Echoes: Harare: 20% causing 80% of the problems


In July 2009, Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda raised two important inter-linked issues regarding local authority governance: that of the eligibility or qualification criteria for both elected and appointed councillors, and the efficacy or effectiveness of democracy at local government level.

Said Masunda: “Some of the councillors have no capacity. Democracy does not always produce the best results.” He was referring to MDC-T novices and did not mince his words to placate the MDC-T which had appointed him mayor.

Fast –forward to January 2012. This week, NewsDay had a story headlined “Chombo, Masunda in slanging match”.

This stemmed from Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo’s blanket disparagement of elected city councillors as “dull and incompetent” and his defence of “special interest councillors” that he appoints.

Masunda, on the other hand, described the Chombo appointees as non-performers unfit to be at Town House. One of them was discovered to have a criminal record.

“The reason behind him (Chombo) being given a special dispensation to appoint special interest councillors is to make it possible for him in consultation with me to appoint genuinely special interest councillors that will help to fill in gaps that may exist within our standing committees.”

Going by what he said in 2009 and his statement this week, Masunda sounds well-meaning – and guided by professionalism as he is there not merely to take sides, but point out issues as they are. After all, he is an MDC-T “special appointment” as he did not rise from the party ranks.

The rationale behind the MDC-T’S move could have been Masunda’s vast managerial and administrative experience gained from many years of operating at the highest level in the business world. It could also have been an acknowledgement by the MDC-T itself that some of its councillors have come far short of expectations in their duties.

So it could be a deliberate move to balance or gird electoral success with administrative acumen and service delivery because, as Masunda rightly pointed out, democracy doesn’t always produce the best results. The MDC-T’s suspension of all its Chitungwiza councillors for alleged corruption is illustrative.

But it seems Chombo is not guided by professionalism, but politics. Said Masunda: “The rationale behind the prerogative is that he (Chombo) has to use it judiciously and stop using that to accommodate councillors who are pro his party, Zanu PF.”

In 2004, Chombo appointed Sekesayi Makwavarara as chairperson of the Harare Commission after suspending the entire MDC-led council. To many, Makwavarara got the nod because she had defected from the MDC-T to Zanu PF.

Her tenure was characterised by an extravagant and lavish lifestyle that proved to be a burden on the already cash-strapped municipality.

She acquired a council house way below the market value in the plush suburb of Gunhill, renovated it and bought state-of-the-art furniture reportedly without the approval of council. She was further rewarded with a farm.

To a large extent, these commissions and special interest councillorships have been made sinecures, that is, jobs which carry a high salary with little work or day-to-day responsibility.

“Sinecures have historically provided a potent tool for governments or monarchs to distribute patronage while recipients are able to store up titles and easy salaries.”

Chombo has continually appointed commissions to run cities at great cost to the ratepayers. Why must he behave like royalty against the people’s representatives?

The people have continually rejected his party, but he has persistently reversed this. Said Chombo this week in an apparently unwitting defence of sinecures: “I gave him (Masunda) two lawyers and two non-lawyers who were in previous commissions and I appointed them for continuity.”

Disbarred lawyers have benefited from such sinecures by merely being vocal in their support of Zanu PF.

We need a new leadership breed of self-made men and women as they are less corruptible. They are rich and successful because of their own work, their own sweat, not by virtue of position, whether elected or appointed.

Masunda is self-made unlike his critics and detractors in the Cabinet who have made money out of politics, who have made unexplainable millions. He has so much in his portfolio compared to Chombo.

It is this political and financial independence which the ruling class finds threatening to its entrenched interests. That is why they have been continually thwarting progressive mayors – from Elias Mudzuri, who was professionally qualified to lead Harare, to Masunda.

Masunda tried to flash out ghost workers; they blocked this. He brought in the Bill Foundation to revive housing in the shockingly decayed Mbare; he was prevented from doing so through the braindead Chipangano enforcers.

That said, the political reality of the day is that there is a gulf between Zanu PF and the urban populace on many issues – the vaporisation of individual rights, income inequality, corruption, etc – and the ruling class’s message does not resonate with the overwhelming majority of urbanites anymore as voting patterns have shown.

They cannot buy the line that the very same people who drove corruption through the roof can clamp down on it.

So these interferences serve no purposes other than inhibit, even prohibit, real problem-solving in the public arena.

For democracy to take root, there is need for continuous democratic processes, not these frequent disruptions by Chombo – especially on behalf of 20% of the population (Zanu PF’s share of the urban vote) against the overwhelming 80% majority.

They ought to wake up to the fact that their days of being revered and feared are over.