Innocent Ruwende Senior Reporter—
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) is investigating whether or not Harare City Council’s poor service delivery caused gross violations of residents’ rights, resulting in a typhoid outbreak which claimed two lives and left 150 people hospitalised.
The City of Harare has been under MDC-T-led councils since the turn of the millennium and the indifference of the city fathers has manifested in unplanned settlements, deteriorating service delivery and the kombi and vendor menace, all of which have been touted as ticking time bombs by urban planners.
The MDC-T-led council is also being investigated for “unplanned” allocation of residential stands on unsuitable land, leading to flooding and loss of property, as well as the Pomona dumpsite smog incident that poisoned the atmosphere for weeks.
The commission, which has since started interviewing residents, has said it will also engage Government and council to ensure the rights of citizens, including environmental and health rights, are protected.
Speaking at a meeting with civic society and the Combined Harare Residents Association, ZHRC chairperson Mr Elasto Mugwadi said: “There is an issue of accountability. When you elect the city fathers, you expect them to deliver. We have to conscientise the city fathers of their responsibilities. In other countries, diseases like typhoid no longer exist.
“Are we doing enough to get rid of such diseases? The commission will be meeting with Health and Child Care Minister (Dr David Parirenyatwa), the city fathers and Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister (Cde Saviour Kasukuwere) to make sure that our findings are addressed.”
In a statement, ZHRC said it noted with concern that local authorities were not adhering to Section 168 of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15), and Sections 57 to 59 of the Environment Management Act (Chapter 20:27) that compel them to work on the construction and maintenance of proper sewer and drainage systems.
“This has resulted in blockage of the urban drainage systems and overflowing of effluent, worsened by the current rains. Burst sewer pipes, and overflowing effluent resulting in unsafe water and poor sanitation are an affront to the enjoyment of the rights to a safe environment and to health by residents. In Harare, uncollected refuse has become breeding ground for disease,” said ZHRC.
The Commission said the reported cases of typhoid were in Harare’s Mbare, Budiriro and Glenview suburbs.
It said this had further compounded the infringement of citizens’ right to a clean and healthly environment, which is harmful to their health, and that infringement to the right to health in turn infringes on the citizens’ right to life.
The city’s health director, Dr Prosper Chonzi, is on record admitting that poor service delivery was the key driver of the typhoid outbreak. The ZHRC also castigated the allocation of residential and commercial stands on unsuitable land, as this has led to floods in areas like Mbare.
Council recently acknowledged that it did not plan properly for the construction of a shopping mall in Mbare, resulting in flooding of homes. A fire in Pomona, the capital’s largest dumpsite, last year made life a living hell for residents in the leafy suburbs of Borrowdale and Marlborough. Smog that engulfed the area forced some residents to temporalily leave their homes.
Combined Harare Residents Association director Mr Mfundo Mlilo said civic society believes that ZHRC has a role to play to make Harare City Council account for deaths caused by typhoid.
“We met as civic society organisations over the typhoid outbreak which has become a perennial problem. People have come to accept that this is normal and no-one talks about the deaths. One of or resolutions was to involve state actors like ZHRC,” he said.
Other organisations, including the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights and Chitungwiza Residents Trust also implored the ZHRC to act on the decline of service delivery in most councils.