used for the treatment of water are not for free, electricity, repairs, machinery used to pump the water, i think and strngly think this can be challenged, ndiyo cholera.

    People who give these gudgements have boreholes in their houses.

    Ko department racho reharare water how will it be sustained. Even unkarasa chitupa chaicho u have to pay ten dollars for replacememt of such pure public goods.

    Pamberi nekuponda nyika

  • Winds off Change

    They are good at disconnecting but supplying to other areas like Hatfield, Paradise Guardens area tsvo. These areas last saw running water in 2011 but still being charged minimum water charges. Is this fare? I pai vanhu mvura yamunotinyima. Mabvuku hatichatauri. Iyo ineropa rinobva ku Funeral Parlour ndiyo yamunonyima vanhu here. Haaaaaaaaa ibvai apa.

  • succuba

    So much for the rule of law in Zimbabwe…. and the new constitution cost millions to produce and not worth the paper it is printed on.

    Cry my beloved Zimbabwe

  • Kamuzubanda

    In all fairness you have to pay for services you receive but but but also the service provider should provide the services at all times with quality and quantity, which is not in this case. Let’s looks at the billing system through out the year is assessed, the quality of water coming through is questionable, the supply is not continues, they system at Rowan Martin when you go to enquiry greets you with long Q. It’s not just about recovering payments due , it’s also about quality service providing to your customers.