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Saturday 23 January 2021

Zambezi project: Only permanent solution to Bulawayo water woes


MORE than a century ago in 1912, people of Matabeleland were promised that they will draw water from the Zambezi River, through the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP).

Every year, they have been hoping that this massive project, which will draw water from Gwayi-Shangani Dam will materialise.

But it has proved to be just a hoax as Matabeleland and Bulawayo continue to suffer perennial water shortages. The project was mooted more than a hundred years ago during the colonial era. It was later to be adopted by the Zanu government after independence in 1980.

Despite the hope that this water project was going to be the panacea to the Matabeleland and Bulawayo perennial water problems, the water situation in the region has further worsened and is exacerbated by an increase in population in the region.

Bulawayo Water Action group secretary Khumbulani Maphosa, who is also the co-ordinator for the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights, blamed the failure to complete the water project on what he termed as “hydro-politics”.

Maphosa said in 1912, the total cost of the project was estimated at 60 000 pounds only. It was expensive then.

“Twenty years later, then Rhodesian Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins said the country couldn’t afford the 60 000 pounds needed for the project.

“Similar cost justification was given in the 1950s by Prime Minister Edgar Whitehead when 60 000 pounds was then proposed cost for the project,” Maphosa said.

“Fast track it to now, we are told of progress being stalled due to lack of funding, or that the contractor has downed tools due to lack of funding,” he said.

Maphosa opines that the issue of funding is now being used as a scapegoat for failure to implement the project.

He said there was no excuse for failing to implement the MZWP because government had ensured that similar water projects like Tugwi-Mukosi were fully implemented and well-funded.

Maphosa said government was also showing seriousness in funding the construction of the new Parliament Building at a cost of US$140 million, which means that the issue is about priorities and the MZWP is not among top priority projects.

In his 2021 National Budget statement, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube allocated $4,5 billion towards the Gwayi-Shangani Dam for its completion.

But Maphosa said the money would be affected by inflation, as well as Treasury’s failure to disburse the financial allocations on time, and lack of transparency in terms of disclosure of the final cost of the project.

He said the water shortages in Matabeleland and Bulawayo were now a human rights issue.

“The government needs to be held accountable both locally and internationally because the realisation and fulfilment of the right to water (for potable and development use) is not only guaranteed in the Constitution of Zimbabwe but also in international laws which Zimbabwe is signatory to.

Bulawayo and Matabeleland (like the rest of Zimbabwe) have a water crisis because a serious leadership crisis is manifesting itself in water shortages.”

The human rights defender also decried the fact that people are made to pay for water from estimated bills, which he described as “robbing citizens of their hard-earned money”.

He said there was no reason why government should fail to ensure the completion of MZWP because one of Zimbabwe’s neighbours — Botswana completed a 450-kilometre Zambezi water pipeline four years ago, and was in the process of completing another 100-kilometre pipeline.

“Namibia, Egypt and Botswana are all located in desert areas but they are able to provide their citizens with water. That is a sign of good leadership. Ours is a leadership crisis because the Victoria Falls is on the Zambezi River, but the country suffers from water problems. It is a leadership problem,” he said.

Maphosa said the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) should be disbanded as it was a failed entity which was wasting the country’s resources.

“We also need to build the capacity of residents to force their elected officials to hold the executive to account over water issues. As long as residents are not holding the government accountable, there won’t be any progress. Right now we are told that $4,5 billion has been allocated for Gwayi-Shangani dam.

“We need our councillors and MPs to establish whether it is enough, how much will be disbursed and when, as well as the project completion timelines.”

He said civil society, elected representatives and citizens were to blame for failing to demand water rights.

“Civic society and the media as the fourth estate have failed to hold politicians and government accountable. As part of agenda setting, they need to galvanise the residents to non-violently demand that this project be prioritised and completed,” he said, adding that the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project was a national priority.

National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advisor Effie Ncube said the only reason why the MZWP had not been implemented was to ensure the Matabeleland region remained marginalised.

“They know that without water Matabeleland will forever remain poor and they want it that way. Remember water is not only essential for the day-to-day lives of the people but it is also a key driver of economic development. “There is no meaningful economic activity that can take place without adequate water supply. Very little resources have been channelled towards the start and completion of the project. It is all talk, yet there is no budgetary action.

“The little that has been directed to the project is only enough for a few boreholes, not a project of the size and complexity that the Zambezi Water Project is,” Ncube said.

He said the water problems in Matabeleland and Bulawayo would result in food insecurity, lack of jobs and poverty, and diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Ncube said dealing with pandemics like COVID-19 would be impossible without water.

“Zanu PF doesn’t care and will never care. Therefore, if people want to see the Zambezi Water Project coming to fruition they must vote Zanu PF out of power,” he said.

Ncube said the water pipes were also too old, and needed refurbishment, adding that this requires political will.

