Violet Gonda interviews Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo

What is the status of Zimbabwe’s water crisis, now that it’s in the hands of the MDC and how does Nkomo plan to improve the distribution of this critical resource? The Minister also gives us a rare glimpse into the progress of the inclusive government, which he says is suffering from ‘hygiene’ issues. Nkomo also confirms that Robert Mugabe is refusing to swear in MDC official Roy Bennett as the new deputy Minister of Agriculture.

Broadcast: 27 March 2009

Violet Gonda: Sam Sipepa Nkomo, the Minister of Water Resources & Development is my guest on the programme Hot Seat. How are you Mr Nkomo?

Sam Sipepa Nkomo: I’m very well Violet. Thank you for having me.

Gonda: You’re welcome. Now let’s start with your Ministry, what does it do exactly?

Nkomo: Well my Ministry administers the Water Act as well as the ZINWA Act. The Water Act is required to make sure that there is water for every citizen in Zimbabwe and uses ZINWA as its arm for achieving that objective. And the second is making sure that there are sufficient dams, boreholes around the country for the provision of water which is in the quantity and the quality that is acceptable for human consumption. And we also deliver water to the farms for irrigation and that is to assist in the economic development of the country, particularly as you know agriculture is the backbone of our economy. And also as the regulatory authority just to make sure that the water that is delivered, even by those that deliver it to households, is of acceptable quality. So that basically is what the Ministry of Water does.

Gonda: You are on record telling delegates at a recent Water Summit in Bulawayo that the next war in Zimbabwe will be over water. What did you mean by that?

Nkomo: Well, what I said was that water is a precious liquid as much as the petrol or diesel or oil is a precious liquid and I said that if there was going to be another world war it would not be fought on the basis of oil – the Iraqi war or the Arabic oil – the war would be fought over water. The water resource is getting scarcer and scarcer in the world, and as you might know, only about 2.5% of the world water is usable for human consumption. 96 per cent is salt so it cannot be used and so it is a scarce resource that we need to manage for mutual benefit of all citizens of the world and if it is mismanaged, the next war will be about water.

Gonda: So where Zimbabwe is concerned, what are the Ministry’s priorities?

Nkomo : In so as far as Zimbabwe is concerned, we do share some of the water basins with our neighbours; the Zambezi water basin, the Pungwe water basin, the Limpopo water basin that we share with our neighbours – Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa. So we do have protocols on water as to how to use those big rivers that we share in our various boundaries. But most importantly, is actually harnessing the water before it flows into the ocean, that we actually build dams. What the Ministry of Water is supposed to be doing is to be ahead of the demand for water by ten years, so that as the population grows water must actually be available by providing dams that harness water in the rivers, digging boreholes and making sure that water is available. So that’s the priority – making sure that water is available to the citizens, clean water is available to the citizens.

Gonda: If I can ask specifically about the Zambezi Water Project, this project has been on hold for many years, so what is the status of this project right now?

Nkomo: Well as you might appreciate Violet, I’ve been in office for just one month, now what I find is that perhaps there was no political will on this project, the Zambezi Water Project, there was no political will. But what is happening is that all these kinds of projects are on hold now for lack of funding, but I can tell you that the first phase is about constructing the Gwayi-Shangani Dam. And once that is constructed, that’s the first phase and contractors are on site but work has stopped because of lack of funding. Once that is done, then a pipeline will be constructed from the Zambezi to bring water into the Gwayi-Shangani Dam and then another phase of a pipeline from Gwayi-Shangani Dam right up to Bulawayo .

That’s not a cheap kind of project. It will involve about 450 kilometres of pipeline and that’s not cheap and so I’m not surprised that it has taken them so many years because I think that it is a big project that might require private sector partnership with the public sector. And I’ve just begun to understand, I’m consulting everybody, the Malaysians and those that are responsible, not forgetting Violet that the Zambezi Project will also have to involve the countries that we share the Zambezi basin with. And I’m going to be talking to the Zambians, I’m going to be talking with the Batswanas, I’m going to be talking to Mozambique . So that’s where it is, it hasn’t moved much but I’m hopeful that we can move the agenda particularly in the completion of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam.

Gonda: So what is the estimated budget that will help meet your challenges?

Nkomo: If it had been done at the time when it was mooted and when I looked at the file, this project was mooted around 1912…

Gonda: Did you say 1912?

