Legislators from across the political divide, who hail from Matabeleland have been urged to unite in rejecting the 2020 budget if it does not address the need to implement the long mooted project to pipe water from the Zambezi River to Bulawayo.
The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) is an ambitious project mooted over a century ago and is seen as a long term solution to perennial water shortages facing Bulawayo.
There have been successive budget allocations from Treasury towards the project, with timelines set for its conclusion, but the project remains a pipe-dream. The project is still in its initial stages of implementation with the ongoing construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam.
Reports of looting and diversion of funds earmarked for the project also abound.
In February 2017, then Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa confirmed to Parliamentarians that funds earmarked for the project were diverted.
"We had already pumped $35 million into Gwayi-Shangani, and a tender was awarded and work was done. However, when there was a threat [collapse on the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam], we diverted those resources to finish the Tokwe-Mukosi... " said Chinamasa while responding to then Pumula MP Godfrey Malaba's concerns on lethargy on the MZWP project.
Analysts said it was high time legislators from the region united on the MZWP cause by among other things, ensuring that it received necessary attention in the 2020 budget. Finance minister Mthuli Ncube will present the budget on Thursday.
The call by analysts followed a passionate appeal posted on social networking site Facebook by Bulawayo mayor Solomon Mguni on Thursday who said: "We appeal to all our Members of Parliament of Zimbabwe, [National Assembly and Senate] from Matabeleland region, not to pass the 2020 national budget if it does not speak to the long-awaited Gwayi-Shangani Dam and/or the MZWP that has been on the cards since 1924. Time to unite. Water crisis knows no political affiliation."
The Gwayi-Shangani Dam is a critical component of the MZWP. Upon completion, the dam will become the country's third largest inland water body after Tokwe-Mukosi and Lake Mutirikwi.
"Budgets should not operate in a vacuum but be tailor-made for the fundamental needs on the ground.
"In this case the budget should prioritise poverty eradication, food security, stabilisation of prices, job creation, education, health care, road infrastructure and water supply," analyst Effie Ncube commented.
"In the case of water, the demand for sustainable supply has been ignored for a long time. It is now time to correct the inverted priorities in budgeting.
"The shortage of water is not a party political issue but an existential threat on which all of us must unite.
"The country has to learn that there are things on which people should put their political jackets aside and unite for a solution."
Bekezela Maduma Fuzwayo added: "We support mayor Mguni 100% on this suggestion.
"Everyone knows that the MZWP is the only hope for the economic and social survival of Matabeleland and it's really worrisome why our parliamentary representatives from all political parties in Matabeleland have through the years decided to go silent on the issue.
"Our old parliamentarians in the likes of Joshua Malinga, Dumiso Dabengwa and Sikhanyiso Ndlovu remained so focused on Matabeleland development without regard to which political party they came from.
"They spoke with one voice and were very vocal on this project."
Construction work at Gwayi-Shangani Dam once stalled in 2013 owing to financial challenges.
Work only resumed in July 2018 after Treasury released funding to clear the contractor China International Water and Electric Corporation's arrears.
The MZWP has long been a campaign tool for both the ruling Zanu PF party and opposition during the electioneering period, but no serious lobbying has been done after the polls.
In 2012, government grabbed the MZWP from the late Dumiso Dabengwa led Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT), which had been spearheading the project after promising to speed its finalisation but without success.
Government handed over the project to the Matabeleland Collective, a grouping of civic groups and clergy in the region, in April this year following a meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Bulawayo State House the previous month.
"They [MP's and Senators] must be seen speaking and representing the people. They said they will fight to see that Bulawayo and Matabeleland gets water... we wait to see their sincerity.
"If they could unite to threaten not to pass a budget because of vehicles they wanted, surely they can extend the same to the MZWP," Mbuso Fuzwayo, the coordinator of the Ibhetshu LikaZulu added.,