It has been nearly a year since government pledged to revive industries under the Distressed Industries and Marginalised Areas Fund (DIMAF) but there is still no concrete evidence of what exactly is being done to reverse wide-scale de-industrialisation in the second largest city.
Estimates from the Industry and Trade Ministry indicate that 90 companies have closed shop in the City of Kings in the last decade, with some 20 000 workers having been retrenched.
The city’s residents have all but given up on DIMAF, as attention has shifted to more pressing issues piling up on the city. Bulawayo residents are now in the midst of a crippling water shortage that threatens to sound the death knell on the city. Last month, council embarked on a water-shedding regime of two days a week to ensure the resource does not run out before the onset of the rains around October this year.
The duration of water-shedding was increased to three days this week following the decommissioning of Lower Ncema Dam. City fathers have urged residents to brace for a tough time ahead. The situation could become even more challenging should this year’s rainy season fall below expectations.
Weather experts predict normal rainfall this year, which would be sweet music to the ears of Bulawayo residents. But should there be a recurrence of the drought, as was the case last year, all hell would break loose.
Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, the Water Resources, Management and Development Minister believes the situation is still far from critical.
“I believe that we have not yet reached that critical stage. I have got a document from some Members of Parliament asking me to declare Bulawayo a state of disaster, but we have to assess the implications first. We have problems in other cities where the situation is worse than here”, said Nkomo.
Indeed, Harare also faces an acute water shortage that led to a typhoid outbreak earlier this year and Nkomo indicated the water shortages there had forced the University of Zimbabwe to delay opening this semester. What it means is that a lot of water projects would be competing for meagre government resources, diminishing hopes among those who would have wanted Sipepa Nkomo’s ministry to exclusively focus on the water crisis in the second city.
The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust Project (MZWTP), which would draw water from the Zambezi River to Bulawayo had been expected to provide a lifeline for the city, but remains locked up in an intricate web of political skulduggery and financial constraints.
President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party which has been in power since independence in 1980 is largely blamed for dragging its feet over finding a lasting solution to the city’s water crisis due to its failure to fast-track the MZWTP.
With elections set for next year, political observers intimate that the water crisis could come back to haunt the former sole governing party.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has not been entirely absolved of the water crisis despite the fact that it joined the inclusive government in February 2009, long after the water woes in Bulawayo had started.
It remains in the MDC-T’s interest to be seen taking charge of the Mtshabezi-Umzingwane pipeline, identified as offering a temporary solution to the city or risk being bunched into the same category as ZANU-PF, critics say.
The pipeline has already missed its June deadline. Bulawayo City Council director of engineering services, Simela Dube, indicated that the Mtshabezi-Umzingwane pipeline had its own limitations because drawing water from Mtshabezi would not make a huge difference at the moment. “It would see us go back to the 48-hour water shedding schedule and access only 17 000 cubic metres from it per day”, said Simela.
Despite water being an emotive issue, the resource has also become a source of political point-scoring among the governing parties in the inclusive government. Like so many other places in the world, where water is a political issue, Bulawayo’s water crisis appears to be stained by political interference.
In the southern African region, Botswana’s Kalahari bushmen remain a sterling example of the political haggling over water, when they were locked up in a decade-long fight with the Botswana government until last year.
Similarly, the Bulawayo water crisis has seen ZANU-PF and the MDC formations engaging in the blame game. This week, Sipepa Nkomo came under fire from council and civil society for playing the blame game over delays in the construction of the Mtshabezi water pipeline.
Sipepa Nkomo has blamed the State Procurement Board (SPB) for dilly-dallying in granting tenders for the construction of the pipeline, which has missed several deadlines, the last one being in June. The SPB acquire services on behalf of government departments while ensuring compliance with the procurement laws by other procuring entities.
Anglistone Sibanda, an executive member of the Zambezi Water Project steering committee said Sipepa Nkomo, as head of the Water Resources Ministry, should accept full responsibility for government’s failure to implement the project on time. “It is an indictment on him and his ministry as they have failed to connect a 40 kilometre pipeline within his five-year term of office,” said Sibanda.
Delays in rolling out the project have a bearing on the water-shedding exercise adopted by the city in order to stretch supplies to around October/November. Council introduced water shedding following the decommissioning of Upper Ncema Dam, leaving the city with four supply dams – Insiza, Inyankuni, Lower Ncema and Umzingwane dams.
Dube revealed that the other dams supplying water to the city might dry up soon. Inyankuni Dam has been left with eight months water supply, while Lower Ncema has four months supply left. But as is always the case, it is the grass that suffers. In this case, Bulawayo residents have been left holding the shorter end of the stick.
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