By Nobleman Runyanga
The MDC Alliance, which represents a grouping of the main opposition parties set to participate in the July 30 elections, presented its manifesto to the electorate early last month in a bid to market itself.
The political union is dominated by a faction of the MDC-T led by the alliance’s presidential election candidate, Nelson Chamisa.
This group has also dominated many local authorities such as Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, Harare, Mutare and Norton among others for the past 18 years and its record spells bad news.
The forthcoming Local Government elections have already witnessed a surfeit of candidates, with Harare City Council having a total of 360 candidates vying for the capital’s 46 wards.
This is a whopping 112 percent increase from the 170 candidates witnessed in 2013.
Apart from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s new dispensation’s deliberate policy to open the democratic space, the increased interest in Local Government politics by people in the opposition is also a result of the MDC’s woeful local governance system which is underpinned by self-enrichment at the expense of the major stakeholder, the residents.
Although the MDC Alliance’s manifesto claims that the political grouping aspires for “the provision of adequate social amenities at local level in particular, water, sanitation, refuse collection, functional clinics, street lighting, and pothole-free roads,” the councillors superintending over most of Zimbabwe’s cities and towns have demonstrated that the leading party in the alliance is incapable of delivering anything.
The faction is currently lording over most of the country’s urban areas and the question is: what new strategies are they going to roll out which it forgot to employ during the past 18 years?
In Harare, the local authority secured a US$144 million loan from the Chinese Export and Import Bank in 2013 for the rehabilitation of its water treatment and distribution network.
Before the works could even begin, the local authority was making headlines for diverting part of the funds to purchase motor vehicles for its executives, all under the MDC-T’s watch.
The councillors, who are supposed to provide oversight and direction to the municipality’s executive, chose to look the other way as they benefited from the executives who regularly employ youths from their party.
The Harare councillors, 85 percent of whom are from the opposition, have over the years also ignored the cries of residents and residents’ organisations for the reduction of the salaries and perquisites of the city’s executive and workforce, which are obscenely high at the expense of basic service delivery.
The City of Harare has been using the defaulting ratepayers as a lame excuse, but the disproportionately huge salaries betray their lopsided priorities which border on brazen corruption and self-enrichment which the councillors continue to condone if not aid and abet.
As at the end of 2016, the local authority owed both its workforce and statutory bodies such as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) and the Local Authorities Pension Fund (LAPF) a total of US$395 million, exposing both workforce and retirees to the risk of having no social security cover and reduced pension payments respectively.
In Mutare, the residents are fed up with their mayor Tatenda Nhemarare due to poor service delivery.
They are being made to pay the local authority to erect tombstones on their loved ones’ graves in the city cemetery which are neglected by Nhemarare and his crew and are overgrown with grass.
The residents of the eastern city’s suburbs such as Dangamvura continue to contend with water shortages despite the completion of the 25km Pungwe Pipeline Project in September 1994.
This is because of mismanagement, which has seen water being lost due to leaking pipes.
Many people who grew up in Chitungwiza will testify of how the MDC-T councillors have changed the face of the once beautiful satellite town.
The councillors used their positions to operate as land barons who allocated residential stands in breathing spaces, recreational areas and land meant for schools and churches.
Road reserves, power line corridors and wetlands were not spared. This has created a town which looks haphazardly planned, is generally overcrowded and unsightly.
The same people or their compatriots, who are cut from the same cloth, are back to seek the residents’ mandate to continue selling local authority land and pocketing the proceeds at the expense of residents and their concerns.
The former minister was alerted to the MDC-T councillors’ activities by the Bulawayo Union of Residents and Ratepayers (BURA) and set up an investigation team in May 2016.
“This resulted in him suspending five councillors, namely Charles Moyo (Ward 9), James Sithole (Ward 7), Deputy Mayor Gift Banda, Reuben Matengu (Ward 21) and Mzama Dube (Ward 25) on 20 September 2016 over their acquisition of municipal land at undervalued prices which prejudiced the local authority of a total of US$654 930,78.
The major beneficiaries of the scam were Sithole, who owed the Bulawayo City Council US$216 176,47 and Banda, who owed US$131 703, 36.
Banda and Matengu were fired in February 2017 following the recommendations of an independent tribunal.
The MDC Alliance and, by extension, the MDC-T Chamisa faction’s chequered local authority governance record makes a mockery of its manifesto.
The political grouping’s poor record lays bare to the electorate, especially those in urban areas, the truth that the so-called political popularity of the MDC Alliance in some pockets of the country does not translate into sound leadership.
The alliance’s record should be a wake-up call for the electorate to seriously assess the political union’s candidates before committing pen to the ballot paper in their favour at the end of this month.