HARARE – Daily News' senior assistant editor Guthrie Munyuki talks to Bulawayo Agenda director Thabani Nyoni. Below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: What drives Bulawayo Agenda and what are its objectives?
A: Bulawayo Agenda was formed in 2002 as an organisation that sought to expand and democratise the public in political sphere.
For the past 10 or so years our activities have been around public meetings which serve the following functions which is information dissemination and public education but also create a space where citizens engage with policy makers or bearers to raise concerns around issues that are taking place or to get feedback in terns of what’s going on or also as consultative forums to what’s happening.
Bulawayo Agenda has even gone further to do training aimed at community capacity building and I am happy to say a number of those trainings have produced people that are now councillors, MPs and some are now leaders of civic society groups, like myself.
Q: How effective have been these programmes?
A: You get a testimony by attending our public meetings. On average every month you have 200 people attending a public meeting in Bulawayo.
Q: What is the current situation in the city and the region with regards to persistent water problems?
A: The issue of water in Bulawayo is very complicated. Someone once said you could actually form a political party and win on the basis of the issue of water not only in Bulawayo but Matabeleland.
There was a plan as early as 1912 to make sure that the problem is resolved and the plan was around what is now popularly known as Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project which could not take off because this is a huge project which should have national support.
The challenge has been that there has not been commitment from successive governments to deal with the issue.
The only movement we began to see was during the inclusive government (era) where it acknowledged that Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project was a government project.
We saw the ministry of Water Resources and Development led by Samuel Sipepa Nkomo holding a consultative conference here in Bulawayo around (on) how to resolve the water crisis and moving on to form an advisory council made of different stakeholders to help him come up with solutions and then further coming up with a short term solution which is connecting Bulawayo reservoirs to Mutare water pipeline.
Right now the pipeline is connected but we are having generators and they are not able to pump enough water into the reservoirs because we don’t have adequate electricity and the country is not producing adequate electricity as well to cover all those new projects so which complicates issues further especially considering that the dams we are talking about are dams that even if you have rainfall, the carrying capacity is not able to supply the city for the whole year.
So part of the challenge is that we need new dams and we need new water reservoirs that expand the capacity.
We have a population of over two million citizens and when these dams were built I don’t think Bulawayo had over 500 000 citizens in 1978.
That is when the last dam was built but that tells you the population has grown but nothing has been done to increase the carrying capacity of the current dams.
Q: How difficult is it to convince government to save the region and what is the biggest problem surrounding this lack of water transformation and development in general?
A: Successive governments have not only failed to address the water problem but they have also been in a State of denial.
I am sure you have heard even in the current government where some sections were saying the people in Matabeleland are lazy and that their problems are not special.
But they have failed to appreciate that when the country came out of the liberation war into independence there were five year development plans that were done that were funded by government for reconstruction and development in this part of the country.
Because of the (Gukurahundi) disturbances those projects were not implemented and those funds never benefited us.
If anything, those disturbances continued to destroy the remnant of the infrastructure that had remained. That worsened the levels of desperation and frustration within the communities.
Q: What role are you playing to mitigate the current situation both in Bulawayo and Matabeleland region?
A: I think civil society has worked very hard to make sure that people of Matabeleland realise that they are part of Zimbabwe and that their narratives should be part of the Zimbabwean narratives.
Last year we attended a meeting with United Nations human rights envoy ambassador Pillay and there was a national agreement that there is need for a particular presentation particularly focusing on the issues that took place in Matabeleland and how they continue to affect the political social and economic landscape today and also make sure that we have active citizenship.
Part of the challenge has been the apathetic behaviour of citizens who are not willing to be part of the public faces or political faces or who continue to have a protest mentality which sometimes is not really proactive.
And civil society has been working very hard to build that social capital and bring it back and make it alive so that the citizens can begin to be part of the solution to the current challenges.
A: How do you describe the operating environment in this part of the country?
Q: The operating environment has been challenging here but also the operating environment has been challenging nationwide.
You operate in an environment where the state does not legitimise the good work that civil society organisations do but only criminalises and persecutes the work.
So the environment has been very tricky.
Also there is intimidation that citizens are being mobilised to believe that when they work with civil society organisations they are working with enemies of the state. This is the narrative that we saw during Gukurahundi.
In the context within which we are operating, there are people who are not free to express themselves for fear of arrest, persecution, torture or even abduction.
That environment continues especially as people continue to be reminded that the war can start again and for them the war they understand is when there are people with guns, ammunition.
That tends to affect the impact of the work that we do especially in terms of engaging with duty bearers, government and also engaging with right holders and mobilising them into the system.