Yvonne Ncube, Features Reporter
Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating International Day of the African Child on Friday.
The celebrations peaked under the theme “A Bulawayo fit for children.”
An organisation focusing on issues affecting young people, Youth Invest, hosted a virtual community dialogue on water rights and access to quality education.
Children, the Junior mayor, junior councillors, councillors and activists came together to discuss the nexus between water and children’s rights.
The historical day emanates from June 16, 1976 when nearly ten thousand black students from Soweto, South Africa, marched in the streets to protest the poor quality of their education. They marched to demonstrate their disapproval of the Black Education Act, which segregated students based on their race.
In the two weeks of protest that followed, dubbed the Soweto uprising, more than 100 students were killed and thousands were badly injured by security forces.
Since 1991, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 to commemorate those killed during the uprising in South Africa, and to recognise the courage of the students who marched for their right to an education.
The Day of the African Child is also an opportunity to raise awareness for the ongoing need to improve the education of children living across Africa. It’s a need that still very much exists today.
Participants noted that although it’s now 30 years after the adoption of the African Child Charter, children in Bulawayo still have no adequate access to essential services such as water, education, shelter and security. They highlighted that all these are their rights, which they now take for privileges.
They said that children, especially those attending schools in high density suburbs still carry their own water to school.
Participants bewailed the children who became victims of the Luveve diarrhoea outbreak and mourned the life of a Cowdray Park boy who drowned while trying to fetch water in a well.
Miss Sihle Mlauzi, a participant said it was heart-rending to see a child in early childhood development (ECD) level carrying a two-litre bottle full of water to school.
“It so sad that although children have so many rights, they are still denied the basic ones. Water is an essential service and one cannot spend the whole day without it, imagine a child. In Cowdray Park you find a child in ECD carrying a bag with books and two litres of water.
Imagine how heavy it is for them. We need access to water at all schools to achieve a Bulawayo that is fit for children,” said Miss Mlauzi.
Another participant Miss Ayanda Ntuthu said the surge in child headed families is a cause for concern.
“It’s such a privilege to have both parents taking care of you, catering for your needs and taking accountability of your wellbeing, but these days one does not get to enjoy that privilege. You can’t live in luxury knowing that someone of your age next-door is playing the role of a mother and a father to his/her siblings.
“You can’t even for a day have peace of mind knowing that someone of your age out there has taken on adult-size physical and mental tasks.
“These things need to be acted upon because they don’t just affect individuals but the whole community at large, we need to hold hands and build a Bulawayo that is fit for children for it is our entitlement,” said Miss Ntuthu.
Ward 4 and Acting Ward 3 Councillor Silas Chigora said Bulawayo City Council was working on rehabilitation of pumps and piping to improve accessibility of water in the city and ensuring a Bulawayo that is fit for children.
“The city is focusing on the rehabilitation of pumps and piping in order to increase the volume of water from dams to treatment works. The city in partnership with African Development Bank (AfDB) has been replacing pipes in the western areas. Fernhill, Criterion and Ncema pumps are being revamped. Rehabilitation of boreholes at Nyamandlovu and Rochester aquifers.
“A lot will depend on the central government to finish up Gwayi Shangani which is the panacea for Bulawayo water challenges,” said Cllr Chigora.
He said the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (NMZWP) of which the Gwayi Shangani Dam is a major component, need to be completed to eliminate water woes in the city.
Cllr Chigora said the water problem in Bulawayo arose after the city grew and new suburbs were established, without building more supply dams.
“We are being supplied by six dams, five of which were built before independence and Mtshabezi which was built after independence. The city has been growing and new suburbs are being built. We now have Cowdray Park which has over 20 000 stands.
“We inherited it from the central government through Hlalani Kuhle/Garikai Project. We inherited quite a number of stands that were never planned by the city in terms of water and sewer and there has always been a gap between demand and supply, on a day we need about 150 million litres of water and yet our supply from dams is on the average of 100-110 megalitres there is a gap of 40 megalitres. Hence, we shed water to try to share what is available to schools, companies, industries and commerce.”
Ms Yollander Millin a Social and Economic Justice Ambassador (SEJA), a Gender, youth and human rights activist said access to clean and safe water is a right that is enshrined in the Constitution.
“We can view water rights as absolute rights under the Constitution. Section 77 of the Constitution provides for the rights in sufficient food and potable water and the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures within the limits of the resources available.
“The water policy of August 2012 amongst other things provides that there should be equity in access to fresh water by all. Water should be available to all people equitably. There should be no compromise or violations as failure to provide for the right may lead to or cause death of nationals,” said Ms Millin.
At the end it was agreed that a Bulawayo fit for children is one where every child can go to school without fear of being turned away for failing to pay fees, where girls do not have to be forced into marriages, one where boys do not have to depend on alcohol for escapism, where girls are not sold to highest older bidders to escape poverty for families, where girls are not prostituting themselves as way to find ends meet and do not have to depend on blessers to live a comfortable life.
A Bulawayo fit for children is that where every child has a voice and every voice is [email protected]