“We need to put aside tens or hundreds of millions of US dollars every financial year, and to ensure we have the right people winning the tenders, not the usual political crooks that are milking the country dry.”

The consumer rights activist said at its completion, the Zambezi Water Project should have canals and pipelines connecting Binga and even Beitbridge.

Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs minister Richard Moyo, who is also the Zanu PF provincial chairman, dismissed the claims that government was to blame for the project delays.

He claimed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s new dispensation constructed the Gwayi-Shangani Dam to 40% completion a few years after coming into power.

“Remember that the Zambezi Water Project was started over one hundred years ago, but also take note that the first brick of the project was laid by the new dispensation. Maybe the old dispensation can be blamed for the delay. We expect the project to be complete by end of this year,” Moyo said.

He said the project had been stalled by the COVID-19 lockdown regulations which forced the contractor to cease operations and go back to China.

“If not for the lockdown, they would have completed it by now.”

Moyo said government released US$58 million, $200 million and $600 million towards the construction of the project, bringing the whole funding to $800 million and US$58 million.

But Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT) chairman Richard Ndlovu said the delays in the completion of the project were due to shortage of funds.

The political leadership has realised the importance of the project to the region and the country at large in terms of the economy,” Moyo said.

“The delays might have been due to politics in the past, but now it’s beyond that. The new dispensation is committed to complete the project. Mnangagwa is a listening president. In two years time I see this project being completed,” Moyo said

In 2018, MZWT chief executive Sarah Ndhlovu revealed that US$2 billion was needed to complete the phase linking Bulawayo to the Zambezi, including the Gwayi-Shangani Dam.

The government involved MZWT in the adjudication process of appointing the contractor, China International Water and Electric (CWE), which Ndhlovu said had been on site since the inception of the project.

She said Zinwa was provided engineers, adding that the Gwayi-Shangani Dam was 30% complete.

Ndhlovu said at that time, expenditure for the project was estimated at US$10 million and it had been allocated US$23 million in the 2018 national budget.

The multi-million-dollar project is earmarked to end Bulawayo’s perennial water problems and to create a green belt in the drought-prone Matabeleland region through irrigation agriculture along the pipeline linking the dam and Bulawayo.

In March 2018, Mnangagwa pledged to do everything in his ability to ensure the Gwayi-Shangani Dam project was complete by 2019.

However, his promise never materialised.

Now it is being said that an estimated US$53 million is required to complete the Gwayi Shangani Dam project.

Last year, Bulawayo mayor Solomon Mguni said the water crisis in Bulawayo reflected the realities of a drought, adding that there should be no blame game.

He said council wrote to government asking that Bulawayo be declared a critical water shortage zone.

“This would inform our domestic and international appeal for funding in our water augmentation drive. We all await the said declaration,” Mguni said.

Development analyst Mandla Khanye said the water crisis in Matabeleland needed people across ethnic boundaries to commit themselves to ensure the project is completed.

“In the past Bulawayo has been the industrial and commercial nerve centre of the country. But that has been taken away from it. To restore that, Bulawayo needs to capture and establish a leadership with courage and commitment, so as to create conducive conditions for growth and expansion. An area crying out for attention is the development of a reliable water source for the city,” Khanye said.

He said foreign direct investment could not be possible without water.

Khanye said MZWP had the potential to change the economic dynamics in Zimbabwe by boosting the national economy.

Source: Zambezi project: Only permanent solution to Bulawayo water woes (22/01/21)

Friday 15 January 2021

Govt To Demolish Illegal Upmarket Homes, Lodges In Vic Falls

 VICTORIA FALLS: The government is reportedly hunting for land barons who allegedly parcelled communal land outside the resort city amid indications more than 100 “illegal executive settlers” will be evicted and their properties demolished.

Hundreds of Victoria Falls residents, most of whom are tourism executives, built mansions along the Hwange-Victoria Falls road in Monde, Chidobe and Lupinyu and near the Victoria Falls Airport.

The upmarket homes are illegal structures as the developments are within a three-kilometre radius of the main road and airport in terms of the Hwange Rural District Council (HRDC) and Victoria Falls City strategic plans.

Victoria Falls attained city status last December.

Most tourism executives have built houses and are staying there and many are running poultry, piggery, fish and horticulture projects while others have built lodges.

However, some of the land parcelled out by land barons was reserved for development under the government’s expansion plan for Victoria Falls where the Masue town is set to be built.

A university and a Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) military camp were also earmarked for development in some of the areas where houses have been constructed.

Local villagers have also been affected after parts of fields and grazing land were illegally taken from them by the barons.

Investigations by show village heads were also involved in the land scam with beneficiaries paying up to US$1 000 for a 1 000 square metre housing stand.

There are also concerns about overpopulation in some villages which now have an average 200 homesteads yet they should have a maximum of 30 homesteads.

