The Nkomo Vs Dabengwa war over Zambezi Water Project

This week SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to Minister Nkomo and asks why they made that decision? Dabengwa meanwhile fired back saying the Trust had not been consulted and that the initiative was a people’s project and should not be politicized.

Lance asks Nkomo to respond to Dabengwa’s comments.

Interview broadcast 10/12/09

Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to another edition of Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is the Minister of Water Resources, Development and Management, Mr Sam Sipepa Nkomo. Mr Nkomo thank you for joining us on the programme.

Sam Sipepa Nkomo: Thank you Lance.

Lance Guma: Now obviously developments in the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project have necessitated this interview, I’m sure a lot of our listeners would like to know what it means – the fact that Cabinet has approved your request to transfer the ownership and management of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project from the private hands of the Trust. Explain this for us, what does this mean?

Sam Sipepa Nkomo: OK let me explain that when I was appointed Minister of Water in February I actually begun looking at files and I found that the Zambezi Water Project was moving at a very slow pace and quite obviously I had an interest in this and I decided to have an in-depth study of what is happening. Now what I found out was that in 2004, in January 2004, government had already instructed the then Ministry of Water Resources to actually take over the leadership and management of the Zambezi Water Project. Then I decided that I wanted to go back to Cabinet, just, because now there is a new government, there are new players, there are three parties involved in government, so I decided that I needed to go and find out whether that still was the case.  

So I went to Cabinet and Cabinet told me that that decision was made in 2004 but they were happy to reconfirm it, so Cabinet reconfirmed that last week that this project must now be led and managed by government. Basically the reason is because one of the most important things I found lacking was political will and I wanted government to recommit itself that as government, they have a responsibility and an obligation – a constitutional one for that matter – for them to provide water to every citizen in the country and the people in the Matabeleland region and Midlands, suffer from perennial water shortages and therefore I wanted government to reconfirm their firm commitment that they will actually now be serious about this Project, then I went to government and that is what has happened.

Guma: Now Minister Nkomo, obviously the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust over the years has suffered from accusations of corruption and issues along those lines. What have you been able to unearth insofar as what has gone on before government took over this Project?

Nkomo: OK, what I, one of the things I wanted government reconfirmation was because I wanted them to give me the mandate to look at the Project in detail. What I’m going to be doing from now onwards is to consult various stakeholders including the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust. I am aware that some people have said a lot of things about what happened in the past but I am unable to comment about that because I haven’t seen the documents that go with those, the kind of management that they were doing.

I’ve yet to look at the documents, I’ve yet to look at what the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe were doing with them but most importantly, I want to go forward than backwards. Yes we will look at the history of what has happened in the past, if there was corruption it will be revealed but I’m very much interested in what we do from now going forward.

Guma: Let’s just remind our listeners of the enormity of the task ahead, this project – what is it all about – we are taking water from where, taking it to where – what is involved?

Nkomo: Yes, thank you Lance for asking that question, Now this is as I say, as I have said before to other fora, a very huge project requiring huge investments of money. Now Phase One of this project is actually the construction of the Gwayi Shangani Dam and currently that dam is about 50% complete and we would require about 90 million US dollars to complete it. That is Phase One and Phase Two which can run concurrently with Phase One is the construction of a pipeline from Gwayi Shangani Dam to Bulawayo.

That to me will open that belt, that corridor as a green, as a green belt, it will change the lives of the people of Matabeleland forever. And that project will also open many businesses along the pipeline and tourism will be actually, tourism activity will be increased, so that is Phase One, taking water from Gwayi Shangani Dam to Bulawayo.

Phase Three will be connecting a pipe from Zambezi river to Gwayi Shangani Dam to increase the volume of water in the Gwayi Shangani Dam to enable us to push actually substantial amounts of water from Gwayi Shangani to Bulawayo and the Midlands.

Now Phase Four will be taking water from Bulawayo through a pipeline or canal to Beitbridge, that’s Phase Four but mind you Lance, what will be happening is there will be off-takes along the route as this pipeline travels in Mat North to Bulawayo and of course there will a branch, there will be some pipes will branch off from that main pipe to service areas like Kadoma, Kwekwe and Gweru and there will also be some branches that will take that water to areas like Plumtree and from then it will go to Beitbridge.

I think this is going to be a huge Project but as you might appreciate no government can do it on its own. This is a huge project and we will require private sector partners to partner us, we would require financial institutions from outside the country to come in and help bring this project to fruition.

Guma: Now you mentioned that Phase One will require something in the region of 19 million US dollars, now 19 million is actually less than how much government spent this year in funding foreign trips, so really, surely if government priorities were to be straightened, this is a project that is achievable in phases?

Nkomo: Yah it is achievable in phases, but you see Lance, I don’t want to, I’m a member of this government and I don’t want to say that the trips, the foreign trips that were financed were in vain. You know some of the advantages we are now getting, understanding that we are now getting were as a result of our ministers and our senior government officials getting to various places to plead our case.

