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Hydro-politics depriving Bulawayo and Matebeleland of water

by Staff reporter
14 Jan 2021 at 11:56hrs | Views
MORE than a century ago in 1912, the people of Matebeleland and Bulawayo regions were promised that they will draw water from the Zambezi River, through the Matebeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP).

Every year, they have been hoping that this massive project, which will draw water from Gwayi-Shangani Dam will materialise. But it has proved to be just a hoax as Matebeleland and Bulawayo continue to suffer from incessant water shortages.

The project was mooted more than a hundred years ago during the colonial era. It was later to be adopted by the Zanu-PF led government after independence in 1980.

Despite the hope that this water project was going to be the panacea to the Matabeleland and Bulawayo's perennial water problems, the water situation in the region has further worsened and is exacerbated by the population increase in the region.

Bulawayo Water Action group secretary Khumbulani Maphosa, who is also a Coordinator for the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights has blamed the failure to complete the water project to what he termed as 'hydro-politics'.

Maphosa said in 1912, the total cost of the project was going to be 60 000 pounds only. It was expensive then.

"20 years later, the Rhodesian Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins said the country couldn't afford the 60 000 pounds needed for the project. Similar cost justification was given in the 1950s by Prime Minister Edgar Whitehead when 60 000 pounds was then proposed for the project," Maphosa said.

"Fast track it to now, we are told of progress being stalled due to lack of funding, or that the contractor has downed tools due to lack of funding," he said.

Maphosa opines that the issue of funding is now being used as a scapegoat for failure to implement the project. He says there is no excuse for getting the MZWP to its completion stage because government has ensured that similar water projects like Tokwe-Mukosi are fully implemented and well-funded.

Maphosa said, government is also showing seriousness in funding the construction of the new Parliament building at a cost of US$140 million, which means that the issue is about priorities; and the MZWP is not among the high. In his 2021 national budget statement, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube allocated $4.5 billion towards the Gwayi-Shangani Dam for its completion.

But Maphosa said the money will be gobbled up by inflation, as well as Treasury's failure to disburse the financial allocations on time, and lack of transparency in terms of disclosure of the final cost of the project.

He said the water shortages in Matebeleland and Bulawayo are now a human rights issue.

"The government needs to be held accountable both locally and internationally because the realization and fulfilment of the right to water (for portable and development use) is not only guaranteed in the Constitution of Zimbabwe but also in international laws which Zimbabwe is signatory to. Bulawayo and Matebeleland (like the rest of Zimbabwe) have a water crisis because serious leadership crisis manifesting itself in water shortages."

The human rights defender also decried the fact that people are made to pay water fees from estimated bills, which he described as 'robbing citizens of their hard earned money'. He said there is no reason why government should fail to ensure the Zambezi Water Project is completed because one of Zimbabwe's neighbours – Botswana completed a 450 kilometre Zambezi water pipeline four years ago, and are in the process of completing another 100 kilometre pipeline.

"Namibia, Egypt, and Botswana are all located in desert areas but they are able to provide their citizens with water. That is a sign of good leadership. Ours is a leadership crisis because the Victoria Falls is in the Zambezi River, but the country suffers from water problems. It is a leadership problem," he said.

Maphosa said the Zimbabwe Water Authority (Zinwa) must be disbanded as it is a failed entity which is wasting the country's resources.

"We also need to build the capacity of residents to force their elected officials to hold the executive to account over water issues.

As long as residents are not holding the government accountable, there won't be any progress.

"Right now we are told that $4.5 billion has been allocated for Gwayi – Shangani Dam. We need our councillors and MPs to establish whether it is enough, how much will be disbursed and when, as well as the project completion timelines."

He said civil society, elected representatives and citizens are to blame for failing to demand their water rights.

"Civic society and the media as the fourth estate have failed to hold politicians and government accountable. As part of agenda setting, they need to galvanise the residents to non-violently demand that this project be prioritised and completed," he said, adding that the Matebeleland Zambezi Water Project is of national priority.

National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advocacy advisor, Effie Ncube said the only reason why the Zambezi Water Project has not been fully implemented is to ensure that Matebeleland region remains marginalised.

"They know that without water Matebeleland will forever remain poor and they want it that way.

