Learning institutions whose premises were used as quarantine centres are being haunted by huge water and electricity bills accumulated during the lockdown, a situation that could put learners at risk of Covid-19 if they get disconnected for non-payment.
BY BOKANI MUDIMBA
In Matabeleland North, Mosi-oa-Tunya High School in Victoria Falls, Mabhikwa High School in Lupane and Lupane State University (LSU) were used as quarantine centres between April and September when the returnees were removed to allow for reopening of schools, but had already incurred huge bills.
Grade Six, Form Three and Form Five classes resumed last month, amid concerns that the uncleared water bills would cause challenges for school administrators.
Already LSU, with a bill of around $150 000, has been disconnected by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), leaving hundreds of students without running water, a key preventive measure against coronavirus.
Water was only restored after the university authorities engaged Zinwa.
Zimbabwe effected a national lockdown on March 29 to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the three institutions were identified as quarantine centres in the province to receive and detain citizens returning from other countries as part of measures to contain spread of the coronavirus.
The government promised to cater for the welfare of returnees as well as service costs at the quarantine centres, but has reportedly not paid for water and electricity resulting in the bills ballooning.
Mosi-oa-Tunya owes Victoria Falls Town Council $103 000 for water and $75 000 to Zesa for electricity while Mabhikwa owes Zinwa and Zesa a combined $100 000.
The unpaid bills accumulated between April and September.
“We got a verbal demand to clear our water bill which is close to $100 000 or risk being disconnected.
“This could pose a health hazard for learners,” says Themba Mhlanga, the school development committee chairperson for Mabhikwa High School.
The school gets its water from Zinwa.
Authorities at Mosi-oa-Tunya, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the school had approached the municipality appealing for the bill to be written-off.
“We owe council in excess of $100 000 and the bulk of the money was left by those who were on quarantine as the government has not paid anything,” a Mosi-oa-Tunya official said.
“They also left an electricity bill.
“Our fear is that we may be disconnected at a time when more classes resume and we will be left with no running water which is critical.”
The government was supposed to settle the bills through the social welfare department which is responsible for the welfare of the returnees.
School authorities said they were tired of false promises from the department.
“They have been making promises, but nothing has been paid yet,” said an official at one of the schools.
“We have even stopped making follow-ups and we now risk having water disconnected which will be a disaster.
“The bills were accrued through a government national programme, which is why we wish it could be written off if they can’t pay.”
Matabeleland North provincial education director Jabulani Mpofu said his office would make follow-ups.
“Social welfare caters for that. We haven’t received official reports from the schools, but we will be making follow-ups with them to assess the situation,” Mpofu said.
Matabeleland North provincial social welfare officer Macnon Chirinzepi said the matter was being handled by the social welfare head office, which had already engaged the schools.
“We have been engaging them directly from Harare and what remains are some logistics for payment to be done. The challenge for them is the time that this has taken,” Chirinzepi said.
In April, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare deputy minister Lovemore Matuke visited Victoria Falls where he said the government would take care of every need of returning citizens including their welfare and transport to their homes after discharge as well as the cost of their stay at the quarantine centres.
Currently, only Encore Budget Lodge and Inyathi Training Centre are functional in Matabeleland North, as all other facilities have closed because of the reduction in number of returnees.
l This article was originally published by The Citizen Bulletin, a hyperlocal news outlet covering Covid-19 in Matabeleland.