By Nobleman Runyanga
The MDC Alliance (MDC-A) faction leader, Nelson Chamisa, uses every opportunity he gets to pontificate about smart cities each time he has to talk of Zimbabwe’s urban areas.
Given the fact that the MDC in its various factions and formations has been running the country’s capital city for over 20 years now, a visitor from Mars would think that Harare rivals the best of Western cities in splendour but, sadly, this is not the case.
If anything, the opposition outfit has superintended over the deterioration of the once beautiful African city.
Although the MDC factions enjoy the support of the West, the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit could not help, but put Harare, which is run by the MDC-A faction, into the class of 10 least liveable cities of 2021.
The annual report, whose 2020 edition was not held due to the COVID-19 pandemic, also put Harare in the same category in 2019.
The report, which was published last week, looks at the 10 most liveable and 10 least liveable cities in the world for a given year using criteria that includes traffic congestion, infrastructure, conflict, access to health care among others.
The report’s other categories include the most improved cities.
Other least liveable cities in the 2021 report include the war-torn cities of Damascus and Tripoli in Syria and Libya respectively as well as Lagos in Nigeria.
While any Zimbabwean citizen would naturally be unhappy with this, a look at the way the MDC formations have been running Harare since 2000, one would begrudgingly agree with the report.
The formations’ successive councils have failed the people who voted them into office over the years to the extent that the once-beautiful Sunshine City has deteriorated into a garbage city.
It is evident that the successive MDC councillors did not have a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve nor did they have an idea of the strategies to use in maintaining the city let alone develop it into a modern African city.
All that the councillors wanted was getting council not to develop the city and serve its residents but for self-enrichment.
To the MDC councillors, being in council is a one way ticket to benefits like residential and commercial stands and not the honourable civic duty of serving fellow residents.
Former mayors, Muchadeyi Masunda and Bernard Manyenyeni complained of the grossly poor calibre of MDC councillors they were working with.
It is, therefore, not surprising that over the years the city has degenerated to its current state, which has attracted the negative attention of the world.
Around 2013, Government directed that urban local authorities should allocate 70 percent of their collected revenue to service delivery and 30 percent towards salaries and wages, but to this day this has not been adhered to.
This has resulted in municipal executives getting their full pay and perks while lower grade workers have salary arrears that are running into several months.
The councillors are fully aware of this anomaly, but look aside because the executives return the favour by employing MDC youths from various wards for the city’s menial jobs like grass cutting.
This increases councillors’ popularity back on the political ground but it affects service delivery in key areas such as the city’s health department, where unpaid nurses do not give of their best when serving residents.
The councillors and municipal executives’ feeding trough mentality and outright corruption have also affected other key areas of the city such as water provision.
In 2010, the Export and Import Bank of China extended a US$144,4 million loan for China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation to refurbish Harare’s water infrastructure.
However, things went wrong when the then City of Harare Town Clerk, Dr Tendai Mahachi and the councillors connived to divert part of the draw down to purchase 25 motor vehicles, which included luxury ones.
This did not go down very well with the project funders who stopped further drawdowns.
It took President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s intervention, when he visited China in April 2019, for the remaining US$72 million to be released.
Part of the reason of the sad state of Harare is its poor billing system. In 2020 the city abandoned the BIQ billing system that it had been using and adopted an even more problematic Sage Evolution billing system.
To this day, the local authority is sending residents mostly thumb-sucked figures as their bills.
This has seen most refusing to pay them especially in view of the non-delivery of very basic services such as water provision and refuse removal.
Mounting mounds of unremoved refuse have become a common sight both in residential areas and the city centre.
The MDC has, therefore, changed Harare from the Sunshine City that it was 21 years ago under Zanu PF’s management to a garbage city.
In response to reports of corruption in the 28 urban local authorities that are dominated by the MDC-A faction councillors, Chamisa assigned his friend and lawyer, Thabani Mpofu in October 2019 to investigate the matter.
Over two years later, Mpofu is yet to present a report or statement.
This means that the faction condones corruption and protects the corrupt. This clearly demonstrates Chamisa’s personal responsibility for Harare’s messy state and the residents’ harrowing experiences at the hands of the City of Harare.
Last week, Chamisa was quoted by the media criticising the ongoing demolition of illegal business structures built on undesignated pieces of land such as road sides.
His councillors in connivance with municipal executives allocated the land to the businesses in blatant disregard for the city’s by-laws.
Instead of slating Government, he should be criticising his councillors for consciously creating the unsightly scenes along most of Harare’s main roads.
Realising that it has failed to run the city efficiently, the faction is now blaming Government for alleged interference.
Even with debilitating sanctions hanging around its neck, Government is discharging its mandate admirably well and even assisting the beleaguered City of Harare.
For example, in January 2017 Government repaired a number of the city’s roads. A number of Harare’s main roads are set to be rehabilitated under the ongoing $400 million Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme with the rehabilitation of Boshoff Drive in the Graniteside industrial area having already been completed recently.
The MDC-A faction’s very poor stewardship of Harare is a fly in the ointment for a country that is going places after 20 years of economic stagnation caused by the twin evils of illegal sanctions and poor management by the previous administration.
Despite being under the worst regime of sanctions, Zimbabwe under the new dispensation is slowly becoming the poster country of the region.
Its Covid-19 vaccination programme is the best in the region so far, which has seen some South African citizens trekking to Zimbabwe to get their life-saving jabs.
This attracted the attention of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has endorsed Zimbabwe as a low risk destination for travellers.
The listing of Harare among the 10 least unliveable cities, thanks to the inept MDC Alliance faction, is therefore an unwelcome and incongruous development for which the opposition outfit should be very ashamed of.
The faction should apologise to Zimbabweans for getting their capital city listed in the same league of shame as cities in war-torn countries such as Libya and Syria.
The categorisation of Harare as a least liveable city should gavlanise Harareans and other urban constituents into re-thinking their political choices as the 2023 harmonised elections beckon.
They have voted for the various MDC factions and formations over the past 20 years and their reward has been deteriorating and non-existent basic services.
The MDC factions and formations were given a 20-year mandate to run Harare and other urban areas by the electorate and they bungled spectacularly.
If they have failed to run less than 30 cities and towns, one shudders to imagine what would happen in the very unlikely event of them landing State power.
Given this scenario, it is time that members of the urban electorate reclaim their cities and towns from a confused and inept opposition using their power – their vote.