Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
SOME residents say she is cruel and cold-hearted for denying them access into her plot to fetch borehole water, but land owner Sifelani Dube insists name calling or any form of intimidation will not make her give into their demands.
It’s a battle that has been raging for months, but has only intensified in the last couple of weeks, pitting Emganwini suburb residents against her, whose land has a borehole — a lifeline for residents in the high density suburb. So bad is the tiff over the precious liquid that it has allegedly sucked in the local leadership and the Bulawayo City Council.
Bulawayo is going through one of its water shortages in recent years as water levels in the city’s supply dams are dwindling rapidly and taps are getting drier by the day.
Daily struggles of fetching water from bowsers — giant movable water tanks supplied by the city council to the driest areas — to unprotected sources such as streams and burst pipes, are intensifying by the day.
Residents in suburbs such as Magwegwe, Nkulumane and Nketa, which the city council says are high-lying areas that will bear the brunt of long periods of water shedding, have not received water from their taps for weeks on end.
But it’s the Emganwini wrangle over borehole water that is giving Dube, residents and the ward councillor sleepless nights.
Residents are demanding access to a plot owned by Dube to fetch borehole water, which they say is rightfully theirs, but the landowner insists the community is not entitled to a single drop of the water.
“I bought this land in 2011 with the intention of building a primary school, work which has already started as you can see by those classroom blocks that the construction team is busy with and I moved permanently to the site at the beginning of the year.
“A non-governmental organisation sunk this borehole after I had bought the land and residents had been fetching water for years now and I didn’t have a problem with that. The borehole was then vandalised and I tried engaging the local community to help fix it, but no one came forward and I was left with no choice but to do it on my own since I needed the water for the construction work,” said Dube.
According to the businesswoman who also owns a liquor store in the same suburb, trouble started brewing when she started charging residents for the water to recover her money she spent on rehabilitating the vandalised borehole.
“It’s not even much, I charge $1 (local currency) for a 20 litre container of water and that seems to be the source of the problem. Instead of appreciating that I got the borehole fixed and that it’s on private property, the local councillor (Norman Hlabani) has been instigating residents to turn against me,” she added.
When the Saturday Leisure crew visited the plot, which sits just next to the Plumtree highway, construction workers were busy working on one of the classroom blocks at the site.
Once completed, the education institution will be known as Ndazi Primary School.
Dube pulled out paperwork including approved plans for the school by the Bulawayo City Council, an agreement of sale between her and the previous owner among other documents to prove she is the legitimate titleholder of the land where the borehole was sunk.
But residents say she is just a cruel and cold-hearted woman who is not justified to deny them access to water at a time the city is running dry with each passing day.
“That borehole was a gift to the people of Emganwini from an NGO that answered our pleas for an alternative source of water. She has no right to deny us that water. It’s just unfair and cruel for her to do that,” complained Mpilo Mguni, who lives a stone’s throw away from the plot.
Mguni said prior to being kicked out of the plot, his family had been fetching water from the borehole for the last eight years.
Another resident, Maria Kamwendo said it pains her to see the scarce commodity used for construction work when residents are struggling to fill their buckets with water.
“She can use some of the water for construction and also allow residents to fetch some for household purposes and everyone is happy,” said Kamwendo.
But the landowner dug her heels in defiance.
Dube says the local councillor Hlabani must explain to the community that they are not entitled to access to her land.
“I’m entitled to restrict access into my property and there’s nothing that anybody can do about that. The community wanted to continue doing their gardening in my plot when we are in the process of building a school and that’s why we are not seeing eye to eye,” she insisted.
The Bulawayo City Council has been rehabilitating boreholes at Nyamandlovu aquifer to feed into the city’s water supply system. The aquifer is expected to add eight megalitres per day from an average of three megalitres.
Bulawayo requires about 130 megalitres per day.
Ward 26 councillor Hlabani could not be reached for a comment. — @RaymondJaravaza