HARARE-She is 95-years-old and visibly frail. But of late, Leocardia Sagwete has been exhibiting the energy of a toddler.
After spending seven months without running water, Sagwete felt the Harare City Council had condemned her to the grave.
“How can I survive without water at my age? They (council officials) wanted to send me to an early death,” she said.
Thanks to the intervention by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the Harare City Council has now been forced to restore running water supplies to the community in Harare’s Old Marimba Park suburb.
“I am now busy with some projects,” she said last week. It was not only Sagwete’s life at stake. Many others in her age group were being forced to scrounge for the precious liquid, often travelling long distances to solicit water from those with boreholes at their homes.
Marimba Park was once the magnet for rich black Zimbabweans during the colonial era, but the suburb has since become a run-down bastion of old people.
Grannies in their 80s and 90s make up a significant population in Marimba Park and regular supply of water is critical to their survival – a fact ignored by Harare City Council until ZLHR lawyers Dzimbabwe Chimbga and Jeremiah Bamu took steps to institute legal proceedings to enforce the rights of the elderly to water as a socioeconomic right.
“They are all retired and mostly stay alone in these houses. They are all on medication of one form or another as is common with people of this age,” said Chimbga.
He added: “They suffer from life threatening ailments that include high blood pressure, arthritis and frequent bowl movement related challenges.
These ailments require that they take medication and lots of water at any given time. As aged people, they also constantly require the use of toilet and bathroom facilities on a frequent basis. The need for
running water in their houses can therefore not be over emphasized. It is a sine qua non (indispensable)
for their continued existence,” said Chimbga in one of several correspondences with council.
After a protracted battle with seemingly insensitive council officials, council finally yielded and dispatched its workmen to fix what residents described as “a minor pump problem”.
While happy that ZLHR has successfully intervened to ensure that the elderly residents accessed their rights contained in the new Constitution, Bamu said it was disheartening that it had to take legal processes for council to respect a basic right such as the right to water.
Due to their circumstances, the elderly are given special protection by the Constitution. This should go beyond the Constitution and must be seen as a social need. Our society should be more responsible in dealing with the elderly and treat them humanely,” said Bamu.
Last week, The Legal Monitor, which since June extensively reported on the grave situation facing the aged people in Marimba Park, trekked back to the suburb to take stock of the situation.
At Sagwete’s home, the agony so palpable during the initial visit by The Legal Monitor is gone; replaced by a lively chat.
“Cheers,” shouted Sagwete as she mustered all her energy to show us around. “I am old and suffer from all sorts of ailments but I feel alive now that there is water. I can never thank ZLHR enough for the effort. Council had condemned us. They were not even concerned despite numerous efforts by people here to engage them until the lawyers took over the issue,” she said.
ZLHR intervened some months ago to assist Marimba Park residents in pressing the local authorities to restore long-defunct water connection and supply and respect their right to water.
The reconnection has allowed community members such as Sagwete to restart their vegetable and other projects.
“With the help of my children I have already started rearing chickens to get some money to help around the house. The project had collapsed because of the water problems,” she said.
Lucia Shekede, a widow aged 82 years said life had become easier.
A flourishing garden at Newton Jekecha’s home bears testimony to the changed circumstances. The last time The Legal Monitor team was at 86-year-old Newton Jekecha’s residence, he couldn’t afford to give us a glass of water to drink. He had none.
On this visit, the team carried with it a bunch of vegetables upon departing.
“I am an old man now and money is tight so this garden helps feed the family and if I produce more than enough for the family we sell,” he said. But he still has a gripe with the city council.
“They are reaping us off. The bills are always the same and we are being asked to pay even for the months we had no water,” said Jekecha, who is the Marimba Park Residents Association vice chairman.
“We applaud ZLHR for fighting for our rights. We had been abandoned,” said Jekecha.