Nkomo: 1912 Violet. It was before you and I were born. And so it would have been cheaper then but now it’s not going to be and particularly that our economy is not doing well. And if you ask me how much will it cost? I can’t tell you that because I think that there will be have to be new quantification of this, the engineers will have to go into it, the quantity surveyors, the valuators and we don’t have that figure right now. And if I said a 100billion dollars it will not help because it may not be so. So I think that as I start this project, I’m now asking for a revaluation particularly first of all of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam itself because it’s where I’m trying to get the contractors back to continue the work of constructing that dam. So I couldn’t tell you a particular figure at the moment.

Gonda: And you mentioned earlier on about the Zimbabwe National Water Authority or ZINWA, now the Residents’ Association have said that they have no confidence in this ZINWA, so how do you intend to market this water authority?

Nkomo: Well I think that – let me just give you the background – ZINWA’s role, ZINWA’s responsibility is not about delivering water to householders particularly in the major urban areas, cities and towns. ZINWA’s responsibility is delivering bulk raw water and then the urban authorities are now going to take the water, purify it and distribute it to households. Now that’s its core business – except in the other smaller towns, growth points where ZINWA does deliver clear water.

So it was wrong in the first place to give ZINWA the responsibility of delivering water to householders, that’s the responsibility of a local authority. Now that the local authority, now that responsibility has gone back to the local authorities, ZINWA can now revert to doing what it knows best, what the ZINWA Act actually requires it to do – that’s to deliver bulk, raw water to local authorities and that‘s what they will continue to do. And they will continue to deliver clear water to growth points and to rural areas and so forth, that’s what it is going to do.

So for instance, I had a meeting with the Harare City Council and ZINWA together, I had the Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo with me and so we had a very good meeting. I’m trying to create a rapport between ZINWA and the local authorities who must receive raw water from us, because the work of ZINWA and the work of the local authorities should not be in conflict. Actually they compliment each other, the other delivers raw water, bulk water, the other receives it and delivers to the citizens.

And so I had this same meeting in Bulawayo with the Bulawayo City Council, but as you know the Bulawayo City Council had resisted ZINWA taking over the distribution of water in the townships and the low density areas. So for Bulawayo and in Harare , I think the relationship is good. But what we are doing for Bulawayo because their water is actually not sufficient, their dams are not sufficient to supply them with the water, and the water is a problem in Bulawayo, so what we are doing in the Ministry and ZINWA is to try and connect a pipeline between Mtshabezi Dam which is full with UmzingwaneDam which is not so full – so that Bulawayo can have a constant supply of water. And so that’s what we are doing and I’m sure that in the next six months or next hundred days which we have been given, results will show and the cooperation between ZINWA and its clients, the local authorities is actually becoming good.

Gonda: You know it has been said that water is central to everything including public health and stability, now do you agree that water is the centre of all development?

Nkomo: Yes I do. It is so central that in my view, water is central to life and water is a human right. That is why delivering water to the citizens is the citizen’s right and denying the citizen water, you are denying the citizen his human rights and so to us, water is critical. Which is why, in the first two/three weeks of becoming Minister of Water, I did issue a directive to all local authorities that there is not going to be a water disconnection for any reason in Zimbabwe for any citizen and that no-one can have a water disconnection. Yes, you can disconnect any other thing, you can disconnect radio, disconnect television, electricity, but water cannot be disconnected and I issued that directive to all local authorities in the country.

Gonda: So are you saying that since you’ve been Minister, in the last month and a half, there’s not been any water cuts? We have not seen any water cuts?

Nkomo: No.Look Violet, there is no way you can cut water. If the citizen owes money to any local authority all they need to do is fight him on the side but you cannot disconnect water.

Gonda: But you’re saying there’s no way you can cut water or disconnect water – it’s been happening in Zimbabwe where people, especially residents in areas like Mabvuku, Tafara, some of them have had no water for months.

Nkomo: No, the water disconnection I am talking about is not a failure to deliver water to the whole Mabvuku, whole Tafara – that’s a different problem, it’s not disconnection. You see, our pipes in Zimbabwe, our pumps in Zimbabwe are so broken down, the pipes are so worn down and dilapidated that it becomes difficult even to take water because there are so many water pipe bursts, sewer pipe bursts and so o. So for places like Mabvuku and so on, it’s not about disconnection, it’s about our failure to get water to that particular residential area because the pump is broken down and we are unable to pump and Mabvuku as I know it, the gravitation, you have to pump water going up and for that reason, sometimes the pumps fail and we are looking at that very closely.

I can tell you that in areas like Glen View in Harare and Budiriro, where we had the Aids pandemic, when I came in there was no water and we begun to work on the Morton Jeffrey Water Works and we installed two pumps, pump number one and pump number four and water began to flow in to Glen View. I’ve visited Glen View and they tell me ‘oh after ten months of the absence of water, water has begun to flow into our taps’ and we are working on Mabvuku and those other areas…

Gonda: But how long will it take the Ministry to get water distribution under control and working in these other areas like Mabvuku and Tafara?

