RESIDENTS in Bulawayo on Thursday last week filed a class action civil suit with the High Court suing the city council for failing to provide safe water for consumption as required by the Urban Councils Act of Zimbabwe.
A class action is a lawsuit where one of the parties is a group of people who are represented collectively by a member of that group. The lawsuit emanates from the typhoid outbreak which recently hit the city mainly in Luveve and surrounding areas after residents reportedly consumed council water, with the Government noting that the water was contaminated with human waste.
The outbreak resulted in over 2 000 people being infected and 13 confirmed deaths. The residents, under the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association, are being represented by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
According to the court papers, the residents, the Minister of Local Government and Public Works, Cde July Moyo is cited as the second respondent in his role as overseeing the parent ministry of all local authorities.
“The statutory obligation of the first defendant is to provide and maintain a supply of safe and clean potable water to its council area, arising, in turn and inter alia from Section 183 of the Urban Council Act, Section 19 of the City of Bulawayo sewerage, drainage and water by-laws and Section 57 of the Environmental Management Act.
“The first defendant breached these duties of care in that it supplied the plaintiffs and residents of its council areas with water contaminated with faecal matter, coliform bacteria and water that was visibly discoloured, mixed with solids, odoriferous and clearly unfit for human consumption,” reads part of the lawsuit.
The residents further allege that the local authority breached the constitutional rights to life, human dignity, personal security, safe, clean potable water and the right to adequate health care.
“As a result of the first defendant’s breach of its duties the plaintiffs were exposed to typhus, shigella and other bacteria which caused them to contract or materially contributed to them contracting a serious gastrointestinal disease. Further to the breach of its duties the first defendant behaved in an egregious, insidious and recalcitrant manner in that it was grossly negligent, failed to take adequate measures to diagnose and stop the spread of the outbreak, through its representatives adopted a callous, offensive and combative attitude even in the face of loss of lives,” noted the residents.
The residents further allege that the local authority is guilty of oppressive, arbitrary and unconstitutional actions. According to the lawsuit the class action has been classified into two classes with the first class suing for general damages for pain, suffering, disfigurement, loss of amenities of life, disablement and reduced life expectancy, psychological trauma and loss of human dignity.
The first class are also suing for past, future medical expenses and past, future loss of earnings. Members of the second class have suffered medical expenses, loss of support due to death of breadwinners and general damages for psychological trauma, consequent upon observing the decline and ultimate demise under painful circumstances, of a loved one.
“The plaintiffs seek an order declaring that the defendants are liable to the class members for damages and that the defendants violated the connotational rights of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also seek an order declaring that the defendants are liable for exemplary damages in the circumstances of this case,” reads part of the lawsuit.
Attached to the lawsuit are also independent test results of water samples taken from Luveve which was done by the Diagnopath Medical Laboratory in Bulawayo which declared the water as unsatisfactory and bacteriologically unfit for human consumption. The local authority and the minister have been given 10 days to file their opposing papers to the lawsuit. When the outbreak was initially reported the local authority blamed it on obsolete infrastructure and residents’ failure to disinfect their water storage containers.
The residents want the court to determine if the council has a case to answer, and then determine the damages to be awarded to affected residents.