by Fambai Ngirande

Here is a joke with no punch line: the Harare City Council executive who get paid close to half a million dollars a month to pump water into people’s homes, but only manage to do so less than half the time without having cleaned it properly, spill close to 60% of it along the way and then fail to collect the money insist that Council is broke and therefore unable to improve the water situation because citizens are not paying their bills. (Never mind the extortionate executive salaries, the lavish allowances for Councillors, the corruption and the football club they sponsor with Council revenue, it’s all the fault of citizens.)

Here is another joke with no punch line: their miracle solution to stop water from being dirty and failing to flow when you turn on the tap is to install a water meter in every household. Yep! It’s a bit like a shop owner trying to fill up a shop whose half empty shelves carry a few expired goods by buying a brand new till. (Well, maybe that’s not the most apt euphemism since water should never be construed as a marketable commodity in the first place. It’s a rights issue, not a payment issue.)

You are allowed to yawn yes, but if you are a rate paying resident then the joke is on you, so it’s appropriate to get angry.

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With straight faces and not a hint of embarrassment some of the most corrupt and incompetent people in the history of failed public service delivery systems have taken it upon themselves to place the blame for our appalling water situation firmly on the shoulders of citizens’ and their perceived unwillingness to pay bills. It doesn’t register in their minds that we are surrounded by massive unemployment and a liquidity crunch. So instead of expanding existing water supplies, raising public awareness about responsible water use or improving the dilapidated infrastructure they have decided to exert themselves in strenuous efforts to get citizens to pay up using the vastly discredited method of water meters.

In their calculation, water meters will enable them to more efficiently collect revenue which is a means to their desired end i.e. to pay themselves even more, also a means to their ultimate end i.e. securing their place amongst the rich and politically connected, (you know: they that make speeches during the ZTV news at 8pm and own the fancy cars and Hollywood homes we see all around.)

Next thing you know, water meters will tick, no water will trickle and the little that will trickle will still carry the risk of making you sick. Obviously by then, the promises of the additional revenue generated through water meters being re-invested to actually improve the water situation will have already been consigned to the realm of mythology right alongside the 2.2 million jobs and other figments of the ruling elites’ imagination.

This road to providing a water meter for every household is paved with riches for the connected; for the tenderpreneur, water meters are literally a wet dream come true. Imagine, getting to supply millions of homes with meters, installation services, cables, nuts, bolts and all sorts of goods and services waiting to be cashed in on. You can almost picture them salivating in their unbridled greed.

They are not the only ones salivating though, other snouts wait to dip into the trough, and first in line is the bank that is going to provide the loan for the meters. What? You thought they had the money for the meters already? Please don’t be naïve, they don’t. Ranging from $150 – $250 each, water meters cost considerably more than the meters used in the traditional metering system and financing them will require a loan. The loan and its interest repayments will saddle already struggling citizens with an unnecessary new debt burden, which will obviously be financed through increases in the cost of water.

Contrary to their selfless posturing, our gallant sons of the soil in higher offices will never consider taking pay cuts to service the loan or rooting out the corruption that draws funds away from addressing the infrastructural problems behind the poor delivery of water. Worse still, if precedence is anything to go by, our local authorities can’t be trusted with handling a loan, at least not until Harare City Council comes clean on how they handled the Morton Jaffray loan. In the end, citizens will end up having to pay not only for the meters, but also for the new cars, sitting allowances, ghost workers and the rest of the unaccountable things they normally do with loans contracted behind closed doors and without tax payers’ consent.

Next in line to cash in will be the trans-national water companies who will be contracted to supply the water meter technology. My bet is on a Chinese firm, though apparently British technology leads in this field. The multi-national competition is tight. Either way the winning multi-national, will by virtue of supplying the meter technology position itself to tap into a ceaseless stream of future riches through the supply of back up services, software upgrades, imported spare parts etc. Sadly where these trans-national water companies have set foot, (South Africa, Bolivia, Malaysia) they have left a dismal record of reduced water quality, increased water rates, and massive water disconnections.

I wonder how the gods of Indigenisation will react to the transfer of millions away from this sovereign nation into foreign bank accounts.

But I’m not sure about the Indigenisation gods (sometimes they seem to favour the Shefs too much) but one thing is for certain, the gods of the new Constitution will not be happy with water meters.

