The Mutare City Council has launched a massive water disconnection blitz in the eastern border town of Mutare, Manicaland province, in an attempt to recover $20 million in unpaid service charges.
But local residents say they are failing to settle their bills due to the current harsh economic situation in Zimbabwe.
The local authority is conducting a door to door campaign in a crackdown designed to fish out locals who are not paying water and supplementary council charges.
Some of the residents told Studio 7 that this exercise is worthless as most of them don't have a reliable source of income following the closure of several companies in Mutare.
One of the residents Enock Rwizi of Sakubva high density suburb said the local authority should seriously consider crafting better ways of recovering its debt.
“My thoughts are that they should give us ample time to pay up ... They should introduce payment plans so that residents can be in a position to pay bit by bit what they owe.”
Former Ward 17 councilor Peter Nyamana, who is now a civil rights activist, echoed the same sentiments, adding that the council should fix leaking water pipes and other pressing issues instead of disconnecting water supplies.
“This is a sad development. If one moves around the city you can notice large volumes of water being spilled because of poor workmanship. If one can also go along the new water pipelines linking the Hobhouse Reservoir you notice again that lots of treated water is being wasted in most suburbs. That is money that is going to waste in Sakubva, Hobhouse, Town Area and Murambi and that is money put in by residents going to waste ... and the way forward is not to disconnect the water as we are already losing of lot of it.”
He suggested that the council should engage a debt collector instead of chasing nonpaying residents at the expense of providing critical services.
“The council should actually engage debt collectors or their debt collection department and try to enforce through the courts the payment of those debts instead of disconnecting the water service as this exposes people to communicable diseases.”
Another resident, Elisha Musabayana, noted that there is need for the council to engage residents in order to work out ways of settling the ballooning debt.
“I think we should find a good way where we can sit and find a way forward.”
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights member, Passmore Nyakureba, stressed that the council action was unconstitutional.
One of the council officials, Albert Nduna, said even senior state officials and government departments are struggling to pay their bills.
Mutare mayor Tatenda Nhamarare argued that the local authority has a low revenue base, which resulted from a ministerial decree in 2013 for local authorities to write off residents’ bills.