Runyararo Muzavazi Feature Writer
The decision by the Harare City Council to cut water supplies to non-paying residents has angered most people in the city who are bitter over poor service delivery, particularly uncollected garbage and non-availability of water in parts of the capital.
The city council announced the measures recently to force residents to pay bills after companies which supply water chemicals to the local authority notified it they would soon stop supplies over a $7 million debt. In this see-saw battle, the council argues that defaulters who owe the city some $700 million have hampered efforts to improve service delivery while residents complain bitterly over huge mounds of uncollected garbage, poor roads, lighting and lack of water.
Residents say the council has not collected trash from their homes for two months and cutting water is adding salt to injury. “The council is violating our rights as residents. We are not happy about this move,” says Anna Gwashiti of Mabvuku, a suburb on the eastern part of the capital.
“Water is a right and the city council cannot disconnect water without any notice or court orders. We will fight the city fathers until they improve their services.” She said moves by the city council were unlawful and violated a High Court ruling that it is unlawful for Harare City Council to disconnect water to defaulting residents and businesses.
Another resident, Blantina Zirewu from Highfield, concurs: “City council has been taking advantage of our silence as residents. We pay rates yet there is no service. What they now need are demonstrations so that we force them into action.” Lovender Chakanetsa of Greystone Park is angry too.
“All these years I have been paying my bills despite the fact that we last got water here in 2008,” she says. “I wonder why they are hiding behind the fact that they are in arrears with chemical suppliers and others. In my case, I’m paying my rates but there is no service I’m getting from council. We have no water and garbage is not being collected.”
Chengetai Mupandawana of Greendale says piles of uncollected rubbish are now a public health risk. “Rubbish is not being collected. It’s now two months and no garbage truck is coming here,” she says. “There was never a time when I didn’t pay my dues but I suffer because council is not doing its job. Sooner or later I will stop paying because I don’t see the significance of having a council when it’s not effective in its duties.” Zvamaida Muchenje of Borrowdale is frustrated too.
“Council still has the audacity to speak of water disconnections when we incur expenses every day because of their poor services. “I ended up installing tanks at my house because there was never a day I used council water and because of this I have stopped paying rates.
“Trucks rarely come to collect refuse now, so why do we have to pay?” Harare has lost its “Sunshine” appeal. Uncollected garbage is strewn across many streets and sidewalks in the capital, showing the inefficiency of the city’s waste collection system that has become a sore point for residents. Mountains of garbage in most parts Harare have saturated the city’s landfills and open spaces due to poor and substandard collection service by the council.
With poor service delivery, residents have had little option but to dump trash and residue in open spaces close to their homes. Environmentalist say the generation of solid waste, such as plastics, textiles, glass, metals and food has been rising over the years as the council fails to collect garbage due to lack of trucks, manpower and innovative in collection methods.
Water supplies have been erratic with northern and eastern suburbs going without water for years. Poor residents now rely on water from unprotected wells which expose them to water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid. Affluent residents have been forced to erect water tanks and in some cases, they have had to patch up potholes on their roads.
Harare Residents Trust leader, Precious Shumba lashed out at the council’s misplaced priorities. “Their attitude is hostile to the social service delivery needs of the citizens. Refuse collection is erratic, and some communities have not had refuse collection in more than three months,” he says.
“Water disconnections are illegal. The High Court in case HC4266/ 13 ruled that the City of Harare cannot resort to self-help by disconnecting water of defaulters without securing a court order.
“Residents are urged to demand a court order from the City of Harare before they allow them to disconnect their water connections.” The ratepayers’ lobbyist says the council has failed to account for the revenue generated from fixed and consumption water charges leading to the crisis.
“The massive corruption and abuse of water revenue reported in the department of Harare Water indicate that there is rampant abuse of water revenue funds through fuel theft,” Shumba says. Combined Harare Residents Association, lobbyist, Simbarashe Moyo says water disconnections will be a disaster.
“The City of Harare is creating a health time bomb by increasing water disconnections,” he says. “The country is going through a difficult economic patch and this has drastically impacted on our capacity to religiously pay our dues. Unless this is addressed, we will continue to have such problems.” Moyo feels there are no easy answers to Harare service delivery woes.
“It is then discouraging to disconnect even those who are paying something into the coffers of the city. The end game is that residents will soon boycott payment of rates in light of the poor services we are getting from the municipality,” he says. Community Working Group on Health, activist, Itai Rusike says the impact of water disconnections could be severe.
“Access to safe water, safe sanitation and hygiene waste disposal is fundamental to health,” he says. “There has been significant decline in the quality of urban sanitation. Sewer blockages and dysfunctional wastewater treatment plants are on the rise while water supplies are also intermittent and of poor quality.
“People are drinking contaminated water from shallow, unprotected wells and defecating outdoors, violating their right to water and sanitation and raising the risk of disease.” All this, he says, is violation of the people’s rights to safe, clean and portable water.
But council spokesman, Michael Chideme thinks differently. “Disconnections are targeting households where bills are not paid,” he says. “We want to force them to settle their debts. “We are not punishing ratepayers who are compliant. They will continue to enjoy their water supplies.”
Chideme also denies allegations that council is not collecting refuse. “We have released the new garbage collection vehicles and they are now at work,” he says. “We are expecting the situation to improve soon.” He says there is no going back on debt collectors.
The council, he says, will continue to use this route to recover debts, which he argues have seriously compromised service delivery. And, given the difficult economic circumstances facing both the council and residents, service delivery will continue to be an emotive issue until the seesaw reaches a balance of contested interest.