Redcliff water crisis leads to babies’ deaths

- Kasukuwere needs to urgently intervene

Water-tap-250Redcliff town had been for decades the proud backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy, as it was the home of steelmaking giant – the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Ziscosteel) – but today it has become a home of despair, hopelessness, and needless deaths since the closing down of the company in 2009.

So many tearfully touching stories have happened in this small town – from the eviction of people, including a 90 year old widow, from their homes onto the streets due to their failure to pay rentals to the town council, to the recent deaths of babies in shallow wells due to the perennial water shortages in the town.

These recent deaths of two babies, in the Rutendo suburb of Redcliff, in shallow wells has sparked so much outrage amongst residents, such that they assembled at the civic centre on Friday 29th April 2016, in an attempt to demonstrate against the town council’s failure to adequately and consistently provide safe, clean and potable water, as enshrined in Section 77(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

However, the demonstration was immediately stopped by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), who insisted that a written request be made to them prior to any such demonstrations – something that is clearly contrary to the Constitution, as the right to peacefully demonstrate and petition is guaranteed in Section 59.

Nevertheless, I understand that a formal request has since been made to the ZRP and a massive demonstration is now being organised to put pressure on the town council to step down or solve this water crisis once and for all.

This is very refreshing news indeed, as Redcliff residents – and in fact, Zimbabweans in general – are worryingly too ‘nice’ and relaxed for their own good – much to their detriment – as the powers-that-be find it all too easy to trample upon their rights with impunity, without any fear of any resistance or fight-back.

Redcliff residents can be all fiery – breathing fire and brimstone – when water supplies are disconnected, but as soon as they are temporarily re-connected – all is quickly forgotten, until it is disconnected again two weeks later.

And the cycle keeps repeating itself!

It is about time that Redcliff residents – and Zimbabweans as a whole – started biting more than they bark.

We do have Constitutionally-enshrined teeth, and we should use them relentlessly.

It is reported that Torwood suburb has been without water for at least four months, and  Rutendo suburb for at least two months, whilst Redcliff suburb has suffered immensely as well.

However, the water crises in Redcliff goes far beyond what the eyes can see, as there are so many factors involved, such that this issue can no longer be left to just the town council and the residents to resolve on their own.

The closure of the state-owned Ziscosteel in 2009, left the vast majority of Redcliff residents without any means of livelihood.

None of the retired or retrenched workers received any terminal benefits, and those that stayed on have seldom been paid their salaries.

The company – which was once the pride and joy of this country – was riddled with corruption and maladministration, which was reported by a Commission of Enquiry set up by the government of Zimbabwe in 2006.

Although the report fingered very high-ranking government officials in corruption at the state-owned entity, none of them were ever exposed or brought to book, as they were shielded by the government.

Needless to say, the company was fleeced of millions – if not billions – of dollars, resulting in its collapse, and subsequent failure in paying its longsuffering workers even a cent for their sweat and toil at the company – some of whom having dedicated nearly four decades of their lives.

Presently, some of the retired workers are earning a measly US$28 to US$60 per month from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA).

Those who were recently forced to go on leave, and the rest who are still going to ‘work’, similarly do not receive anything – except a pathetic US$50 once in a blue moon.

What is one expected to do with such a miserable amount?

These current and former workers seriously need to get together and engage lawyers, such as the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), so that they can fight for what is truly theirs – and also fearlessly engage in other constitutionally-enshrined activities that put unrelenting pressure on the government and state-owned company to ‘yield to Caesar, that which is Caesar’s’.

One blatant fact we, as the people of Zimbabwe, seem to ignore is that politicians are not so benevolent, and will never yield to the people out of the kindness of their hearts, because – quite frankly – politicians, generally, do not have a heart!

If people need something from those in power, all too often, they may have to wring it out of them.

There are people today who are living lavishly from the plundering of resources at Ziscosteel, whilst those that actually toiled at the company receive nothing at all, and are living in abject poverty.

This lack of financial capacity by Redcliff residents has been a contributor to the incessant water problems in the town, as most of them are failing to pay for this finite resource.

On the other hand, the Redcliff town council stands accused by the residents of mismanaging the water issue – as they allege that they do pay the little that they get, but the local authority misappropriates the money.

Since the Redcliff town council buys the water from the Kwekwe city council, the latter regularly disconnects water supplies to the former if it does not receive any payments.

It is reported that the Redcliff town council owes the Kwekwe city council an excess of US$1 million.

This is where the central government needs to show leadership by intervening in the matter, as this clearly can never be solved between the local government and residents alone.

The Minister of Local Government Saviour Kasukuwere, and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government need to step in and institute a thorough and in-depth investigation into this issue, as well as map the way forward for this town, as failure to do so will only lead to more deaths  – since water-borne and hygiene-related fatal diseases are not too far in the horizon.

It is only prudent for the Zimbabwean government to be pro-active and urgently deal head-on with this crisis – and impending disaster – before they start running around when a cholera or typhoid fever epidemic strikes the town.

Furthermore, the residents of Redcliff are becoming more and more restless and desperate with each passing day, and government should not be surprised if civil unrest is witnessed in the town soon.

The problems bedevilling Redcliff have to be attended to as a matter of urgency.

The root causes of the problems have to be identified and seriously attended to.

Ziscosteel former and current employees have to be paid what is due to them, and the Ministers of Industry, and Finance have to also be seen to be actively doing something about it.

I know that the majority of people have lost all confidence in the ZANU PF government’s ability to deliver, and doubt whether it even cares if the people of Zimbabwe die or live, but this a chance for the government to show some leadership.

Minister Kasukuwere has been intervening in predominantly Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led cities, such as Gweru, Mutare, and Harare, under the pretext that he is ‘concerned’ about the plight of residents.

We challenge him to show that same ‘concern’ for the residents of Redcliff – which is a ZANU PF-led town.

If he is sincere, I would not want to think that he is only ‘concerned’ about residents in MDC-led towns, and apathetic to those in ZANU PF-led towns.

If so, then residents of ZANU PF-led cities and towns should vote for the MDC en mass in the next elections, as that is the only sure way they can get the government to be ‘concerned’ about their plight.

The dire situation in Redcliff can no longer be ignored, as human lives matter, and government can not continue being so apathetic to the grave plight of the suffering people, as doing so is only a recipe for disaster and impeding peril.

° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist and commentator, writer, and journalist. He writes in his personal capacity, and welcomes any feedback. Please feel free to call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]com

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