Panic gripped the new tenants recently after senior HRDC officials summoned all five Hwange chiefs namely acting Chief Mvuthu, Shana, Wange, Kekatambe and Nelukoba to a meeting where a resolution was made for the traditional leaders to clean the mess in their areas.

The latest development to demolish the structures follow a government deliberate audit on land use countrywide in an effort to weed out land barons and re-distribute idle land.

The HRDC chief executive Phindile Ncube told that “heads will roll”.

“Chiefs were told to go back to their areas of jurisdiction and do a roll call. Each village should produce a register of subjects and explain how they got more than 150 homesteads instead of 25 or 30,” he said.

Ncube said most of land owners were not documented in official registers making it difficult to track them.

“The law is clear that a village should have maximum of 30 homesteads and we wonder how others have way more than that and the homesteads encroached into grazing land. As a local authority we have a duty to uphold the law with regards to developments hence we won’t allow haphazard developments,” he said.

The local authority once engaged village heads and the whole community a few years ago over the issue following concerns by villagers who said their children were now failing to get land for farming and building homesteads.

The suspected land barons including village heads reportedly created parallel registers to accommodate the illegal settlers after receiving bribe money.

Villagers have lost their fields which were reportedly illegally parcelled out to the illegal settlers and they now have to drive their cattle across the road to the Chamabondo National Park, which is infested with wild animals.

The situation is even affecting service delivery especially water provision.

One of the “illegal settlers” Panashe Matika said he feared to lose all his investment.

“The concern is that the evictions are coming during the rainy season. We appeal to relevant authorities to intervene because we had built houses and started projects,” he said.

Most of those that have settled in the contentious area relocated from Victoria Falls suburbs because of high rentals.

However, some think the evictions are politically motivated saying the land has been allocated to some businesses such as the government-owned National Handling Services (NHS).

Acting Chief Mvuthu said he had since summoned his village heads and gave them three months to clean their registers and rectify the situation, and evict all people who were illegally settled.

Source: Govt To Demolish Illegal Upmarket Homes, Lodges In Vic Falls (15/01/21)

Tuesday 5 January 2021

Body of Tourist Who Fell into Vic Falls Gorge Found

 VICTORIA FALLS: A rescue team here has spotted the body of a local tourist who fell into the Victoria Falls gorge on New Year’s Day, but could not retrieve it as it is reportedly stuck on a concave at the foot of the gorge just above the water.

The team also spotted another unidentified body floating in the Zambezi River downstream near Rapid Number 8 during a search downstream, meaning two bodies have to be retrieved along the Zambezi River.

Rescuers comprising rafting guides who usually lead search teams for bodies that drown in Victoria Falls spotted the body of Roy Dikinya (40) of Harare Saturday but failed to reach it.

The gorge is roughly 120 metres deep from the top of the waterfall.

According to rafting guides at the site, the body fell onto a rock just above the water.

The team only spotted the body from afar but could not reach it as it is not possible to use a raft.

There are now plans to invite the Airforce of Zimbabwe to bring a helicopter which would hover on the cliff and lower rescuers using a rope to airlift the body from the gorge.

“The body has been spotted but it is not in water. It looks like it fell on the edge of the gorge and got stuck on rocks before reaching the water. What’s needed is a helicopter to lower a rope that will then be used to air lift the body.

“The other alternative will be to bring rock climbers from the Airforce of Zimbabwe who can be lowered and retrieve the body,” said a rafting guide.

Police and Zimbabwe National Parks authorities could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The second body that was spotted at Rapid Number 8 has not been identified while efforts were being made Sunday afternoon to raft it down to Rapid Number 10 where it can be lifted out of the river.

Dikinya allegedly slipped at the Danger Point within the Rainforest and fell down the more than 100 metres gorge below the waterfall.  Water levels in the Zambezi River are steadily rising owing to heavy rains that have been falling upstream.

Similar incidents of tourists drowning in the gorges have happened before.

In 2009 a local tour guide who was working for a South African safari operator fell headlong into the gorge while trying to save a European tourist who had slipped while swimming in the Devil’s Pool where “brave” tourists usually dangerously swim on the cliff.

The tour guide successfully reached for the tourist who was about to fall into the gorge and pulled him back to safety by the hand but unfortunately he slipped and fell into the gorge while the tourist survived.

In 2019, a 34-year-old Israeli tourist drowned while swimming without a life jacket in the flooded Zambezi River near the Victoria Falls Bridge before the body was retrieved three days later.

Source: Local Tourist Who Fell Into Vic Falls Gorge Spotted Stuck In A Concave (04/01/21)

More: Haunting last pic of man moments before he mysteriously toppled off cliff at Victoria Falls (04/01/21)

Friday 1 January 2021

Vic Falls Rafting Saved Following New Dam Construction Recommendations

 The industry has been engaging ZRA authorities over the issue saying once the dam is built and the gorge inundated with water, Zambezi’s renowned white water rafting activities will be curtailed as rafting is impossible in high water.