Nkomo: I can tell you Violet that we are doing our very best but with limited resources. Sometimes you find that until we get some funds, I am actually going to be talking to donors, also to try and come to our assistance. There’s no way we are going to get this right until we get cooperating partners, other governments and the donors coming in to help. It’s just not going to be possible. I’m talking to everybody who cares to listen, I’m talking to Embassies, I’m going to be talking to other countries, the European Union, America, Britain,, the Norwegians, the Swedes – I’m talking to everybody and I’m hoping that they can actually understand and help us. The STERP document that has been launched for us here recognizes that problem and we are trying to get everybody to help us, using that STERP document.

Gonda: Now while you’re not the Minister of Health, can you comment though on the cholera epidemic and the role your Ministry is playing to stop its spread?

Nkomo: Yes, the Minister of Health, Dr Madzorera and I do cooperate sometimes in various fora because water and health is intertwined. The absence of water would create the water borne diseases that we saw in Harare and other places. And I’m very sorry that we lost 4000 people, but as I said Violet, we would need money, we would need resources to fight the cholera epidemic. That is top priority for us and once we are done, we will not have cholera again in Zimbabwe. That’s what we are aiming to do and I think that there’s willingness on our part to do whatever we can do to make sure that is done.

Gonda: What is the state of the sewerage management and borehole rehabilitation?

Nkomo: Yes, let me start off first with the sewerage management. If I say to you it’s a disaster, it’s an understatement, it’s a very serious matter because, you know when you don’t have water to push the sewerage, the sewerage solidifies and when it solidifies, the pipes underground expand and when they expand because there’s no water going through, they crack and some of the pipes underground, the sewerage pipes underground are over fifty years old and all of them are iron and they rust and so the management of sewer is in bad shape.

And as you might also appreciate our sewer waste water is flowing into our dams and as a result the water becomes much more contaminated. Now for us to purify that water you require up to about ten chemicals to get that water purified and that’s the biggest problem. As for the rehabilitation of boreholes, again that’s a very important area and I had a Water Summit last Friday here in Bulawayo where all the issues were raised and discussed. We did have cooperating partners, donor agencies, we did have NGOs and on Wednesday this week I had all the experts in my office in Harare, they were crafting out a programme of action which I will receive next week which will guide us as to how to rehabilitate boreholes, how to deal with the sewer problem.

I’m also talking to those companies that manufacture chemicals – that’s another headache that we have Violet – chemicals is our biggest problem.

And let me just tell you something, if you give me 14 million US dollars I would have chemicals for six months for the whole country and if you gave me 28 million dollars I would have chemicals for the whole country for one year. So I actually say to our cooperating partners give me that so that we can have this chemical headache behind us, to enable us to begin preparing chemicals, how to get chemicals for the future. So that’s another area where we need partners to help us out.

Gonda: I actually spoke with the Home Affairs Minister Giles Mutsekwa last week and he was also talking about the same issues that if he had the funds then he would be able to run this ministry properly but it appears that the international community has said that it is willing to help but it’s saying that it will only come in once it sees that there is meaningful change. So what is happening on that score because if you look at the situation on the ground, we are still receiving reports of disturbances on the farms, political violence, MDC activists still getting arrested and we still have some MDC political detainees, so what can you say about that?

Nkomo: Well Violet, it’s unfortunate, really unfortunate, but what you have said is actually in my view correct. Those are hygiene issues that we need to resolve as a country. As you will appreciate, the Global Political Agreement provides for certain things to be done by Zimbabwe and some of them are still outstanding issues – the issues of governors, the issues of permanent secretaries, the issues of ambassadors, the issues of the rule of law, the issues of farm invasions.

And when we talk to our colleagues in Zanu-PF about farm invasions they say there are no farm invasions and we keep on saying to them that the perception out there is that there are farm invasions and we need to correct that perception. It is held rightly or wrongly and we have a problem and until we resolve that problem we will get this problem of the international community saying ‘look guys put your house in order’. I don’t blame them for that and we on our part are doing our best to try and get our colleagues to appreciate the problem we have – that if we don’t get this thing right, people out there will say we are not serious and will not be able to help us.

So we have to get this thing right. I do think myself that the MDC itself must put its foot down and say look this is an agreement, we must follow the agreement to the spirit and the letter of the agreement. I think that until that happens we could be playing games. I totally agree with you, we need to resolve those things, they exist and we need to get them right.

