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Chitungwiza mayor learns hard way

Augustine Mukaro/Ray Matikinye

CHITUNGWIZA mayor Misheck Shoko might have failed to comprehend how thoroughly Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo does a hatchet job when it comes to harassing any offi

cial that comes into office on the coat tails of the opposition MDC.

But he should have learnt that the sword of Damocles was permanently hanging over his head when the minister ejected his colleague, Harare’s first popularly elected executive mayor, Elias Mudzuri, from office.

As a former independence war fighter, Shoko could have reapplied some wartime tactics and girded his loins for a long-haul counter-attack on the university lecturer-turned-politician’s antics.

Now he has learnt the hard way.

A few days after residents of the sprawling dormitory town woke up to dry taps, government took over Chitungwiza town council by using its utility arm, the Zimbabwe Water Authority, to cut off water for a bill it actually owes the local authority.

On Monday government pulled out $5 billion from a hat to finance the purchase of motors for sewage pumps as a measure to arrest deteriorating services.

Zanu PF has resorted to arbitrary take-overs of cities it lost in elections to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change using flimsy excuses of mismanagement and poor service delivery. Chitungwiza is the latest victim of the onslaught.

Over the past three years, MDC-led local authorities have been subjected to systematic assault by a government whose electoral fortunes have been confined to rural outposts since the launch of the MDC. Analysts view government’s actions as a concerted effort to subvert residents’ democratic right to elect a council by imposing Zanu PF leaders on urban councils.

Starting with the Harare mayoral saga, Chombo has become master at showing that the purported decentralisation of authority to promote efficiency is in reality designed to protect the ruling Zanu PF party’s declining fortunes.

None other President Robert Mugabe has lamented his party’s loss of control of most urban centres, particularly the capital Harare, hence the undemocratic extension of the term of the government-imposed commission beyond its legal mandate. MDC-led councils have the onerous duty of putting up with a minister who deliberately delays approving budgets to cripple their operations.

The executive mayor of Bulawayo, Japhet Ndabeni Ncube’s administration is owed billions by government departments for services delivered to the army, the police and other government institutions that could improve a worsening cash-flow situation in Zimbabwe’s second largest city.

Yet government has taken an inordinate time to pay up, hoping service delivery in the city will deteriorate in one of the best-run cities in the country to create an excuse for a takeover.

Commentators said the way Chombo moved into Chitungwiza this week exposed Zanu PF’s grand plan to grab urban areas from MDC control.

The same excuses were used to elbow Engineer Mudzuri out of Harare, dismiss Mayor Francis Dhlakama from Chegutu, and suspend Misheck Kagurabadza from Mutare. Relentless efforts are being made to dislodge Japhet Ncube from Bulawayo.

At the height of divisions in Zanu PF in Matabeleland before its December congress, metropolitan governor and resident minister Cain Mathema stunned party delegates to a meeting with the president when he said: “We are so divided here in Matabeleland as a province. These divisions have weakened our resolve to dislodge the MDC mayor as has happened in Harare.”

Combined Harare Residents Association chairman Mike Davies said there was a trend of blatant subversion with government creating problems for opposition mayors so that it can usurp their functions.

In all cases Chombo starts by appointing Zanu PF-linked investigating committees whose partiality is obvious.

The first victim was Mudzuri who was suspended in April 2003 before being fired a year later.

“Government has a record of denying opposition-run councils borrowing powers,” Davies said adding: “When the situation gets bad, government accuses the mayor and councillors of mismanagement before moving in to give money to its imposed leadership.”

Davies said government was failing to come up with legitimate means to return urban local authorities to Zanu PF after the party was overwhelmingly rejected by the electorate.

“Zanu PF has lost the mandate of the people so it has to resort to totalitarian means of usurping power,” he said.

In July Chombo suspended Kagurabadza in Mutare on allegations of failing to control the activities of council employees. He proceeded to appoint a six-member team to investigate the mayor.

The team was made up of Zanu PF functionaries such as Isau Mupfumi, a Zanu PF central committee member, Ellen Gwaradzimba, a Zanu PF losing candidate in the city’s mayoral election, and a Mr Mugadza, who is a lawyer in Gwaradzimba’s case challenging Kagurabadza’s election.

Kagurabadza has since expressed concern about the impartiality of the members investigating him, challenging their capacity “to act in a transparent and impartial manner”.

MDC MP for Harare North Trudy Stevenson said the Zanu PF leadership had a grand plan to reclaim cities through unorthodox means.

“The plan involves creating problems for local authorities, putting the mayor under pressure and then moving in to run the affairs on the pretext of reviving a collapsing service delivery system,” Stevenson said. “On the ground, Zanu PF-run councils are worse. Harare is now worse than it was when Mudzuri was in office,” she said.

Virtually all the capital’s infrastructure is in a free fall characterised by intermittent water supplies, raw sewerage flowing in high-density residential streets and roads almost inaccessible due to potholes. Decomposing mounds of uncollected garbage have become an eyesore in most residential areas and pose a serious health hazard as the rainy season begins in earnest.

Davies said problems in the urban areas were symptomatic of an endemic national crisis.

“Until the crisis is resolved at national level, local government problems will persist regardless of whether you put in Zanu PF or MDC councillors or illegal commissions,” he said.

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