There are about 10 rafting companies both in Zambia and Zimbabwe and all employ more than 300 people.

Closure of rafting will also likely affect tourism as the activity is one of the major revenue earners for the industry.

Rise in water levels will force rapids to disappear and make rafting impossible.

However, the rafting sector also fears the project will reduce their activities to only three months from nine months annually.

Rafting is usually suspended during the rainy season.

Environmentalists also fear flooding the Batoka Gorge will destroy bird habitat and displace the endangered Taita Falcon bird.

The Batoka Gorge currently has the largest population of the Falcon specie in the world.

According to the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report and the Associated Environmental and Social Management Plans (ESMP) released by ZRA as part of the ongoing statutory disclosure process, rafting as well as the endangered Talita Falcon bird could be spared.

“Among the mitigation measures is decision to limit the height of the dam to 175 metres instead of building it to the top of the gorge so as to prevent the water backflow from reaching and impacting areas of special interest such as the Victoria Falls, existing Zesco Limited Power Station, the Victoria Falls and Mosi-oa-Tunya national parks,” ZRA said in a statement.

“The other measures highlighted included the adopted reservoir rules that were developed with a view to ensure the balancing of power generation while allowing for the continuation of other river-based activities and environmental flows (e-flows). These include activities such as white water rafting and e-flows that would support the continued existence of downstream ecosystems.”

The disclosure process is a statutory requirement in the two countries administered by their respective environmental regulatory agencies namely Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) of Zimbabwe.

VICTORIA FALLS: White water rafting activities that were likely to be suspended due to the construction of the Batoka Gorge Dam here received a lifeline following recommendations to confine the new dam wall to only 175 metres.

The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), a bi-national organisation equally owned by Zimbabwe and Zambia governments is spearheading construction of the 2 400MW Batoka Hydro Gorge Electric Scheme (BGHES) located 47km downstream from the spectacular Victoria Falls.

Currently ZRA is finalising preparatory activities for the implementation of the project.

There have been concerns by the companies engaged in white water rafting under the Rafting Association of Zimbabwe (RAZ) who feared the project would drive them out of business.

The ESIA report disclosure and stakeholder engagement process will continue up to 25 January 2021 for receiving concerns and comments regarding the planned implementation of the project.

Comments gathered during the disclosure period will be included in the final ESIA report while project implementation is expected to start in 2022 and completed in 2027.

The Zambezi River forms part of the border between the two countries and two 1 200MW power plants on either side of the river as well as a substation, transmission, township and road infrastructure could begin to produce electricity in 2028.

A consortium comprising the Power Construction Corporation of China and General Electric of the US has been selected as the contractor to develop the project estimated close to US$5 billion.

Source: Vic Falls Water Rafting Saved Following New Dam Construction Recommendations (30/12/21)

Covid-19 Cases Rise In Vic Falls

 VICTORIA FALLS: Health authorities here are fretting following a fresh surge in new cases owing to an influx of people visiting the resort city for the festive holidays.

There has been a hive of activity since last week as people visit Victoria Falls for holidaying with their families and some of hotels are more than 50% fully booked until New Year’s Eve.

Traditionally, the city would be flooded with both local and international visitors coming for the Vic Falls Carnival between December 29 and January 1.

However, the carnival was scratched off this year because of Covid-19 restrictions and only Mapopoma Festival will be held Wednesday and Thursday with a limited number allowed entry.

Health authorities and local Covid-19 task-force have warned residents to be vigilant as the city has 33 active cases as at 29 December.

Matabeleland North had 92 active cases on the same date, and a total cumulative 533 new cases since the first case in March.

This comes as the whole country had recorded 13 325 and 359 deaths as at December 29, after 177 new cases and five deaths recorded on the day.

Of these 144 are locals and 33 are returnees from South Africa and Mozambique.

In a joint statement, acting Hwange district medical officer (DMO) and the Victoria Falls Covid-19 task-force said: “We would like to inform the community of Victoria Falls that there are currently 33 active cases of Covid-19 in the city. These numbers are increasing daily and we once again ask you to observe the following guidelines to prevent the spread of Copvid-19.”

The acting DMO implored residents to wash and sanitise hands, keep physical distance, not touch face, practice good etiquette, avoid gatherings both large and small and travelling only when there is a genuine need.

“If you suspect any cases of Covid-19 please contact authorities on given hotlines. Please do not go to a doctor but isolate at home,” reads the statement.

Sources closer to the goings on have said Victoria Falls accounts for a majority of cases in Matabeleland North province at any given time because of influx of visitors.

Source: Covid-19 Cases Rise In Vic Falls (30/12/20)