More than three million people in Harare Metropolitan province spent two days with dry taps as Zesa Holdings switched off power to Harare's major supplying water treatment, Morton Jaffray over a debt of more than $1 billion.
Morton Jaffray water treatment plant feeds Harare, Chitungwiza, Norton, Ruwa and Epworth local authorities and stopped operating on Thursday midday when Zesa pulled the plug, exposing residents to risk of diseases, such as cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid and dysentery as they resorted to unsafe water sources.
Harare City Council said it had engaged Zesa which agreed to switch on power by lunchtime yesterday following a payment plan and water was expected to be flowing by end of day.
The debt is said to be as high as $1,3 billion, although since Zesa has not paid a cent towards the agreed royalties for the council buildings, power station and other assets since 1996 it should be significantly offset by what Zesa owes the council.
Harare's electricity undertaking was absorbed into Zesa when a unified electricity authority was set up soon after independence but Zesa is supposed to be paying a royalty on the assets it acquired.
Zesa spokesperson Prisca Utete yesterday refused to comment, referring all questions to the local authority.
Acting Harare town clerk Engineer Mabhena Moyo yesterday said the council had proposed a weekly payment plan.
"The debt is about $1 billion and we have paid $50 million so far while committing ourselves to make a weekly payment plan. Electricity was switched on by lunchtime after negotiations and we were expecting that water should be running by now (close of business yesterday)," he said.
The shutting down of Morton Jaffray has once again exposed the vulnerability of city finances as it is the umpteenth time the plant has been closed over numerous issues including lack of the essential treatment chemicals.
Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba said while it was Harare's obligation to pay its bills, Zesa as another public entity should avoid endangering people's lives through its rushed moves.
"The national power utility and council are of strategic importance to the nation serving the taxpayers. If by any chance they can avoid cutting power they should do so.
"Zesa should not assume superiority over another State entity as both serve the same purpose. We urge them to be sincere because they know the danger posed by the shortage of water," he said.
Mr Shumba said the decision to cut off electricity supplies showed that there is lack of leadership on both ends.
"This actually now requires the intervention of the central Government. At present, where people are battling Covid-19, we cannot take chances to permit queues at boreholes," he said.