Matabeleland's piped water or pipe dream
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Will the region, at last, get piped water from the Zambezi River or this wish remains a pipe dream.
Water being a prime resource, the lack of it has stunted development in Matabeleland region, forcing the closure of several companies in the former industrial hub of Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo.
With the Zimbabwean Government adopting a Look East Policy at the turn of the new millennium, it finally raised the expectations of an increasingly disillusioned population early this year when it announced that the Chinese had offered an olive branch to the people of Matabeleland.
The Asians are now regarded as a panacea to the century-old Zambezi project that has assumed a number of names and is now called the National Matabeleland Zambezi
Water Project, after being adopted by the Government.
As a result of the Government's announcement that progress would be registered this year, The Sunday Mail In-Depth sought to find out whether the latest developments were a reality or the project shall remain sublime optimism.
Following a Zimbabwean delegation led by the Ministry of Water Resources Development and Management permanent secretary Mr Ringson Chitsiko to China to meet the China Dalian International Co-operation Group Co Ltd (CDIG) at the end of last year, results are now expected.
The Chinese Eximbank pledged to sponsor the first of the three phases of the project to the tune of US$861 million.
The first phase involves the construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam which is located about six kilometres at the confluence of the Gwayi River, which is the major feeder, and
Shangani River, which is the main tributary.
But to the people in Matabeleland region, they think it is one of those projects that will suffer a stillbirth.
To them, they have been taken for a ride by politicians and opportunists before, and have no reason to celebrate the latest developments.
"We (people of Matabeleland) have been made to believe for the last 100 years and we are not sure whether to take seriously what is happening this time around as this might pass as another attention-grabber from politicians out to gain relevance ahead of the impending elections," said Mr Patson Mlambo of Lupane.
However, some people were optimistic that the project was finally rolling and benefits accrued not only to people in Matabeleland region but the country at large.
"Besides bringing lifeline to the people living along the pipeline, it will also curb the Zimbabwe-South Africa migration trends as jobs will be in abundance if the industry re-opens in Bulawayo," said Mr Jimmy Twaibu of Sizinda.
The executive manager of the main contractor, the Chinese International Water Electrical (CIWE), Mr Kun Wang, said they expected to move back on site soon.
"With funds and resources now available, we expect to finish the construction of the dam in three years from now. We need all stakeholders to pull in one direction as we do not want to face the predicament we encountered back in 2007," he said.
Work was grounded between 2007 and 2010 when the Government removed some of the site equipment for use in other projects.
Mr Wang said at least US$61 million was needed to complete the first phase of the ambitious project.
Minister of Water Resources Development and Management Samuel Sipepa Nkomo assured the Chinese that CIWE would continue as the main contractor of the phase one project.
The Asian company was inherited after having been contracted by the predecessor, Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT).
The minister said the change in leadership and management of the project had not affected its scope and technical outlay.
"This was done so as to facilitate the mobilisation of resources and implement of the project in earnest since the project has stalled for a long time. Thus from the US$8 million allocated by Treasury in the 2012 budget, site re-establishment will commence in the third to fourth quarter of the year," said Mr Sipepa Nkomo.
Zimbabwe National Water Authority engineers who accompanied this crew to the site said the excavation process which paves the way for the construction of the superstructure was completed way back in 2007.
"We do not excavate for the reservoir (water holding body), but we excavate for foundation to build the wall so that we can impound the water," said a Zinwa engineer, Mr Dominic Jukwa.
He said the dental concreting on the riverbed and the construction of the access road had been completed.
"Casting of concrete on the structure, construction of the gate shaft, valve houses, outlet pipeline and access road across the crest of the dam are among the main works which needs to be accomplished," said Mr Jukwa.
He said there were also some structural changes which were done from the initial design of a straight wall to a curved one.
While progress appears now to be registered, there are fears that the efforts might be political gimmick.
A Bulawayo-based political commentator, Mr Jethro Moyo, said inconsistent Government funding had been the major setback to the final completion of the project.
This, he said, had resulted in politicians hijacking the project and taking turns to use it as a campaigning tool during election time.
"They (politicians) seize the opportunity to canvass for votes under the guise of bringing water to the region. Opportunists who viewed this development as a gateway to the potentially political gravy train emerged and instead of working together to bring water to the dry region, they engaged into meaningless fights in their search for significance," said Mr Moyo.
While politicians may politick over the Zambezi water project, it remains a cause for concern that the programme has dragged for many years.
Once completed, the project is seen as a boost to the development of Matabeleland region.
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