But of course if you look at the medium term plan that we are crafting, the Matabeleland Water, the Zambezi Water is also included. Yes I appreciate that this government has no money and I appreciate your point that we could cut off foreign trips, actually I agree with you that’s exactly one of the things that Cabinet has discussed about that we need to minimise our foreign trips so that we can plough more money into the various projects in the country.

Guma: You have quite a journey head in terms of the challenges that you have to overcome, just in terms of you telling us the way forward, what happens from here? You’ve taken over this project, what do you do now from here?

Nkomo: From here, what we are going to do is to call, well I will have to meet with various stakeholders including the city fathers in Bulawayo, Gwanda, Beitbridge, Victoria Falls, Hwange; I’m going to be meeting the various traditional leaders, the chiefs; I’m going to be meeting various NGOs, civic society; I’m going to be meeting with bankers; I’m going to be meeting with everybody.

In my meeting with them, I will be actually asking them to prepare themselves for a summit where we would want to craft a framework for how we are going to all cooperate in bringing this very important project to fruition. What I’m also doing Lance is I am saying loudly and clearly that this project, from now going forward will be depoliticised, it’s going to be simply a project to provide water, no politics involved.

Guma: You’ve been a great advocate and a great campaigner for the development of the Matabeleland region, some have put forward the argument and I don’t know what your take is on this talking about decentralising power, actually allowing the various provinces to manage their own affairs, what’s your position on that? Do you think that’s the best way forward and you avoid situations like this where a region suffers because of political considerations?

Nkomo: Actually yes you are right, I am a great proponent of a devolution of power, what I call provincialisation. I believe that each province should actually be able to determine its own developmental strategies and I think that is why for the Zambezi Project I’m going to be talking to those provinces that are, would be involved in this project, but whatever you do, the best way forward for Zimbabwe is to get each province to actually determine what they want to do and to be involved so that they don’t cry foul that we’ve been marginalised by Harare or been marginalised by those other people or resources are going to one side. I think that once they are involved they will actually determine and compete equally with other provinces to central government for resources.

Guma: Now Minister Nkomo, the former Home Affairs minister, Dumiso Dabengwa who is the chairman of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust has come out swinging in the media and accuses you of politicising the takeover of this project. He says you did not consult them, they have been receiving no support from government whatsoever and the last time you spoke to him or members of the Trust, a particular follow up meeting was supposed to take place and this never happened. What exactly is your reaction to criticism from Dumiso Dabengwa who says this takeover is the joke of the year?

Nkomo: Well I don’t know when he says he doesn’t know I think that the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust is an operating arm of the Matabeleland Action Group which is chaired by Minister John Nkomo and so what we did was that we consulted the former Zapu leadership which was actually responsible for running that Trust and in this case I did talk to the late Vice President (Joseph) Msika, I talked to Minister (John) Nkomo, I talked to Richard Ndlovu, I talked to even President Mugabe, I talked to Joyce Mujuru who was the Minister of Water at the time and all of them gave it the government nod and therefore really I did at one time meet with Dumiso Dabengwa and his CEO, Sarah Ndlovu and another meeting that was scheduled for us to meet, we went to his office, me, my permanent secretary and other officials, but Minister John Nkomo did not turn up. 


But otherwise I don’t know what he wants to know but the point is that this takeover by government was actually not this time around, it was in January 2004, that’s when the Ministry of Water was instructed to take over the leadership and management of that and it’s just that the minister then did not follow that through and that government has now reaffirmed that stance they took in 2004. And I really don’t think that if any issue because we will actually be talking to Dabengwa in the New Year and what we need to do, there are very important stakeholders and we will talk to them about where the situation is but government must provide the leadership on this project.

Guma: Now Mr Dabengwa seems to be saying that the MZWT is an apolitical entity and the people of Matabeleland need not suffer any longer due to people’s differences in political affiliation so there’s a feeling maybe that the takeover of this has political connotations?

Nkomo: Actually the truth of the matter is that the takeover by government is to liberate this project from political connotations. I am depoliticising the project, that’s what I am doing and everyone in Matabeleland knows that the project actually had the leadership of only top members of a particular political party and everyone knows in Matabeleland and people keep asking me, we, this project each time the election came you would see some activity and after the election, nothing happens. It’s because that this at one time or another was used as a political tool. I am depoliticising this project, it will not, politics will not come into it.

Guma: And my final question, obviously people are trying to understand what is going to be the nature of the relationship between your ministry and this Trust. By taking over are you saying that the Trust ceases to have any significance or involvement, what is going to be the nature of the relationship between the two groups.

Nkomo: Well I do not know. What I know for sure is that government will provide the leadership and the management of the project. We are going to have a very strong stakeholder involvement and I suppose that this Trust will actually be one of the strengths, strong stakeholder involvement. We will have to work out the framework of how we are going to operate and quite obviously this Trust is going to play an important role in the framework. I’m still open to how we are going to relate but what I am sure about for now is that government is going to provide the leadership and the management of the project.

Guma: Water Resources Development and Management Minister, Sam Sipepa Nkomo joining us on Behind the Headlines, thank you very much.

Nkomo: You are welcome. 

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