Their idea was for us to progressively realise our social and economic rights including our right to safe, clean and potable water regardless of income or capacity to pay. In their mind they knew that because water has no substitute, denying a Zimbabwean access to water for whatever reason is akin to condemning them to death just like the time the cholera crisis of 2008 resulted in 11 735 cholera cases with 484 deaths because Council was either supplying dirty, or too little water. They also had in mind the age old tradition of the communal well whose water could neither be owned nor commodified but was made accessible to all according to their need. In their prescient wisdom the Constitutional gods were also wary of the risks of their children having to forgo other needs such as medication, education and food in order to purchase water upfront and thought such negative copying mechanisms unbecoming for independent people in their own homeland. Hence they gave us that precious and unambiguous constitutional directive in Section 77 to secure our right to safe, clean and potable water. The gods of the Constitution could not have been crazy.

It’s about time Minister Chombo, Councillors and council officials quit joking and become serious about providing universal access to safe, clean and potable water, without the meters and the higher costs, unnecessary debt, bondage to foreign interests and poorer water quality that comes with them.

The gods of the Constitution are watching with unbridled anger at these water meter shenanigans.

*Fambai Ngirande writes what he likes

Short documentary on Itai Dzamara disappearance

Three weeks ago today, activist Itai Dzamara disappeared. His whereabouts are still unknown. Read The Embassy of Canada’s press statement about his continued disappearance:

Canada remains deeply concerned by the forced disappearance of Zimbabwean human rights activist Itai Dzamara on 9 March 2015, and the fact that no light has been shed on his fate or whereabouts to date. We call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to live up to its commitment and increase its efforts to investigate the disappearance and bring those responsible to justice.

Canada stands in solidarity with Itai Dzamara’s family, as they suffer the interminable wait to hear the fate of their loved one.

We also stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe who look to a future where democratic principles and the respect for human rights take centre stage in their country. This future can only be truly realized when people are free to express themselves, to demonstrate and petition if necessary in a bid to hold their government to account, and to do so without fear of retribution.

Deliberate

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Press Release from Exist Digital:

The 16th Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) takes place this weekend and one of the highlights is a joint performance by two African musical legends, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi and South Africa’s Hugh Masekela. Tuku and Hugh have been working on this collaboration since 2014. It brings together their two brands of music, with new interpretations from each artist as they add new dimensions to well-known songs that have made them international stars. The two artists performed the first iteration of their collaboration at the Soweto Theatre in September last year. There is mutual respect by the two artists of each other’s work. “Oliver is one of the guardians of African Heritage,” Hugh Masekela said during one of their rehearsals. “I respect his hard work and commitment to his culture.” Speaking about Hugh’s contribution to African music, Tuku was just as effusive, “Bra Hugh is one of the best arrangers of music I know. I have admired his music for many years and it is an honour to be able work with him.” Known as ‘Africa’s grandest gathering,’ this year’s CTIJF takes place on 27 and 28 March. Tuku and Hugh provide one of the highlights on the final day of the festival, performing on the main Kippies Stage at 9pm. There are plans to bring it to Zimbabwe as soon as their two calendars will allow. Other artists performing at this year’s CTIJF include Yvonne Chaka Chaka (South Africa), Ringo Madlingozi (SA), Al Jarreau (USA), Dirty Loops (Sweden), Sons of Kemet (UK) and Banz Oester  (Switzerland).

Saviour Kasukuwere’s head in the sand?

Apparently Saviour has taken a local conservationist in his sights over the export of baby elephants. But Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force Chairman Johnny Rodrigues has this to say in response:

By keeping the elephants in Zimbabwe where they belong, there are many advantages:

- It creates employment
- Keeps the hotels, safari parks, taxis etc running
- Enables the locals to sell their curios
- The locals can become shareholders of the wildlife areas and earn commissions from tourism

As a minister who is responsible for water, he can’t even provide the people with water. Many people in Zimbabwe haven’t had municipal water for several years. I live in a medium density suburb and I haven’t had water for 6 years. As a minister responsible for the environment, 55 million hectares of trees have been deforested. All he can think about is selling Zimbabwe’s animals, our future generation’s heritage.

Zimbabwe’s constitutional comedy

Last week the Vice President and Justice Minister of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa defended the issue of women wearing mini skirts. According to NewsDay the VP said that: “We went to war for freedom, fighting so that all people would be free. So the new Constitution speaks of freedom of choice and freedom of expression. What matters are her morals, not dressing, it is her right.”

I got excited. Finally, the activism by women groups for women to have the right to express themselves in their dressing and move freely in public space was being recognized by people in high office.

I saw a few tweets from women celebrating, ‘VaMnangagwa vati tipfeke mani-skirts’ (Mnangagwa says we can wear mini-skirt!). First Lady Dr Grace Mugabe had made similar remarks at the celebration of International Women’s Day and made particular reference to the young lady harassed at 4th Street Bus Terminus last year.

But this feeling did not last for long.

I began to give this whole issue some serious thought. I told my excited self, as a young Zimbabwean woman, am I really excited about having my right to freedom of choice, expression and movement reduced only to how I dress?

