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A War that Never Ends: Inside Gwanda’s Perennial Water Woes

Without clean water coming out of their taps, residents are forced to seek unsafe water, putting their health at risk. Image by Unsplash

BY MELODY MPANDE | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JULY 26, 2022

Although water management in Gwanda town is no longer under the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, with the municipality now at the helm, residents still battle with debilitating water woes. But who is to blame?

GWANDA (The Citizen Bulletin) — Access to water is a basic human right as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and other corresponding International statutes such as the United Nations’ Resolution A/RES/64/292 on Human right to water.

But Sibongile Bhebhe, a Gwanda resident, says she is not enjoying that right as water in the town is hardly available — and whenever it is, it would be contaminated.

Bhebhe bears the brunt of the worsened water crisis as she has to travel several miles in search of the precious liquid for household consumption.

“Mere access to water is not enough. If the water is not clean, it is not safe to drink.”
Sibongile Bhebhe, as she attempts to fetch half a bucket of mud-infested water from Mtshabezi River

In Gwanda, access to water is a war that never ends.

In 2006, the central government directed all local authorities to hand over water management functions to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), a decision that was later reversed following residents’ protests.

But ZINWA continued controlling the water supply and sewer infrastructure for local authorities such as Gwanda and Beitbridge.

For over a decade, Gwanda residents blamed the water management body for the town’s water woes as the latter continued to ignore the government directive.

Gwanda residents went as far as petitioning the Parliament as well as going to court to force ZINWA to hand over water management to their Council.

But, it was only recently that ZINWA gave in to the demands, and handed over the Gwanda water treatment plant to the local authority in line with a recent central government directive which set April 1, 2022 as the deadline.

But water shortages persist, with residents saying the situation has worsened as they now go for days without the precious liquid.

When residents lobbied for the handover of the water treatment plant, they thought water shortages would be a thing of the past, but the new boss — the local Council — is proving them wrong, says Bhebhe.

“Water would go reasonably in times of ZINWA’s control of the water plant. These days we are deprived of water almost every day. It only comes for just 2 hours,” Bhebhe says.

Residents now feel the situation was better under ZINWA and argue that the local authority has no capacity to address the perennial water challenges bedeviling the Matabeleland South provincial capital.

Water reservoir...The local authority urges residents to be patient while they work on the rehabilitation of the water treatment plants. Image by The Standard

“The Council is as clueless and useless as ZINWA,” fumes Anna Phiri, another resident. “We really thought we had solved the problem and little did we know that we are creating even a bigger one.”

Phiri says the unresolved water crisis forces residents to seek alternative water sources, often unsafe, putting their health at risk of water borne diseases such as diarrhoea.

“Water has become so scarce. When it happens that it runs in the tap, it comes out smelling and dirty and obviously unsafe for drinking and cooking purposes,” she says.

Wellington Nare, a representative of Gwanda Residents Association (GRA) weighs in saying residents are suffering, and spend most of their time searching for the precious liquid.

“As residents we believe the Council has the obligation to provide water and other basic services as per the National Water Policy and the Constitution,” says Nare.

But he says maybe it is too early to blame the Council.

“Stakeholders held a meeting recently, of which the Council is still understudying the plant and its systems in partnership with ZINWA, meaning the process is still at its earliest stages,” says Nare.

Gwanda mayor Njabulo Siziba says water woes will continue haunting residents for months to come as there was a need for the rehabilitation of water treatment plants.

“A lot needs to be done, and we urge the public to be patient as everything will fall into place soon,” says Siziba.

“We announced on Tuesday (Jul. 12) that a lift pump at the plant had broken down and was taken to Bulawayo for repairs plunging the mining town into a water crisis.”

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While residents are fuming, Siziba says the mining town must celebrate having control of its water systems.

“It was long overdue, we have long hoped to have taken charge of the water systems in Gwanda by April 18, which is also Zimbabwe’s Independence Day,” says Siziba.

*Edited by Lizwe Sebatha | Reviewed & Commissioned by Divine Dube

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