Gonda: When you say in your view you think that the MDC should put its foot down what is it that the MDC can actually do to force change?

Nkomo: Well I think we have guarantors; we’ve got South Africa as a guarantor, we have SADC as a guarantor, we’re told we’ve got the African Union as a guarantor – we must not just go along when these things are happening. We should actually tell the world that we’ve failed. Once we’ve failed to get them to see sense – to get them to do the things that are outstanding, stop farm invasions, stop arresting MDC activists, release those that are political prisoners, I believe that the MDC should say ‘ah ah, we must get these things fixed to move forward and get the SADC involved’ and I think get the African Union involved.

I think until we do that they will think or just believe that because we are already in government therefore everything is alright. I think we should actually say everything will be alright only when we comply with what the Global Political Agreement requires us to do.

Gonda: So why isn’t the MDC doing that because it appears that when we do hear the political leaders making statements, they’re calling for the removal of sanctions and they’re asking for money but we are not hearing what you are saying – that the MDC should put pressure on the regional leaders to intervene in these matters?

Nkomo: Well I should say that our Prime Minister and leader of the party was bereaved earlier this month and that tended to put our programme of action because as you know that these things are talked at the leaders or principals meetings. So he’s coming back on the 1 ST of April and we believe that once he’s back, this agenda will move forward. That’s what we believe will happen. Again, the leadership and ourselves have been trying, while the Prime Minister was on compassionate leave, to talk to President Mugabe and our other partners and I think that in my view, we were not successful. I think they were hiding behind a finger but I believe that once the Prime Minister is back this thing will actually be addressed head on.

Gonda: And of course there’s this issue of Roy Bennett. We understand that at a Cabinet caucus last Monday, Mugabe categorically said that he would not swear in Roy Bennett as the MDC ’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture. What can you say about this?

Nkomo: I do believe that is totally wrong. You know the agreement clearly says President Tsvangirai will actually appoint his own ministers and deputy ministers and Mugabe’s job, President Mugabe’s job is merely formally to do that. And so Roy Bennett was seconded by us to be Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Mugabe’s job is to formalise that and I understand that the President is saying that Bennett has got allegations, serious allegations against him.

My view is that whether the allegations are serious or not so serious is not the issue. Bennett even if he is currently appearing in the Courts, our law presumes an individual innocent until proven guilty and so we cannot condemn him until the Courts actually say he is condemned. But meantime I think that it will be wrong for Mugabe to refuse. We will not agree, we will not accept it. Bennett is our man, Bennett is our man and he will have to be sworn in whether Mugabe likes it or not. It doesn’t matter whether Mugabe likes it or not but he will have to swear him in.

Gonda: So Mugabe actually said this in front of the MDC officials that it’s because he is facing serious charges?

Nkomo: No we were told by the Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara who actually attends the meetings with the President that that is what he said but as you know, the President doesn’t address MDC caucuses because he’s not a member of the MDC , so that is what we were told that’s what he said. We totally disagree, that’s totally inappropriate, he cannot decide for us who becomes what, as much as we cannot decide for him who becomes minister from his political party. So for us we will not accept this. Bennett is our man and we will have him as Deputy Minister of Agriculture.

Gonda: You were CEO of the Daily News, the banned Daily News. Will the newspaper be resuscitated now that there’s a new government?

Nkomo: Well I wouldn’t know, I’ve been trying to speak to those, because as you know Strive Masiyiwa withdrew from ownership of that and transferred ownership of the Daily News to a Trust that he created. The Chairperson of that Trust is Professor Norman Nyazema and it’s now perhaps up to him to see whether the Daily News will be resuscitated. But I can say that from my knowledge as a former CEO of the Daily News it will require a lot of capital injection to start that newspaper because all the computers that we had were taken by, were confiscated by government and they were taken to Chikurubi Prison where they were kept in a big cell and so it would require a lot of capital injection and so it will not be that easy but it can be done – if they do find somebody with the capital to do it. It would be nice if it could be done.

Gonda: OK, and a final word Mr Nkomo?

Nkomo: Well Violet I can say to you that the MDC is determined to make it work. Our focus is actually not on what is happening now but our focus is on the writing of a new constitution, the referendum, the holding of new, fresh, free and fair elections after the referendum. That’s where our focus is. We are determined that we must make this work for the sake of our people in Zimbabwe, we’ll make this inclusive government work so that we are able to write the constitution, a new constitution.

Gonda: Mr Sam Sipepa Nkomo, thank you very much.

Nkomo: You are very welcome Violet. Have a good night.

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