The idea to build a pipeline from the Zambezi River to Bulawayo was first mooted in 1912 by the British colonial rulers of the then Southern Rhodesia after realising that Matabeleland region suffered persistent droughts.
The implementation of the project has been hampered by all sorts of problems since then and its becoming a reality is still a distant dream whose tangible fruits would likely be enjoyed by generations to come, not this one.
The plan to draw water from the great Zambezi, regarded as the sole and permanent solution to the region’s perennial water woes, was to construct a dam with a capacity to hold 691 million cubic metres of water and the pipeline from the Zambezi River linking the dam with Bulawayo.
As per the plan, a green belt which is 30 kilometres wide on either side of the 450km pipeline was to be created and was to see more than five million hectares being put under irrigation.
“At the rate at which that project is progressing, it is likely to take another half-a-century more for it to be reality,” said Zapu spokesperson Mr Methuseli Moyo.
He said the project had suffered from a lot of political tensions and hence progress was slow.
“We have already lost 32 years since independence, as the central Government has done nothing major to take the project forward,” said Mr Moyo.
He said the colonial governments could not be entirely blamed for the slow progression of the water project, as they thought that black people were not desperate for development.
“I think the solution to this problem is for Government to come up with a clear formula to allocate funds to regions or provinces.
“Matabeleland North is rich in hard wood, methane, coal and other resources but these have not helped the region or the project itself, but if we had regional governments, people from Victoria Falls to Beitbridge, given their wealth and water challenges, will prioritise the completion of the project,” said Mr Moyo.
When implemented in full capacity, the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (NMZWP), as it has become known, could be one of the drivers of the country’s Gross Domestic Product given that it would allow for millions of hectarage to be put under cultivation and other spin-off benefits.
It is worrying to note the snail’s pace at which the project is being undertaken, given the ultimate benefits of NMZWP.
Minister of Industry and Commerce and MDC president Professor Welshman Ncube said the progress of the construction of the project was by far unacceptable even after independence.
“It is very obvious that the project has been very slow and that is why the three parties in the Government of National Unity (Zanu-PF, MDC-T and MDC) agreed to make it a national project because it is a very big project,” said Prof Ncube.
He said the only solution to ensure that the NMZWP was completed was for Government to take charge of the project.
“It should be treated as a national project to allow Government to allocate meaningful funding towards the project,” said Prof Ncube.
Since 1912, successive governments have failed to implement the project citing high costs but lack of political will has also been cited as one of the major stumbling blocks to the success of the project.
The project was previously being run by the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust with Dr Dumiso Dabengwa as chairman, before the Inclusive Government decided to take over.
Bulawayo United Residents’ Association (Bura) chairperson Mr Winos Dube said the water project had been negatively impacted by political squabbles and the fight for controlling the project.
“What needs to be done is for people to work together because this project, once it is complete, will benefit all Zimbabweans,” said Mr Dube.
He said unity of purpose among political players and the powers that be would be advantageous to the development of the project.
“If people unite, you will see progress in the project because when all is said and done the people need water,” said Mr Dube.
According to a plan by the Ministry of Water Resources and Development, Phase One of this project is the construction of the Gwayi Shangani Dam, Phase Two is the construction of a pipeline from Gwayi Shangani Dam to Bulawayo. Phase Three will be connecting a pipe from Zambezi River to Gwayi Shangani Dam to increase the volume of water in the Gwayi Shangani Dam to enable for the actual pushing of substantial amounts of water from Gwayi Shangani to Bulawayo and the Midlands.
Phase Four will be taking water from Bulawayo through a pipeline or canal to Beitbridge.
As per the plan there will be off-takes along the route as this pipeline travels in Matabeleland North to Bulawayo. There will be some pipes that would branch off from that main pipe to service areas such as Kadoma, Kwekwe and Gweru and there will also be some branches that will take that water to areas like Plumtree and from there it would go to Beitbridge.
Bulawayo Agenda director Mr Thabani Nyoni said the name “Matabeleland” on the project only meant that the region was the chief beneficiary, but has been used to frustrate its progress.
“The project has degenerated to a case of abandonment especially in the national budget. The project has not benefited much from the allocations,” said Mr Nyoni.
He said from the civic society point of view, Matabeleland people should not lobby for the completion of the project by themselves but all stakeholders should play a part.
Water Resources and Development Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo has in the past admitted that no government can do the project on its own, as it was a huge project.
According to Minister Nkomo, the project would require the private sector to partner Government as well as financial institutions from outside the country to chip in and assist bring the project to an end.
l [email protected]/ [email protected]