AS Zimbabwe heads towards the watershed 2018 harmonised elections to choose a new President, parliamentarians and councillors, service delivery is among the key issues that are likely to be the focus for the selection of councillors.
BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
With Zimbabwe sharply divided across two political divides — the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition
MDC-T — the selection of councillors, which is the most local level of the governance, is to take centre stage, as it will decide the numbers for, critically, the MPs and the President.
This is coming against a background of urban and rural councils that have a fair share of both MDC-T and Zanu PF councillors, a scenario that has caused intense controversy, relegation of responsibilities, interference of political parties or central government in the running of council affairs and finger-pointing over the past four years since the last election in 2013.
At the end, the key issue, service delivery — or lack of it — has been relegated to being a brickbat that opposing sides in council use to denounce each other politically.
This politicisation of service delivery has left cities and towns failing to provide basic services such as water supply, sewerage reticulation, refuse management, among others.
The chaos has not ended in the council chambers, as there has been continuous government interference in councils, especially those dominated by the opposition MDC-T.
Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere has, in the past year alone, suspended Chitungwiza mayor and 25 councillors.
Last month, the High Court reinstated former Bulawayo deputy mayor Gift Banda, who was fired early this year by Kasukuwere over allegations of misconduct.
In February, Kasukuwere fired Gweru mayor Hamutendi Kombayi and reinstated 10 other opposition MDC-T and three Zanu PF councillors, who had been suspended on allegations of gross misconduct, maladministration and abuse of public funds.
These are just a few of the cases where the minister has had a hand in the councils, justifying his actions by using the recent amendments to the Local Government law that gives excessive powers to Kasukuwere.
With such a scenario, and with 2018 fast approaching, it appears the ratepayers are the biggest casualty, as they have to grapple with poor service delivery, often without a channel to communicate their concerns.
But this might be ending soon, as the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) is currently implementing a programme to encourage dialogue between residents and local authorities.
As part of the programme, CCDZ last week visited Chinhoyi, Karoi and Magunje, where there was dialogue with residents and villagers on how to hold to account local government authorities.
Speaking at one of the dialogue meetings, CCDZ executive director Phillip Pasirayi said: “The starting point is there must be dialogue . . . then the rights holders can hold duty bearers to account . . . residents must be empowered to ask those tough questions to the authorities.
“Nothing should happen in communities without the input of the residents and villagers. What we need is a paradigm shift and we must have meaningful participation of rights holders.”
Pasirayi said part of the dialogue also involves educating residents that their rights come with responsibilities, where they are also supposed to pay their dues to authorities.
During CCDZ’s engagement of residents in Chinhoyi, political interference remained a sticking point, where residents pointed out that the polarisation affected their participation in council affairs.
“If a councillor from a certain political party calls for a meeting, it often is seen as, or eventually ends up, as a political gathering, when it should be a meeting of the residents,” a resident said.
It was generally observed in the engagements that elected local government authorities were not adequately engaging with their constituents and as part of its projects, CCDZ will also hold dialogue with the local authorities, resident representatives and all other stakeholders in service delivery.
In the end, the improvement of communication between local authorities and residents could be the long awaited solution to ending the politicisation of service delivery, especially as the jostling and political mudslinging escalates ahead of the 2018 elections.