Nyanga Magistrate Notebulgar Muchineripi has ordered Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) to immediately restore water connection to some premises belonging to a Nyanga man after the water utility had unilaterally disconnected supplies at his premises and resorted to self-help as a way to force him to pay a disputed water bill.
Officials from ZINWA had on 22 August 2021 disconnected water supplies at Chipo Chitowa’s premises located at Nyaruwaka Township in in Nyamaropa located in Nyanga District in Manicaland province without serving him a written notice of the disconnection of water or a court order authorising such action.
In an application filed on his behalf on 24 August 2021 by Moses Chikomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the 51 year-old Chitowa argued that while his payments to ZINWA were up to date, he was shocked to receive a statement from the water utility which indicated that his account had outstanding arrears amounting to ZWL9 339.
Chitowa said he contacted ZINWA officials and registered a complaint over the water bill and they admitted to a potential error and pledged to investigate and advise him of the outcome of their probe.
However, the ZINWA officials never got back to Chitowa as promised and on 22 August 2021 he was surprised when officials from the state-run water utility visited his premises intending to disconnect water supplies and proceeded to do so even though he was not served with a notice of the disconnection of water supplies.
Chitowa protested that ZINWA had resorted to self-help by disconnecting water supplies without a notice or obtaining a court order authorising it to do so since he disputed the amount claimed and that the water utility had admitted to a potential error.
ZINWA’s actions Chitowa said, were unlawful and violated his fundamental right to the enjoyment and use of water as enshrined in Section 77 of the Constitution particularly when he had been diligently paying his water account and is up to date with his payments.
The Nyanga resident argued that while ZINWA has a right to collect its debts, it cannot do so by resorting to unlawful means.
He also argued that he together with other people at his premises had been exposed to unhygienic conditions since they can no longer use toilets, wash hands nor access safe drinking water as part of practising health and safety precautions necessary to curb the outbreak and spread of coronavirus.
In response to the application, Magistrate Muchineripi ordered ZINWA to restore water supplies at Chitowa’s premises and ruled that if supplies are not restored within 24 hours after service of his order, the Messenger of Court would be empowered to restore water supplies at a cost which would be borne by the water utility.
In compliance with the court order, ZINWA officials restored water supplies at Chitowa’s premises.