the government were recently dragged to court by residents for failing to
provide safe, clean and adequate water during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. Hwange
residents also hauled Hwange Colliery
Company Limited (HCCL), Zimbabwe
National Water Authority (ZINWA) and the government to court over water
shortages during the lockdown. Masvingo
City Council (MCC) has not been spared as Masvingo United Ratepayers and Residents Alliance (MURRA) has filed
an ‘urgent chamber application’ to compel the local authority and national government
to provide adequate water during the lockdown.
Constitution provides that every person has the right to safe, clean and potable water. The
section also mandates the government to take measures to ensure residents have
adequate clean water. The environment minister delegates the responsibility to provide
water to local authorities like MCC.
titled “The right to health amid
COVID-19”, the concept that the state has an obligation to ensure human
rights are progressively realised ‘within
the limits of available resources’ was explained. To guarantee efficiency, the
finance and environment ministries are mandated to ensure local authorities are
adequately resourced and financed.
wholly rely on government funding. In accordance with subsection 2 of section
the Constitution, local authorities have “power to levy rates and taxes and
generally to raise sufficient revenue for them to carry out
their objects and responsibilities. To this end, most local authorities
including MCC recently hiked rates.
hiking rates, local authorities have been failing to fulfil their obligations. In the midst of the lockdown, residents have
been congregating at boreholes and other water points. Whether it is due to ignorance,
negligence or desperation, most Zimbabweans have not been observing the social distancing
rule to help curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
local authorities are adequately resourced to constantly provide adequate clean
water. This misconception was recently fueled by the fact that local
authorities hiked rates. The fact that local authorities like MCC levy rates does
not however mean that such rates and taxes are being fully paid.
who owed MCC. Topping the list were key government departments. As at May 31, 2016,
Masvingo residents and ratepayers owed MCC a staggering U$36 million in
outstanding debts. A major blow to MCC
and other local authorities was Statutory Instrument 33 of 2019 which saw United
States dollar debts being converted into Zimbabwean dollar debts.
unable to effectively deliver service as a result of non-payment of bills by
residents and ratepayers As at October 2019, MCC was owed a total amount of
ZWL$50 million. Of the total amount, government departments owed about ZWL$27
million. The city council then took a move to recover the outstanding debts
through its debt collector, Makausi and
Saratoga Legal Practitioners. MURRA, through its spokesperson Godfrey Mutimba went on to
plead with MCC to “allow the residents some time to pay up their dues in
is an Urgent Chamber Application?
dormientibus jura subveniunt is a Latin maxim which means the law helps the vigilant and not
the sluggard. This legal idiom means that the law protects those who don’t
sleep on their rights. Citizens must be encouraged to timeously approach the
courts whenever they feel their rights are being infringed.
chamber application’ must be able to convince the court that that the application
is indeed urgent. Harare residents were successful in doing so and an order to
compel Harare City Council to supply adequate water during the lockdown was
granted. Hwange residents failed. Their application was dismissed after Justice Kabasa ruled that the ‘urgent
chamber application’ was not urgent. The court found that the residents
should have timeously sued. In other words, the court found that Hwange residents
have been sleeping on their rights. Will Masvingo residents be successful? Justice Wamambo is yet
clean and adequate potable water, the risk of contracting and spreading the killer
coronavirus disease is horrendously high. Local authorities are obligated to
ensure realisation of the right to water. The government ought to capacitate city
councils by providing financial and other resources. Residents and ratepayers
are obligated to timeously pay rates and taxes to capacitate local authorities.
failing to prioritize its available resources. Whilst this may, to some extent
be true, I personally applaud the MCC for trying. More practical efforts are
needed because there are some parts of the city where taps often run dry for
long periods. Some new residential areas within the city do not even have taps.
MCC water may be inadequate for all but it is clean and safe. Masvingo is one
of the cities where you can safely drink tap water without boiling or