PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s signature project is a private city, not only a city but “his city” just as former United States (US) President Donald Trump has an extensive property portfolio that includes golf resorts and luxury hotels. However, their difference is Trump built his empire before he became president of the US.
Mnangagwa had always coveted to immortalise himself, but there are many liberation icons that he is only a peripheral figure. He cannot be in the same category with Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Josiah Tongogara, Ndabaningi Sithole, Nikita Mangena, Herbert Chitepo, Edgar Tekere, Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, and Dumiso Dabengwa — all late.
His moment came via a coup in November 2017 when he ousted his long-time mentor Mugabe just like Blaise Compaore did to Captain Thomas Sankara.
Mnangagwa christened his post-coup government the second republic despite the fact that he and his hangers on were part of the system since 1980.
Mnangagwa in his international re-engagement processes has portrayed himself as a reformist and pro-capital leader. His rallying call is “Zimbabwe is open for business” — a slogan for the privatisation of all social services and removal of the State from the centre of the economy.
His neoliberal tendencies have been seen in the appointment of a Chicago boy — Mthuli Ncube — as his Treasury boss. The Mnangagwa government has been fast to privatise social services. It has privatised education, health and some State mines.
The same government is in the process of facilitating the creation of a financial behemoth through the merger of CBZ Bank and ZB Bank. It needs no introduction that the beneficiary of such a transaction is none other than Mnangagwa ally, Kudakwashe Tagwireyi, who now has an extensive investment portfolio that includes hospitals, mines, fuel supplies, banking, media and transport.
What everyone did not see, until Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, was how Mnangagwa wants to privatise the new capital district in Mt Hampden, Zvimba district.
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This is politically significant since it is the same district Mugabe was born and his mortal remains are buried. It is the question of conquering him both in life and death.
Let us for a moment look at how the new city is being privatised. The new city is not operating under the Urban Councils Act.
It will be modelled as a company, on a smaller scale of how Cecil John Rhodes made Zimbabwe his private empire for 33 years until the referendum that voted for a self-governing colony than being South Africa’s fifth province.
Zimbabwe was run by a private company — BSAC in which Rhodes was the de facto executive chairman.
The Mnangagwa-chaired Cabinet agreed that: “The New City Development Corporation will be a formally registered institution capable of entering into contractual arrangements for the development of infrastructure, will implement construction projects and administer the New City for a period on 15 years.”
Zimbabwe could be in the age of concessionaire cities as the Cabinet agreed that this model will be replicated in new other development areas like resource-rich Manhize and Mahuwe.
Manhize in Chivhu houses a large iron mining settlement, while Mahuwe will be an oil and gas city.
In a further curious development, investment in the new city is outside the purview of the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (Zida) for no clear reason, but to make Mnangagwa a feudal monarchy.
The Cabinet statement added: “The nation is further informed that it will be the prerogative of His Excellency the President to appoint anchor investors of his choice, who will invest a minimum of US$1,5 billion and a maximum of US$2,878 billion in the New City. The implementation model does not exert a burden on the fiscus.”
The new model of governance does not stop there. Cabinet said the city would be run by a company that is answerable to a board (ministers), which, in turn, is accountable to the President.
This is unprecedented in local government systems and goes against the democratic tenets of no taxation without representation. Is it that the city could have a “tax haven status”?
The Cabinet said: “The New City Board will comprise ministers who have a critical role to contribute during the development of the New City. The board will be accountable to His Excellency the President and to Cabinet.”
The concessionaire cities pose a number of ethical dilemmas. How is democracy promoted by such actions of having one man as an authority to himself and not answerable to anyone?
How do such developments promote transparency and accountability in the execution of public duties by the President?
It cannot be denied that there are places like Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa, that was developed by private capital on private land. This has become the most expensive piece of land per square-metre in Africa. This cannot be equated to Mt Hampden City, which is being developed on public land for private gain.
Parliamentarians should have an interest in the matter and seek clarification from the ministers of Finance and Local Government on the development of the new city.
Is the city a private city on public land? How does Mnangagwa have sole power to decide who can be investors in the new city?
What laws have been used to have a private company running the city that houses the parliamentary precinct?
How much money did the State receive from the private company that has been granted a 15-year concession to run the city? How will this fit into devolution agenda?
The model for concessionaire cities is not good. It is taking privatisation too far and is built on the base of public goods. They are getting public land for free and turning it into private capital, just like they did to peri-urban farms that have been turned into new residential areas under housing co-operatives. This is criminal and unsustainable.
Socialism for the rich must never be supported and Mnangagwa should be checked from becoming the next Cecil John Rhodes on a minor scale. Owning a whole new city, Emmersonville? That is just too much.
- Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.