By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
05 May 2014
A High Court judge has ruled against the arbitrary disconnection of water supplies for defaulting residents by all the municipalities countrywide.
Justice Chinembiri Bhunu said Section 8 of the Water By-Law, which empowers local authorities to cut water supplies without a court order, was in breach of Sections 77 and 44 of the Constitution. The two sections guarantee the right to safe and clean water and compel the government to respect fundamental human rights.
The landmark ruling arose from a case in which lawyer Farai Mushoriwa was contesting the disconnection of water at his Harare flat. Mushoriwa denies owing $1,600 in unpaid charges but the Harare City Council rushed to disconnect water supplies anyway.
Justice Bhunu criticized the council for ‘arrogating to itself the right to determine when the amount claimed is due by simply laying a claim to payment without proof by due process or recourse to the courts of law.’ The judge said the local authority sought to ‘oust the jurisdiction of the courts so that it can operate as a loose cannon and a law unto itself.’ He accused the council of seeking to ‘arm twist’ Mushoriwa and ‘extort money’ from him.
Harare Residents Trust Director Precious Shumba said the council long lost the ‘legitimacy to disconnect anyone’ because they have failed to provide adequate services to the residents. Shumba said: ‘The court order should remind the council that water is a right. To us the ruling was long overdue and we blame the government for failing to compel local authorities to respect the residents’ fundamental rights.’
Last week’s ruling comes at a time when residents countrywide are complaining about arbitrary water cuts which have disrupted livelihoods and businesses.
In some cases shortages of clean water have led to the outbreak of water-borne diseases. Earlier this year SW Radio Africa reported on the outbreak of typhoid in the Harare suburbs of Mabvuku and Tafara where nine cases were confirmed.
The Sunday Mail reported this week that research has found that tap water throughout the country contains metal particles as well as coliform bacteria, commonly found in human and animal waste. The research also found that the country’s water testing methods do not conform to acceptable standards. According to a report, one of the researchers said: “Tap water around the country is not safe. We have established that between 10 to 20 percent of raw sewage is being treated at sewage treatment plants while the rest is leaking into our water sources. The problem is emanating from the seriously compromised and old pipes, which are leaking sewage into the water distribution system.”