Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Court Reporter
BULAWAYO residents have approached the High Court seeking an order directing council to release the laboratory samples of tap water and other vital information relating to the diarrhoea outbreak in Luveve and surrounding suburbs.
They want to submit all the samples and piping tests to a private laboratory in Harare.
Twelve people have died since the outbreak of typhoid and dysentery in Bulawayo last month while more than 1 500 people have been infected by the diseases.
Bulawayo City Council (BCC) says it is yet to establish the source of the outbreak but residents blame council for pumping contaminated water to households.
Government has said water shedding and vandalism of sewerage infrastructure could have caused the gastrointestinal disease outbreak.
Tests done at private laboratories to ascertain the causes of the deaths and illness have been linked to symptoms consistent with typhoid and dysentery.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) and one of the victims Mr Chrispen Ngulube, through their lawyers, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, have filed an urgent chamber application at the Bulawayo High Court citing BCC as a respondent.
They are seeking an order compelling the local authority to release vital local authority information relating to the outbreak, which they intend to use against the council in a lawsuit.
The residents want council to avail complete and legible copies of records of laboratory test results for samples of potted and municipal tap water taken from various containers and unspecified residences between May 17 to the date of issue of the order.
They also want council to avail records and documents related to routine maintenance, inspection, repair schedules of water infrastructure including fresh water and sewer pipes for Luveve for the period between January 1 to June 25, 2020.
In his founding affidavit, BPRA coordinator Mr Emmanuel Ndlovu said the council did not make public, the nature of the bacteria found in the water which residents drank and also failed to particularise the standards used to pass the tap water as satisfactory.
He said BPRA and affected residents have resolved to sue BCC for allegedly causing the death of 12 people and infection of more than 1 500. “This application is brought pending a civil suit referred to as a class action against the respondent (BCC) for the purposes of collecting and preserving some evidence that is necessary for the proof of the claims in the proposed class action,” said Mr Ndlovu.
“In that regard, appropriate initiating processes will be used in this honourable court and formally served in due course. The evidence at issue is in control and custody of the respondent and it is my earnest belief that it might be destroyed if applicants were to wait for litigation.”
Mr Ndlovu said since council is refusing to be liable for negligence, it was likely to conceal or destroy the evidence. “The respondent is moving with a sluggard pace in so far as the release of information to the public is concerned. People continue to suffer unbearable pain and to die from this gastrointestinal disease outbreak yet the respondent continues to supply water through its old pipes,” he said.
“It becomes a matter of urgency for swab, water and pipe samples to be taken and tested to arrest any further contamination and illness.”
Mr Ndlovu said residents are demanding an independent expert appointed to collect samples of the water and pipe system to determine the cause of the outbreak.
They accuse the local authority of attempting to cover their tracks by embarking on a rushed exercise to lay new polyvinyl chloride (PVC) water pipes in the suburb.
Residents reported that the water, when pumped from the tap, was discoloured, with particles of solid matter, greyish brownish, dark green in colour. They said the water was odoriferous and want to be granted access to the plumbing maintenance sites in the suburb.
In his supporting affidavit, Mr Ngulube said residents continued to suffer from the gastrointestinal illness after drinking tap water.
He said without exception, all affected residents collected and used the water after one of the regulated five days of water cuts imposed on most of the city by the council.
“I was personally affected. On May 17, 2020, water supplies were restored in my neighbourhood after five days of no water. I started feeling ill two days later and had a running tummy and stomach cramps such that I had to go to Luveve Clinic,” he said.
Mr Ngulube said he has not fully recovered.
BCC is yet to file opposing papers. — @mashnets