Remember water is not only essential for the day to day lives of the people but it is also a key driver of economic development.

"There is no meaningful economic activity that can take place without adequate water supply. Very little resources have been channelled towards the start and completion of the project. It is all talk, yet there is no budgetary action. The little that has been directed to the project is only enough for a few boreholes, not a project of the size and complexity that the Zambezi Water Project is," Ncube said.

He said the water problems in Matebeleland and Bulawayo regions will result in food insecurity, lack of jobs and poverty, and diseases such as cholera and dysentery.
Ncube said dealing with pandemics like COVID-19 will be impossible without water.

"Zanu-PF doesn't care and will never care. Therefore if people want to see the Zambezi Water Project coming to fruition they must vote Zanu-PF out of power," he said.

Ncube said the water pipes were also too old, and needed refurbishment, adding that this requires political will.

"We need to put aside tens or hundreds of millions of US dollars every financial year, and to ensure we have the right people winning the tenders, not the usual political crooks that are milking the country dry."

The consumer rights activist said at its completion, the Zambezi Water Project should have canals and pipelines connecting to Binga and even Beitbridge.

Matebeleland North Provincial Affairs Minister Richard Moyo who is also the Zanu-PF Provincial Chairman dismissed the claims that the ruling Zanu-PF government is to blame for the project delays.

He claimed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa's new dispensation constructed the Gwayi-Shangani Dam to 40% completion a few years after coming into power.

"Remember that the Zambezi Water project was started over one hundred years ago, but also take note that the first brick of the project was laid by the new dispensation. Maybe the old dispensation can be blamed for the delays. We expect the project to be complete by end of this year," Moyo said.

He said the project had been stalled by the COVID-19 lockdown regulations which forced the contractor to cease operations and go back to China.

"If not for the lockdown, they would have completed it by now."

Moyo said the government released US$58 million, $200 million and $600 million towards the construction of the project, bringing the whole funding to $800 million and US$58 million.

But the Matebeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT) chairman Richard Ndlovu said the delays in the completion of the project were due to shortage of funds.

"The political leadership has realised the importance of the project to the region and the country at large in terms of economy.

"The delays might have been due to politics in the past, but now it's beyond that. The new dispensation is committed to complete the project. Mnangagwa is a listening president. In two years time I see this project being completed," Moyo said.

In 2018, MZWT chief executive Sarah Ndhlovu revealed that US$2 billion is needed to complete the phase linking Bulawayo to the Zambezi, including the Gwayi-Shangani Dam.

The government involved MZWT in the adjudication process of appointing the contractor, China International Water and Electric (CWE), which Ndhlovu said has been on site since the inception of the project.

She said Zinwa were the engineers, adding that the Gwayi -Shangani Dam is currently 30% complete.

Ndhlovu said at that time, expenditure for the project was estimated at US$10 million and the project had been allocated US$23 million in the 2018 national budget.

The multi-million dollar project is earmarked to end Bulawayo's perennial water problems and to create a green belt in the drought-prone Matabeleland region through irrigation agriculture along the pipeline linking the dam and Bulawayo.

In March 2018, Mnangagwa pledged to do everything in his ability to ensure that the Gwayi-Shangani Dam project is completed by 2019. However his promises never materialised.

Now it is being said that an estimated US$53 million is required to complete the Gwayi Shangani dam project.

Last year Bulawayo Mayor Solomon Mguni said that the water crisis in Bulawayo reflects the realities of a drought, adding that there must be no blame game.

He said the council wrote to the government asking for the Bulawayo water situation to be declared a critical water shortage zone.

"This would inform our domestic and international appeal for funding in our water augmentation drive. We all await the said declaration," Mguni said.

Development analyst Mandla Khanye said the water crisis in Matebeleland needs people across ethnic boundaries to commit themselves to ensure the project is completed.

"In the past Bulawayo has been the industrial and commercial nerve centre of the country. But that has been taken away from it. To restore that, Bulawayo needs to capture and establish a leadership with courage and commitment, so as to create conducive conditions for growth and expansion. An area crying out for attention is the development of a reliable water source for the city," Khanye said.

He said foreign direct investment cannot be possible without water. Khanye said the Zambezi Water Project has the potential to change the economic dynamics in Zimbabwe by boosting the national economy.

Source - Weekly Digest