Municipalities struggle to provide basic services

Zimbabwe's urban centres are having to cope with persistent water shortages, electricity blackouts and sanitation problems as municipalities struggle to provide basic services.

The economic challenges facing the country, characterised by major foreign currency and fuel shortages, has negatively affected town councils across Zimbabwe.

In Chitungwiza, a satellite town of the capital, Harare, children play in streets dotted with uncollected garbage. They ignore the stench of overflowing sewerage and race little home-made boats in contaminated water.

"The problems in Chitungwiza are beyond the council's control," said mayor Misheck Shoko. "We cannot source donor funding on our own to upgrade the sewerage and water systems, which are old and dilapidated, as the [central] government dictates that such funding should be channeled through its coffers."

"Our garbage collection vehicles are immobile due to fuel shortages, but [central] government regulations stipulate that urban councils can't procure fuel from abroad on their own," Shoko complained.

The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) has been lobbying for a rates boycott until local governance and service delivery improve. "We cannot pay rates when there is no water, refuse is not being collected and street lights are not being repaired," said CHRA spokesman Precious Shumba.

Last year the central government appointed a commission to run Harare, after Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo dismissed its elected opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) mayor, Elias Mudzuri, for alleged inefficiency.

In Harare uncollected rubbish has begun to pile up in the central business district. Environmentalists and health experts have warned that the city may be sitting on a disease time bomb, as raw sewerage continues to spill into Lake Chivero, the capital's main source of water.

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, has been facing acute water shortages due to successive droughts, but mayor Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube's council does not have the authority to borrow funds, making it difficult to maintain minimal services.

Francis Dhlakama, the mayor of Chegutu, 140 km southwest of Harare, said his town was "as good as dead". "While we need 30,000 megalitres of water a day, we are able to purify only 12,000 megalitres a day ... [and] some of it is lost through leakages," he explained.

In smaller urban centres like Bindura and Shamva, north of Harare, ongoing fuel shortages have forced councils to collect refuse using ox-drawn carts hired from nearby farmers.

"We are trying to ration fuel so that we can attend to cases that require immediate attention, like in the health sector. The [ox-drawn cart garbage collection] programme will continue until the fuel situation in the country improves," said the Shamva council chair, Sydney Chiwara.

In Marondera, southeast of the capital, schools closed early due to water and electricity supply problems.

The CHRA blames government interference for the crisis that is gripping most urban centres and claims that politics have taken precedence over good governance and service delivery issues in many local authorities.

Morris Sakabuya, the Deputy Minister of Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development, acknowledged that there were problems affecting service delivery in urban centres, but blamed councils for operating without set targets.

"The government cannot sit [idly by] while services go down, we [have to] react to situations on the ground," Sakabuya commented. "If things go wrong, people always ask: 'Where was the government?' If we intervene, they start calling it interference."