What of those who want to express outrage about the system and blow whistles in the streets of any city or town? What of an opposition supporter who burns a ruling party poster or t-shirt? Is the ‘freedom of expression’ purported by our VP ever going to protect these individuals or group of people? Wasn’t this same ‘freedom of expression’ in existence when Itai Dzamara and friends were arrested for their sit in protest at Africa Unity Square?

Section 61 of the Zimbabwean Constitution guarantees everyone the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to receive and communicate information and the freedom of the media. I know there exist many legal instruments that limit these rights like POSA and AIPPA but as Zimbabweans we ought to read the constitution and understand that it is the supreme law of the land.

And we have a constitutional court to demand our rights!

I watched Camilla Nielsson’s documentary on the constitution making process in Zimbabwe. From the video I saw all the sweat and hard work that was put into the constitution making process. But still today, two years later the constitution is not being honored. Was this just a ploy or game? Guy Lodge, a film critic had this to say about the documentary, “Even the slyest political satire couldn’t outdo this riveting documentary study of Zimbabwe’s troubled coalition government.”

So was our constitution making process just a comedy show, and the world is laughing at us? We need to see all laws realigned to the new constitution and have the Bill of Rights respected in totality. Including the right to safe, clean and potable water, the right to basic health care services, the right to make political choices freely, the right to education and so forth.

Download a copy of the constitution here

The weather

From the most recent Granta newsletter, a beautiful excerpt:

The weather

In the old days in India, the seasons were clear: there was summer, and there was winter. No such thing as spring or autumn. Winter took about three days to transform into summer, and then the heat blazed away for a few months, till it became a bit pleasant, and then cold. The only worry was the monsoon: would the rains come on time, would the crop (mostly dependent on rainfall) survive. Indeed, so crucial was the monsoon that elections have been known to be won and lost on the basis of a good or absent monsoon. But now, there’s no accounting for how the weather will behave, it’s gone crazy. We’ve had nearly winter, and some strange rain and even hailstorms, almost into the middle of March, and now, overnight, summer and the heat. The crop’s destroyed in north India – wheat, mustard and many other things. Farmers are devastated, they’re unable to pay back their loans because they have nothing to sell – and the suicides have already begun. If ever there was evidence of the consequences of climate change, it’s right here, in our lives. – Urvashi Butalia is the co-founder of Kali for Women, India’s first feminist press, and the author of ‘Mona’s Story.’

Press statement from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on the continued disappearance of Itai Dzamara, who has been missing for the last 16 days:

As the United Nations commemorated the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims on 24 March 2015, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) remains gravely concerned about the continued disappearance of Itai Dzamara, a pro-democracy activist who has been missing for the last 16 days.

Dzamara was abducted by some unidentified men from a barber-shop near his home in Glen Norah at around 11:00 hours on 9 March 2015 for yet to be established motives. The unmarked vehicle used during his abduction has been identified as a white Nissan Hardbody. He has remained missing since then. ZLHR reiterates that those responsible for disappearing Dzamara have committed a very serious crime under international law.

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There is currently a High Court order which obliges the Zimbabwe Republic Police to work closely and in conjunction with lawyers appointed by ZLHR to search for Itai Dzamara at all such places as may be within their jurisdiction in terms of the law and to report progress of such search to the Registrar of the High Court by 1600hours every Friday, fortnightly until his whereabouts have been determined.

As a member state to the United Nations, ZLHR calls on the government to take tangible measures to ensure that:

- The truth about the whereabouts of Dzamara is established and revealed as a matter of urgency;
- Those responsible for this serious human rights violations are held accountable;
- Once found, Dzamara is afforded his own right to truth – the full reasons of his abduction, the exact identities of his abductors, and any relevant details that will enable him to make informed decisions about his remedies.

The Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association has recently published a research paper on the introduction of pre-paid water meters in Bulawayo. In the Executive Summary, they argue:

The key findings of this study are that the decision of the City Council to introduce pre-paid water meters is inspired more by the need for cost recovery. The Council is anticipating improved revenue collection through the introduction of prepaid water meters. Thus prepaid water meters are expected to improve consumer metering and billing, improve water demand management, improve accountability and improve customer confidence and willingness to pay amongst other things. In spite of these perceived advantages the study revealed that the introduction of prepaid water meters infringes on poor people’s right to access potable drinking water; the obtaining socio-economic environment in the country in general and the city in particular do not augur well for the introduction of punitive water demand management tools such as prepaid water meters; basing on precedents in other countries the introduction of prepaid water meters will have adverse social, economic and environmental implications; the capital expenditure levels linked to prepaid water meters do not justify their use as a cost recovery tool.

Download the full paper here