Zimbabwe: Masunda Turns Harare Into a Village

It had been over two decades since I last took a bath with rain water harvested from asbestos sheets.

I had to do it a few days ago.

We had gone for several weeks, if not nearly a full calendar month, without getting a single drop of the usually smelly council water from our taps.

Even neighbouring suburbs, where I usually scrounge for the precious liquid, were in the same predicament, if not worse. While I was harvesting water from the roof of my house, I realised that I was not alone as several others in the neighbourhood were doing the same.

It reminded me of my childhood, growing up in the rural areas, when we would venture into torrential rain, stark naked, and run in circles around the house.

Then I enjoyed it.

What the Muchadeyi Masunda-led Harare City Council has managed to do is to turn back the hands of time. Like in rural areas, it is now common to see women and children in Harare, carrying all sorts of containers, moving from one well or borehole to the next, looking for water.

This is how the City Fathers in the "Sunshine City" have turned Harare residents into "water scavenging villagers".

Despite this noticeable crisis, it is surprising that the council, which dreams of turning Harare into a world class city by 2025, has not been making visible efforts to address this problem.

What is more worrying is the council's insistence that tap water is clean for us despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Numerous tests, some by scientists from the University of Zimbabwe, have shown that the water that council is pumping into our homes falls below the World Health Organisation standards.

This is why Masunda and company at Town House probably never drink water from the tap, but they still have the audacity to misinform us that it is fit for drinking purposes.

Notwithstanding dollarisation in 2009, which saw many sectors of the economy improving, our council has dismally failed to collect refuse on a regular basis, exposing residents to diseases.

But still we pay our rates.

Over 4 000 people have died in Harare since 2008 following the outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

I lay the blame squarely on Masunda and company because they have failed to collect refuse and deliver clean water to ratepayers, who continue to drink from condemned boreholes.

Surely, they must feel guilty if they have human hearts.

Informal settlements have been allowed to mushroom.

The bad situation of our roads has spiralled into a disaster. Driving around the town's suburban areas is now a nightmare because of the potholes, some deep enough to submerge the whole wheel, especially for vehicles with low clearance.

Last week, I had to be pushed out of a "crater" that has been allowed to widen in the middle of the road at some traffic lights in Glen View 8.

Other vehicles nearly rammed into me as they tried to avoid other potholes nearby.

One of my rescuers joked that motorists must now drive around with long sticks so that they can measure the depth of submerged potholes on our roads before they attempt to manoeuvre their way.

The situation is almost the same in all suburbs -- talk of Warren Park, Malbereign, Waterfalls, Hatfield and Kambuzuma -- just to mention a few.

I was shocked to also see deep potholes along the Harare-Bulawayo Highway.

The next morning, the potholes had been filled with what looked like sand and a few pebbles which, by mid-day had been swept away by rains.

Does this mean the council cannot afford to buy tar and bitumen to patch the potholes or resurface the roads?

How did former Harare Mayor Elias Mudzuri manage to keep the city clean, with fewer potholes and pumping clean water during a time the economy was most depressed?

Is it not wise for the learned Mayor to get a few tips from him?

City suffers neglect

Grass continues to grow along road sides, obstructing motorists and causing accidents, especially at intersections.

I have noticed that almost three quarters of traffic lights in Harare are not working properly and it appears there is no effort by council to address the problem.

The solar-power traffic project, once touted as the panacea to the problem, has flattered to deceive.

It is now a nightmare to drive in Harare's central business district (CBD), especially during peak hours because of congestion worsened by the absence of functional traffic lights.

I can't talk of street lights anymore -- they are history.

People I spoke to believe poor service delivery in the council emanates from the strained relations between the Mayor and the councillors. They said Masunda, a lawyer by profession, is opinionated and does not listen or respect the councillors.

He considers them uneducated and unable to comprehend complex local government issues but these are the same people who worked with other mayors.

Is it not a case of a poor workman who blames his tools?

I think Masunda has survived this long because politically, he is more of a "middle of the road person", meaning no one from Zanu PF and the MDC formations is ready to critically assess his performance.

Had he been an outright MDC, MDC-T or Zanu PF member, he would have been asked or ordered to resign a long time ago.

Surely, his likeable character and neutrality has served him well.

I also think that Masunda's failure to address challenges faced by ratepayers also steams from the fact that he has too much in his plate. He chairs several companies' boards including Zimplats, Old Mutual, Lafarge and one or two regional local government associations.

Surely, with such a load, the Mayor might not find time to deal with issues that affect the ordinary person in Mbare or Highfield. This is where people are dying of typhoid, cholera and drinking water of questionable quality.

When some angry residents picketed at Town House last year demanding that Masunda must resign, I thought they were just mad.

One of them carried a banner which read: "Masunda go, you have failed; We are tired of drinking sewage; corruption is rife and refuse is not being collected."

Certainly, it is time the Mayor concentrates on what he knows best --law.

As certain as the sun will rise tomorrow, I will get criticism from his legion of supporters.

But I don't give a damn, for I have said it as it is.

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