THE outpouring of grief following the death of Bulawayo water activist Arnold Payne on Monday was ample proof that he is considered by many as a hero.
Payne, born in Mtshabezi, Gwanda (76 years) ago rose to prominence in the 1990s after his extraordinary journey from the Zambezi River to Bulawayo while pushing a wheelbarrow laden with a 210lt drum full of water.
The symbolic gesture was meant to jolt the government into action and implement the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) that was first mooted by the colonial government in 1912.
MZWP is viewed as the only long- term solution to Bulawayo’s perennial water problems, but the government has a piecemeal approach to the project, which could just become another pipe dream.
Payne started his crusade well before water rationing became the norm in Bulawayo and before companies started relocating citing the uncertainty over future water supplies as the city supply dams became too small for the population.
He died at a time when Bulawayo has become a scrapyard in President Robert Mugabe’s own words. Bulawayo’s industries are deserted due to a myriad of problems – and lack of adequate water supplies is among them.
This year residents got a reprieve, not because a long-term solution to the water crisis has been found, but because there was above average rainfall.
Payne was ridiculed by some when he embarked on the trip to Bulawayo from the Zambezi River, but he went on to silence his critics by pushing the drum to Gwanda.The sacrifice he made was not in vain as the MZWP was catapulted into the national agenda.
That the project has not taken shape a decade after Payne’s heroic acts is down to incompetent politicians whose understanding of sustainable economic development of Matabeleland is questionable.
Bulawayo and the Matabeleland region cannot achieve meaningful development without assured long -term water supplies.
Bulawayo City Council honours heroes by giving them the freedom of the city awards. There is no doubt Payne deserved this in his lifetime. It is not too late to honour him even after his demise. Bulawayo is poorer without Payne.