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Typhoid cover up exposed

By Willie Mponda
The City of Gweru’s director of engineering services Mr Robson Manatsa is being accused of victimizing workers who leaked information to a committee of inquiry, alleging that the local authority may be responsible for the Typhoid outbreak that claimed eight lives in the city, it has been learnt.

According to Gweru United Residents Association (GURA), Secretary General Mr Reward Mhuri said, several workers who gave evidence to the committee of inquiry are now being victimised by some senior managers for leaking information which pointed out that council exercised negligent when it supplied Mkoba residents with unclean water.

“We have received information that some of our informants during our hearings are now being harassed by the director of engineering services, Eng Manatsa and already some have been transferred to other departments for unexplained reasons. If the allegations are true, council should investigate and take action. As a member of the committee of inquiry we are not taking this lightly because people died of typhoid in Mkoba and we want closure on this issue,” said Mhuri.
When contacted for comment, Eng Manatsa laughed off the allegations saying it was the work of people who hate him.

“It’s not true that I’m harassing some workers at Works-yard who gave information to the committee of inquiry, I was talking to my managers at the yard about organising a meeting to look into issues raised in the report. Why should I really do that?,” said Eng Manatsa.
When The Sun news crew visited the council work-yard, workers confirmed the allegations saying several transfer letters were written by management and four were served recently. The management is said to have failed to serve further letters after workers demanded a meeting which Eng Manatsa and other officials but failed to attend.

“Yes we are being victimised by the management and we suspect it has to do with information we supplied to the committee of inquiry. We request the Mayor and council to look into this issue as a matter of urgency, “said one worker who requested anonymity.
At least eight people died and more than 2000 were hospitalised during the typhoid outbreak which attributed to human error by council workers who allegedly failed to use chemicals to disinfect and properly clean up decommissioned tanks before supplying water to house-holds in the affected areas in Mkoba suburb.

According to the service delivery inquiry report released last week, sentiments of human error were contributed to the outbreak of typhoid in Gweru.
“The water quality during the period was not safe for consumption as there were some reports from wards 7, 13,14, 15 17, 18 and 19 where yellowish and green water was coming out from the taps.
The department of engineering work-force confirmed that there was a last minute rush to flash out water in the affected areas when the outbreak was confirmed and the process used to fill up the reservoirs was not properly followed.

There are allegations that the water was pumped into the decommissioned tanks, which were idle for over two decades ago exposing the residents to poor water quality. Tanks 1, 2 and 3 in Mkoba 14 were not flashed, scoured nor backwashed as demanded by the procedure a violation of safety and health of the residents,” reads the report which was compiled by a committee led by Councillor Albert Chirau which included councilors, representatives of the residents association.

The committee also established during its investigations that chemicals were not applied by workers who were instructed to sweep the tanks as opposed to cleaning, had old protective wear such as used gumboots, overalls, gloves as well as hard brooms.
The expected standard and procedure which requires new materials and protective wear was violated thereby compromising safety of the residents. The tanks were supposed to be backwashed, scoured, and flashed four times before the water is released into the distribution system.

“It is the committee’s view that the process was negligent and raises misconduct on the part of the responsible department head and the Health department which is central to management of water quality; it was observed that there is no link, relationship or coordination between the two departments. The department of health is isolated in water sampling as the department of engineering services relies on their independent findings alone to declare the water as safe for human consumption despite the health department being pivotal and inevitably an anchor in the City’s water quality management process,” said the committee.

The committee further recommended that the Town Clerk, Ms Elizabeth Gwatipedza must further interrogate why decommissioned water reservoirs were filled with water without following due process. The poor cleaning procedure contributed to the outbreak of typhoid.

The Committee received a concern from the Health Department that the department should not only stand to fight reduction of mortality when water related outbreaks occur but must inevitably be part and parcel of the routine water quality management process in coordination with the department of Engineering services through the water quality technician as the focal person.
In August last year, Gweru City Council declared a typhoid outbreak in three Mkoba suburbs, advising residents to desist from drinking water from unprotected sources.

“Residents and clients are advised that the municipal water is safe for drinking. The city council is carrying out an investigation to establish the source of the salmonella bacteria, which causes typhoid in response to the outbreak,” reads a statement from council last year.

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