It’s time Zimbabwe privatized water management!

Source: It’s time Zimbabwe privatized water management!

For too long, Zimbabwe has grappled, seemingly unsuccessfully, with perennial water crises, especially in our urban areas.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

This has witnessed most towns and cities going for months at a time and some for years without the precious liquid.

In my small town of Redcliff, we have gone for nearly three years in the absence of this constitutional right, as provided for in section 77.

The reasons have been varied, but with a troubling underlying theme throughout the country.

There has not been a shortage of finger-pointing and buck-passing – as no one has been prepared to take responsibility for this mess that has turned the lives of residents into a living hell.

The central government has sought to apportion blame on predominantly opposition-led local authorities.

On the other hand, these urban councils have faulted residents for non-payment of bills.

In addition, they have accused the ruling ZANU PF regime for sabotaging service delivery in order to score cheap political points – so that residents blame the opposition for failing.

In this piece, I will not delve much into the merits and demerits of these allegations from both sides – suffice it to say, there are truths and lies all round.

In brief, indeed, residents (who include private citizens, the business community, and government itself) have been known for not paying their dues to local authorities.

That has left many towns and cities burdened with huge deficits (into the millions of dollars), thereby depriving them of the funds they desperately need for satisfactory service provision.

Based on recent reports, the capital Harare is owed at least ZW$487 billion in unpaid bills.

On top of this, it is an open secret that the national government has not been forthcoming with so-called ‘devolution funds’ that are critical in plugging the gaps left due to the non-payment of bills by residents.

Last year, Harare mayor Jacob Mafume complained that the city had only received 15 percent of the anticipated ZW$2.3 billion from government.

Furthermore, it is the mandate of the central government to construct water sources, such as dams – something that has not been sufficiently done since independence in 1980.

As a matter of fact, most of the major water bodies supplying our urban areas are a product of the colonial regime.

The same applies to the distribution infrastructure, which now lies antiquated, woefully inadequate, and no longer fit for purpose.

According to the Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba, over 60 percent of treated water is lost due to leakages and illegal water connections in the capital city alone.

Local authorities themselves are not without blame.

In Redcliff, there have been endless anomalies and incidents of irregularities flagged by Zimbabwe’s auditor-general, costing the small town millions of dollars.

These have mainly involved the unprocedural and possibly unlawful exchange of land for non-essential things as expensive luxury cars for top officials.

There have also been allegations of monies being paid for services that have never been delivered or completed, including the construction of a road.

All this money could have been used for the improvement of service delivery, especially in the provision of water.

Such accusations of corruption in our local authorities is one of the main reasons residents choose not to pay their bills – since the money simply ends up being misappropriated by seniors officials.

Be that as it may, what solutions can we proffer?

The first is the most obvious.

Stop playing games with the lives of residents in order to score cheap political points.

In the midst of all this buck-passing and finger-pointing, no one is taking responsibility.

As such, no one is stepping up to provide a permanent solution.

The government may drill a borehole here and there – mostly for election campaign purposes – but that is hardly a lasting solution.

There is an urgent need for real leadership – where both the central government and local authorities work together and not against each other.

Right now, the country is battling a cholera outbreak – which has so far claimed at least 370 lives.

What is more embarrassing than a modern state losing lives on account of an ancient disease that is virtually unheard of in advanced societies?

There is also an urgent need to tackle corruption in all local authorities, ensuring that all cases of malpractice are thoroughly investigated and culprits brought to book.

However, a permanent solution to our water woes lies in a drastic paradigm shift in the country’s water management system.

We now have to move away from a centralized approach to water management – which has proven to be weak and ineffective, with a one-size-fits-all model.

Similarly, local authorities have exhibited a lack of imagination and innovation – relying heavily on rate payments by residents, which is unsustainable.

It is time Zimbabwe privatized its water management system.

We need to allow decisions on water to be made at the provincial level – which should go hand-in-hand with the concept of devolution as laid out in the Constitution.

Each provincial council should come up with its own policies and plans, which are specific to that area.

After which, private players need to be invited to invest in water provision.

Residents can then choose which provider they prefer, thereby fostering competition.

This will inevitably lead to innovative solutions and technological advancements – which will not only make potable water affordable but readily available.

These private players can also venture into exploiting groundwater that can be fed into the grid.

It really does not make sense to have boreholes sunk all over the place (and at nearly every household) when this can be done on a suburb or town level.

This can also work for rainwater harvesting – where aquifers can be established to feed entire neighbourhoods.

Private companies can be very useful in setting up sophisticated water recovery systems (from waste) – which can be useful in households, schools, and offices as greywater.

The key, nonetheless, is in ensuring strict accountability and adherence to good corporate governance in the operation of these private companies.

There is a need for jealousy guarding against the deplorable levels of corruption that have characterized power generation.

We have watched in utter shock as some unscrupulous individuals have been awarded multi-million dollar tenders – yet nothing noteworthy coming out.

The model to be implemented should be similar to that in mobile network provision – where no government tenders are offered, but private entities licensed to independently provide the required service.

From my research, the methods I have highlighted have worked exceptionally well in such countries as Australia – where the private sector plays a significant role in water management.

I once worked as a project manager for a water management company during a stint in South Africa – where we specialized in atmospheric water technologies.

These are devices that extract water from humid ambient air (vapour), thereby producing potable water.

Although these can not be implemented on a large scale – such as a suburb, town, or city – they can play a substantial role in alleviating water challenges.

This technology has developed significantly in Israel.

It is time the government (both national and local) moved out of water supply – leaving this to private players.

That way, these perennial water challenges and ancient diseases will soon be a thing of the past in Zimbabwe.

● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +26715667700 | +263782283975, or email:, or visit website:

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