Zimbabwe: Battle for control of Harare City Council rages on

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Friday, 27 May 2022 11:33

Nelson Chamisa's new Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) won the March legislative and municipal by-elections by a landslide. Reuters -Philimon Bulawayo
Nelson Chamisa's new Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) won the March legislative and municipal by-elections by a landslide. Reuters -Philimon Bulawayo

The central government continues to run roughshod over Harare two months after the opposition nominally regained control over Zimbabwe's capital city.

Most of the country’s major cities have long resisted the ruling Zanu PF, but fractures within the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that started in 2018 empowered allies of President Emmerson Mnangagwa to remove Harare councillors aligned with opposition figure Nelson Chamisa.

The minister of local government, public works and national housing, July Moyo, used the opening to collaborate with MDC councillors in signing a number of dubious deals that are now under review after Chamisa’s new Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) won the March legislative and municipal by-elections by a landslide.

One deal that has led to a lot of new scrutiny is the city council’s $316m contract with a Dutch company, Geogenix BV, to manage the Pomona garbage dump over the next 30 years. The company recently began clearing land to build a waste management facility and a waste-to-energy power plant.

Interestingly, Geogenix is represented in Zimbabwe by Delish Nguwaya who has links to President Mnangagwa’s family. He was arrested (but later released) in 2020 for allegedly using dubious means to secure a $60m deal to supply Covid-19 medical equipment. The corruption scandal eventually led Mnangagwa to sack his health minister.

That was a contract approved by the Cabinet, and it was pushed by the Cabinet. We have no interest in that contract. It is against the residents.

Acting Harare Town Clerk Phakamile Moyo signed the Geogenix contract, but Mayor Jacob Mafume is now vowing to reverse the deal, calling it a “deal with the devil”.

“As the mayor I have not approved that contract,” Mafume said this week. “That was a contract approved by the Cabinet, and it was pushed by the Cabinet. We have no interest in that contract. It is against the residents.”

However, Moyo recently blocked the CCC’s bid to reduce the number of city staff attending the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo, spending about $136,000 in allowances.

Mayor Mafume says the central government seeks to undermine the MCC’s victory with its interference. He recently won a court battle after Moyo suspended him four times.

“It is a calculated attempt to undermine the change agenda. It is to ensure that we do not deliver on the promise we have made to the electorate,” Mafume tells The Africa Report. “They know that any delivery that we do will be credited to Chamisa and that would then give him [an upper hand] to take over the country.”

He terms Moyo’s interference in Harare’s affairs as “pure sabotage” aimed at punishing MCC voters. “We have to fight this and continue regardless of what they are doing,” he says.

Moyo did not respond to requests for comment.

Blame game

Harare’s reputation for poor services dominated the March by-elections. Potholes, overflowing garbage and unsafe — or lacking — tap water were key issues.

Zanu PF accused CCC councillors who have been in control of the city council for several years of mismanagement and embezzlement. The CCC, for its part, blamed the central government for interfering in local affairs via Moyo and milking the city of millions of dollars through corrupt land and water deals.

Meanwhile, taxpayers have to bear the brunt of poor service delivery. Experts say the central government holds most of the cards. The law governing local authorities grants more power to the local government minister, including the appointment of council executives, while elected positions, such as mayor, are largely ceremonial.

Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst with the University of Harare, says even though Zimbabwe enshrined local government operations in its 2013 constitution, the reality is that self-governance in local public affairs is sorely lacking.

“This is despite the tedious rhetoric of devolution. The central government interferes so much that it vitiates the whole notion of local governing,” Masunungure tells The Africa Report. “This is especially so in local authorities controlled by the opposition CCC or its predecessor, MDC Alliance. Harare, which has always been won by the opposition since the turn of the century, is the most vulnerable to power being usurped by the central government through the ministry of local Government.”

CCC councillors have been sidelined through dubious directives in order for them not to rock the corruption boat

The issue predates the Mnangagwa era and was also true under President Robert Mugabe’s long reign. “Councillors have more ceremonial than substantive power,” he says, “and the councils they theoretically control have been reduced to hollow institutions.”

Masunungure says corruption and patronage are the driving force behind the government’s interference. He called the controversial Pomona waste-to-energy contract a prime example of a murky deal.

“CCC councillors have been sidelined through dubious directives in order for them not to rock the corruption boat,” he says. “In short, the motivation is not so much to decimate the opposition per se, but to ensure that opposition councillors do not undermine the shadowy, corruption-ridden deals.”

Kudakwashe Munemo, a political analyst,  says Moyo’s interference aims both to sabotage the opposition and protect shady land and procurement deals. “Without checks and balances, they will have their say in how the local authority is run and afterwards blame it on the CCC,” he says.

Meanwhile, a Harare North legislator, Norman Markham, has challenged the Pomona project at the High Court in a bid to have it declared null and void.

Fight for control

Masunungure expects Zanu PF to increase its efforts to take charge of all CCC-led urban areas as the country heads toward the 2023 elections.

Recently, the ruling party has been bringing development projects to high-density suburbs in Harare to make President Mnangagwa look good to residents.

The ministry of transport and infrastructural development has been resurfacing and rehabilitating some of the major tarred roads in Harare.

During the March by-election campaign, Zanu PF introduced a presidential scheme that drilled about 20 boreholes to get clean water to residents of Chitungwiza, a dormitory town about 30km (20 miles) from Harare.

The objective, Munemo says, is to make the Zanu PF look like the “messiah” while the MCC comes off as incompetent in the eyes of voters.

“The [clamour] for supreme control of the councils is of course more intensive and vicious in Harare than elsewhere,” says Masunungure. “There are rich pickings to be had from controlling urban councils, and this is especially so in Harare.”

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