Founded in the year 2015, Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) is an independent human rights watchdog that exists to enhance the nonviolent protection and promotion of human rights in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe.
MIHR’s major activities involve:
- Research, documentation and advocacy on critical human rights issues and concerns
- Nurturing and fostering effective and sustainable nonviolent human rights social movements that protect and defend human rights at the local levels
- Human rights awareness and education
The organization’s work focuses mainly on social, economic and environmental rights and freedoms.
Zimbabwe is facing a rapidly escalating Covid-19 infection rate with the country having recorded an unprecedented 4 808 cases and 83 deaths between 01 January and 07 January 2021.
As the cases increase, the provinces of Harare and Bulawayo continue to be the epicenters of the virus, recording the highest cases.
The majority of the cases are local infections which shows that there is very high incidences of local infections. This is the reason why the Vice President has promulgated Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 on the 2nd of January taking effect on the 5th of January 2021. SI10/2021 initiates stiffer lockdown measures.
The City of Bulawayo is facing acute water shortages with the local authority still implementing the 144 hours water rationing schedule. The Thursday 07 January 2021 council water schedule indicated that the City had only 25 suburbs with water restored, of which only 10 were from the high density, low income (western) areas.
In their November 2020 Joint statement, the United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders reiterated that “We are reminded that one way to prevent the spread of the virus is to practice proper personal hygiene by washing our hands using soap and water. Washing hands frequently is a simple daily routine of many but it is a privilege and luxury for those who do not have adequate water and sanitation services and those who face the decision of whether to drink water or use the water to wash their hands.”
This further emphasizes the centrality of water rights during the Covid-19 pandemic period.
Bulawayo has 3 known slum settlements that is, Ngozi Mine, Trenance slum settlement and Killarney slum settlement. The slum settlements (popularly known as squatter camps) have a total estimated 360 family households which averages a population of about 2 200 people.
MIHR assisted the Ngozi Mine slum residents to petition the Bulawayo City Council on access to water in 2020 and the petition was signed by over 160 residents. The petition was presented to the ward councilor who later advised that the local authority said they do not recognize the Ngozi Mine slum dwellers as existing Bulawayo residents and thus could not meet their demands of providing them with water rights.
Globally, the population of slum dwellers have been on the increase over the years with the current global population being estimated at 1 billion up from 883 million in 2003. It is also expected in Africa that, South of the Sahara, there are over 72 million slum settlers. The Zimbabwean Census Statistics Office (ZIMSTAT) does not record the population of slum dwellers separately from the other population. This makes it difficult to have authoritative statistics of Zimbabwean slum residents and thus there is reliance on statistics from the local committees.
Rationale for the Report
Section 56 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act 2013 forbids discrimination of any form and on any grounds and specifically declares that:
(3) Every person has the right not to be treated in an unfairly discriminatory manner on such grounds as their nationality, race, colour, tribe, place of birth, ethnic or social origin, language, class, religious belief, political affiliation, opinion, custom, culture, sex, gender, marital status, age, pregnancy, disability or economic or social status, or whether they are born in or out of wedlock.
(4) A person is treated in a discriminatory manner for the purpose of subsection (3) if-
(a) they are subjected directly or indirectly to a condition, restriction or disability to which other people are not subjected; or
(b) other people are accorded directly or indirectly a privilege or advantage which they are not accorded.
(6) The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures to promote the achievement of equality and to protect or advance people or classes of people who have been disadvantaged by unfair discrimination, and –
(a) such measures must be taken to redress circumstances of genuine need.
Furthermore, Section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe further stipulates that “Every person has the right to safe, clean and potable water”.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda (which Zimbabwe is part of) place emphasis on ensuring that the rights of slum communities are protected and promoted. Specifically, SDG 11 Target 11.1 envisions that “By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums”.
In the New Urban Agenda, governments committed that:
We reaffirm our pledge that no one will be left behind and commit ourselves to promoting equally the shared opportunities and benefits that urbanization can offer and that enable all inhabitants, whether living in formal or informal settlements, to lead decent, dignified and rewarding lives and to achieve their full human potential. (Clause 27)
They further committed themselves in Clause 34 to eliminate all forms of urban discrimination declaring that:
“We commit ourselves to promoting equitable and affordable access to sustainable, basic physical and social infrastructure for all, without discrimination, including affordable serviced land, housing, modern and renewable energy, safe drinking water and sanitation, safe, nutritious and adequate food, waste disposal, sustainable mobility, health care and family planning, education, culture, and information and communications technologies. We further commit ourselves to ensuring that these services are responsive to the rights and needs of women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and local communities, as appropriate, and to those of others in vulnerable situations. In this regard, we encourage the elimination of legal, institutional, socioeconomic and physical barriers.” (Clause 34).
In the Agenda 2063 Vision, African Countries (including Zimbabwe) agreed in Section 72 to speed up “improving the livelihoods of the great percentage of the people working and living in slums and informal settlements”.
In their 19 November 2020 Joint Statement, the United Nations Special Procedures mandate holder called on the “governments around the world to implement or reinstate the policy of prohibiting water cuts as well as other basic supplies and to guarantee a minimum essential amount of water and essential basic supplies to those who face difficulties to pay for those services and supplies.”
It can be concluded that Zimbabwe is in the context of escalating Covid-19 cases at a time when Bulawayo is facing water shortage problems. Furthermore, the country is having a progressive local and international legal environment that guarantees the right to clean, safe potable water and also prohibit discrimination (including of slum residents). Access to clean water is critical during this Covid-19 period as water is one of the essential ingredients to combat the spread of the Coronavirus through regular hand washing with clean running water and good hygiene. Whilst there is reality of the existence of slum residents in Bulawayo, the Ngozi Mine experience proves that the local authority has negative attitudes towards slum settlers and has taken the stance that they do not recognize them.
In view of these pertaining situations, it is important to examine the prevailing situation of slum settlements in Bulawayo and investigate:
a) Are they accessing clean and safe potable water like all the residents of Bulawayo?
b) Are they accessing information and services to curtail the spread of Covid-19 like all the residents of Bulawayo?
c) Are the local authority’s ‘non recognition’ attitudes for Ngozi Mine settlers consistent to other slum settlements and are they in any way permeating human rights violations for slum dwellers?
d) Are there any human rights violations happening in Bulawayo’s slum communities?
e) What needs to be done to ensure that people living in slum communities enjoy the same water rights and receive the same Covid-19 preventive measures like the rest of Bulawayo residents?
Read the full report here (1MB PDF)
Source: Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights