The year 2014 will go down as yet another year in which electoral promises from the ruling Zanu PF government and local authorities have failed to translate into meaningful improvement in service delivery for long-suffering Zimbabweans.
Instead, people this year saw a further deterioration in the health delivery system, a slight improvement in water provision and sewer reticulation, while garbage collection remained sporadic with the Harare’s central business district (CBD) turning into a jungle of vendors.
Many households occasionally endured long hours of up to 18 hours without electricity on consecutive days, despite the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) installing pre-paid meters in most households to help it manage demand and customer indebtedness.
Zesa cited the same old excuses of lack of investment in the energy sector, with its obsolete equipment suffering frequent breakdowns, while maintenance work at power stations was also given as another reason for power outages.
While incessant water and power cuts were among a plethora of hardships that continued to dog Zimbabweans in the year, controversial house demolitions, some nocturnal, by council compounded the plight of residents. Job losses in a tough economic environment and decaying infrastructure have not made things any better for the country.
If there was a grain of truth in President Robert Mugabe’s claims in July that things were starting to get better, he was obviously not referring to service delivery and the economy.
The signing of several deals and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the Chinese and Russians did not bring any change for the better. Numerous groundbreaking ceremonies by government have failed to bear any fruit over the years.
One such event was former transport minister Enos Chikowore’s famous ground-breaking ceremony across the Hunyani River for the Harare-Chitungwiza railway line which has not been constructed despite the preliminary assessment (technical and economic) being completed in May 1987.
This year, Zimbabwe signed a US$144,4 million loan deal with China for improvements in water and sewerage reticulation. There was controversy when it was revealed the Harare city fathers had used part of the money to buy 25 luxury vehicles yet water shortages remained critical with some suburbs going for the whole year without running water, creating a major health hazard and raising fears of a cholera outbreak.
Mugabe also went to China in August where deals and MOUs were clinched in the development of power projects, road dualisation and railway line construction, subject to project feasibility studies.
However, the deals remain pie in the sky as no funding has been availed yet.
In any case, many of the deals touted as transforming the country and improving people’s lives are shrouded in opacity amid graft allegations, with the Kariba South Power Station Extension Project’s costs ballooning from an initial US$355 million to US$533 million under suspicious circumstances.
With Zanu PF’s controversial general elections victory in 2013, the health sector suffered the most as the Health Transition Fund, created during the inclusive government era (2009-2013), was abolished.
During the days of the inclusive government, the National Health Strategy for Zimbabwe was adopted and the health sector received a major boost when the United Kingdom announced a contribution of £74 million (around US$120 million) to support maternal and child health.
This was a five-year health sector recovery plan which sought to reverse the decline in the performance of the country’s health delivery system, especially as it impacted on universal access to primary healthcare by vulnerable populations.
The goals of the plan included tackling the levels of health financing and thus improving access to basic medical equipment and essential medicines; taking steps to attract and retain health workers in the public health sector; and laying the foundation for an investment policy to fund the rehabilitation and development of the health services infrastructure.
During that period, Zimbabwe enjoyed temporary improvement in which changes within the health sector were notable as drugs were donated by the international community and hospitals revived their day-to-day activities.
However, soon after Zanu PF’s electoral triumph, which ended the unity government, the public health system took a nosedive resulting in hospitals failing to dispense basic drugs such as anti-retroviral drugs and pain killers, throwing the lives of more than 600 000 people into danger.
The health sector has also been severely affected by declining budget allocations.
In October, doctors downed their tools to push for better remuneration resulting in loss of lives. The intensive care unit (ICU) at Parirenyatwa also gave in to the economic meltdown and was shut down amid reports the authorities failed to repair broken down equipment including 15 ventilation systems, as standards at the institution continue to nosedive.
The decay at Parirenyatwa is microcosmic of government’s failure to provide decent social services. Most hospitals are using obsolete medical machinery, with Harare Central Hospital’s X-rays and ultrasound scan machines, for instance, reported earlier this year, down most of the time due to persistent water shortages.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Zimbabweans will wonder how they survived this year.
“Everything was on auto-pilot as those who are supposed to provide service delivery were locked in a bitter wrangle for political power,” Saungweme said.
“We cannot afford to go another year without proper services otherwise there will be an uproar.”
There was also talk of demolitions of houses, a move which invoked memories of the 2005 brutal slum clearance operation dubbed Murambatsvina (Restore Order) which left more than
700 000 people homeless and was described by the United Nations as an “unjustified violation of international law which created a humanitarian crisis”.
Chitungwiza municipal police demolished up to 70 “illegal” houses and other structures in the dormitory town, leaving scores of families in the cold. Affected families said they were stunned out of their sleep in the early hours with the demolitions targeting illegal structures in areas such as Unit A, H and P. It was revealed that local authorities and politicians were complicit in allocating stands illegally.
Social commentator Godwin Phiri said: “Our people continued to go without water, electricity, adequate housing and properly serviced roads yet they continued paying rates and fees for services that were not delivered. The government concentrated on politics than service delivery.”
Nonetheless, it was not all gloom this year: the Harare City Council this month said it had increased water delivery by 72 megalitres thanks to ongoing rehabilitation work, resulting in water availability in areas that had gone for years without water, such as Mabvuku and Tafara high-density suburbs.
The power supply situation has improved, with Zesa promising there would virtually be no power cuts during the festive season.
As 2015 beckons, Zimbabweans will be guardedly optimistic that improvement in service delivery will be maintained or even speeded up to reach acceptable levels.