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Water woes, sextortion and blame game in Zimbabwe

07 Mar 2020 at 07:15hrs | Views
As Zimbabwe's economy worsens, sextortion is setting in, with women and children falling victim to this form of abuse and corruption. Drinking-water scarcity is a serious problem authorities have unsuccessfully dealt with for years in the country. Various theories have been proffered by think-tanks, analysts, politicians and the like-minded in an attempt to explain the scourge of water scarcity affecting many urban areas. The most prominent debate is the blame game between the ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union for the Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-A). ‘The will to power dominates the will to live' aptly captures the way political parties [mis]treat the electorate in Zimbabwe.

"I don't go to work, got no money to take care of myself although am degreed from a prestigious local university" explains Rachel* at a  borehole queue for drinking water in Unit N, Seke- Chitungwiza. Rachel is a twenty nine years old lady who still hopes that possibly she can escape her current predicaments through marriage. However, she sadly disclosed how she manages to cope with the water challenges in her area by secretly having sexual relations with young men who buy and sell water. Buying a 20 litres bucket is only ZW$3.00. Averagely each household of four to six people needs the same number of buckets translating to a maximum of twenty dollars a day. In a week, ZW$150.00 is just for water and ZW$600.00 goes for the whole month.
A male water entrepreneur whom we shall refer to as Tonnie points out that, "There is nothing for free in Zimbabwe. Kana usina mari hauwane mvura. Kana ukandipawo poto ndiko zvifambe. (If you're broke, no water for you. If you offer me sex, at least you can drink water)." This is just just one among many scenarios of the water scarcity situation in Chitungwiza. Sometimes to evade the long queues to buy borehole water, paying by other means is also now common. As such, sex is a currency used to bribe. However, other residents indicated that the rainfall received in 2020 is a relief since they can now survive partly outside the male-dominated water entrepreneurship route which is not affordable to ordinary people.

The International Bar Association (IBA) defines sextortion as: "A form of sexual exploitation and corruption that occurs when people in positions of authority whether government officials, judges, educators, law enforcement personnel, or employees seek to extort sexual favours in exchange for something within their power to grant or withhold. In effect, sextortion is a form of corruption in which sex, rather than money, is the currency of the bribe."

In a report by Transparency International titled Gender and Corruption in Zimbabwe (2019:11), in Chitungwiza, Glenview and Budiriro, there is evidence of cases of women having to succumb to sextortion to get water. The same report notes that some women who don't have money to pay bribes are forced to use sex as a form of payment. In the study, 45 percent of women indicated having received requests as bribes for sexual favours to access a services. Even though some claim water is a human right, the way it is immorally commodified is a cause for concern.

The fact that water is being sold by other means points to the decayed nature of service delivery in general. Many hours are spent on borehole queues and sometimes wells at undesignated spaces. Women and children carry the burden of waiting and expecting for better service delivery which in most cases doesn't materialize. To the few who access tap water, it's in many ways ghoulish. Again, the water may be available only at midnight. It's now not an issue of wonder to see long queues of people close to midnight waiting to buy water when power is back. The sad reality of water woes can also be witnessed by the government's desperate reaction, early January 2020, of drilling a borehole at the Parliament of Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the poor carry the yoke of suffering.

Beyond blame game

Given this context, it's surprising to realise that in state and non-state narratives, political parties still play blame-game rather than to address the actual water woes at hand. The reality is that the water shortages can be historically traced to poor colonial city planning. Over twenty years ago, the late history professor, David N. Beach, partially exonerated ZANU-PF led government when he argued that;

Even urban planning was atrociously bad. Leaving aside the lack of thinking that left only a 45° segment of Salisbury for the African population; the very siting of the city was and is incompetent. It is well known that in 1890 the site was chosen at very short notice but what is not generally known is that in 1891 the Company (British South Africa Company [sic]) did think of resisting it, considering Norton, Mvurwi, Darwendale and even Rusape. The proposal to move the town was rejected, allegedly because the other sites were a few metres lower and thus less healthy, but actually because six brick buildings had already been put up, and the property developers did not want to lose their investments. Consequently, the town remained where the city is, upstream of its main water supply, and thus we are condemned to drink our own recycled waste! (Beach 1999: 14)

The same scholar went on to note that;

"Unfortunately, when it comes to long-term planning Homo sapiens zimbabweensis is not significantly different from H. sapiens rhodesiensis. Indeed, the two are far more alike than many, would care to concede."

The water scarcity challenge now has a blame game tradition which has to be dispelled by all means necessary. If Zimbabwe is to work again, incompetence from all political parties exhibited in blame games should come to an end. Forty years since the country attained its independence, the blame game narrative is all some political actors' sleeves got to offer. Why then does history matter if humankind isn't ready to learn from it? The Rhodesi-was-better nostalgia propagated by some academics and activists is more surprising.

D.N Beach concluded his inaugural lecture in October 1998 painting pessimism rather than optimism whenever he gave reference to population growth in Zimbabwe. Urbanisation has been more of a curse rather than a blessing equally complemented by ill-advised policy makers whether pro or anti-establishment.

Water provision was premised on racial and segregation policies with African townships relegated to the periphery in quality service provision.  It's also a truism that all the political actors involved have proven failing to the electorate as they have all been corrupt, prone to mismanagement of funds and poor urban planners. Above that, the political actors have not addressed the problematic geographic location of Harare in water provision.

The areas being affected by water scarcity and water stress seem to be dried up more by the consistent lack of respect for wetlands or swamps. In January 2020, Minister Mangalisa Ndlovu made a chilling warning to those who continuously use the current model of so called development in municipalities. He described the decimation of wetlands as a heist on biodiversity that risks food and water shortages as well as driving species into extinction. In twenty years, all wetlands will likely disappear, hence worsening the already bad situation the country is experiencing. Climate change is real and as such, practical corrective steps should be taken.

In 2017, Budiriro residents ‘paid dearly' for having houses built on the wrong place. The land mafia, that is, housing co-operatives and the politicians play the bigger part in deceiving citizens. Building in wetlands to meet the housing demands has its repercussions if not well addressed. Beyond political rhetoric, reason should reign. The land audit instituted by the president, Emmerson Mnangagwa exposed how politicians use land in vote buying from within his party and outside. Failure to walk the talk in addressing these problems is testimony to those who still have hope in the leadership that it is still a mirage.

Underground water disappearance is fueled by such irresponsible behavior from the supposedly responsible authorities. The Environment Management Agency (EMA) has indications that in Chitungwiza, 14 out of 15 wetlands have been taken over by construction. Given this scenario, residents become the source of their problems. Wetlands are critical as they act like a sponge which absorbs water and then recharges underground water so that the water table remains high. Not only that, wetlands help control flooding by absorbing excess water and releasing it gradually into water bodies. As such wetlands preservation partially assist to address the changing climatic conditions. Water woes, sextortion and blame game will remain a perennial problem if citizens remain silent.

* not her real name

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Source - Brian Maregedze
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