Wak­ing up to the ur­ban re­al­ity

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Dar­ling­ton Musarurwa News Ed­i­tor

OUR past and fu­ture — as in­di­genes who share the same totems, vil­lages, ur­ban spa­ces, joys and pains — is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked.

As Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa pre­sciently ex­horted on July 29 on the eve of the water­shed har­monised elec­tions: “We re­main one peo­ple, with one dream and shar­ing one des­tiny. We sink or swim to­gether, which is why in uni­son we must sing one na­tional an­them.”

Just as our fore­fa­thers — who were dis­pos­sessed of their land, dis­crim­i­nated against and abused af­ter coloni­sa­tion in 1890s; vi­o­lently put down in the heady days of ac­tivism in the 1950s and 1960s; and shed blood to­gether in the trenches to fight colo­nial­ism in the late 1960s to 1978 — we are all in­ex­orably bound to share the same fu­ture.

Although the cur­rent toxic po­lit­i­cal trib­al­ism — which has been made worse by a clutch of op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal par­ties un­der the MDC Al­liance ban­ner who against rea­son refuse to con­cede de­feat — might suc­ceed in mud­dy­ing the wa­ters in the short-term, it will cer­tainly not pre­vail against the in­com­ing Gov­ern­ment’s al­most ma­ni­a­cal de­ter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed.

Sway over ur­ban coun­cils

But the op­po­si­tion — as Tendai Biti, one of the prin­ci­pals of the MDC Al­liance, told re­porters last Wed­nes­day — be­lieves it “holds the keys” to Zim­babwe’s economy, which should be com­fort­ing news for those ur­ban­ites still stunned by the op­po­si­tion’s elec­toral loss and even more stunned by the de­cay in in­fra­struc­ture and poor ser­vice de­liv­ery.

Bliss­fully ig­no­rant of the task that lies ahead, the MDC Al­liance — which re­tained its con­trol of ur­ban lo­cal au­thor­i­ties — seems con­tent with fold­ing its arms in the hope that the economy crum­bles.

And ig­nor­ing the coun­try’s vot­ing de­mo­graph­ics — where dol­lar-earn­ing ru­ral farm­ers con­tinue to vote Zanu-PF while ur­ban­ites con­tinue to sulk — the MDC Al­liance be­lieves a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing economy pro­vides it with the best prospects to cap­ture power in fu­ture. It is an il­lu­sion, a mi­rage. The re­al­ity is that they hold sway over ur­ban au­thor­i­ties, and those ur­ban spa­ces are cry­ing for at­ten­tion.

In Harare, they won 44 of the cap­i­tal city’s 46 wards. Zanu-PF won one (Ward 4 — Su­nun­gukai Matinyanya), while ZIPP won Ward 45 (Ge­orgina Man­daza).

In Bu­l­awayo and Gweru, the op­po­si­tion party won all 29 wards and 18 wards re­spec­tively. In Chi­tung­wiza, they con­trol 21 out of 25 wards. The other four were claimed by Zanu-PF — Ward 3 (John Matiyenga); Ward 4 (Regi­nald Mashin­gaidze); Ward 13 (Kiven Mu­tim­banyoka); and Ward 20 (In­no­cent Jenje)

To the east in Mutare, the op­po­si­tion con­trols 18 out of 19 wards, with the other won by an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date (Ward 19 — Calvin Mat­siya).

It is the same pat­tern in Bin­dura, Maron­dera, Chegutu and Chin­hoyi, among other towns and cities.

The task ahead

Just as Zanu-PF has a Her­culean task in mend­ing and grow­ing the na­tional economy, the MDC Al­liance has a big job at lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

And if they have the keys to the economy, as they love to claim, now is as good a time as any to use them.

Since Au­gust 30, 2003 when MDC gained con­trol of the ma­jor­ity of ur­ban cen­tres, cities and towns have been out­posts of op­po­si­tion pol­i­tics.

And since then ser­vice de­liv­ery has been pro­gres­sively de­clin­ing.

On page 19 of their 2018 elec­tion man­i­festo, the op­po­si­tion said: “It is ob­vi­ous that all Zim­babwe’s cities and towns are in a state of de­cay char­ac­terised by col­lapsed in­fra­struc­ture, over­crowd­ing, slums and other forms of in­for­mal set­tle­ments.

“In Harare, Julius Ny­erere Way, Robert Mu­gabe Road, Mbuya Ne­handa and Chin­hoyi Street in par­tic­u­lar, more than any other streets in Zim­babwe typ­ify the ex­tent of the de­cay. Like Mon­rovia, Free­town, Kin­shasa or Luanda, these streets are like over­crowded post-war rum shack­les (sic).”

Yes, rumshack­les, not ramshack­les: mu­town mad­hakwa.

Ex­pec­ta­tions

Much of the MDC Al­liance cam­paign mes­sage cen­tred on very lofty prom­ises, but res­i­dents do not ex­pect much: they sim­ply want work­ing and func­tional cities. They want cities that are eas­ily nav­i­ga­ble, whose roads are traf­fi­ca­ble and well lit.

They want traf­fic lights that work and a cityscape that is lit­ter-free and aes­thet­i­cally sound so as to be wor­thy of a cap­i­tal city.

Fur­ther, they want taps with run­ning water. Most im­por­tantly, they need func­tional coun­cil clin­ics that are well stocked with ba­sic drugs.

Nav­i­ga­ble city

Pro­mot­ing a nav­i­ga­ble city nec­es­sar­ily en­tails a com­pre­hen­sive city mas­ter­plan that em­pha­sises the need for mod­ern and func­tional traf­fic lights, an ef­fi­cient in­tracity trans­port sys­tem for com­muters, a sur­veil­lance sys­tem that main­tains or­der within the cen­tral busi­ness district, and well-equipped and vis­i­ble mu­nici­pal po­lice.

Most of the traf­fic lights in the city are cur­rently dys­func­tional, and not only do they need to be re­paired but they also need to be mod­ernised in line with in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice and stan­dards. Most cities around the world are shift­ing towards traf­fic sig­nal count­down timers. These let mo­torists know when a traf­fic light will change from green to red, lead­ing to greater safety.

The cur­rent prac­tice within our cities for mo­torists and pedes­tri­ans to scurry to beat traf­fic lights and junc­tions is out­dated. There is also need for an in­ter-agency ef­fort to im­prove sur­veil­lance around the CBD through rig­ging cam­eras that can help to en­force both the law and by-laws.

Last week, there were re­ports that the Botswana Po­lice Ser­vice has since com­pleted in­stalling sur­veil­lance cam­eras in strate­gic ar­eas around Gaborone. Such a tech­no­log­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion will also need to be com­ple­mented by mu­nici­pal po­lice, and in­stead of de­ploy­ing a pha­lanx of of­fi­cers to pa­trol the CBD, an easy route would be to de­ploy ve­hic­u­lar pa­trol, which en­ables fewer of­fi­cers to comb some of the city’s hotspots.

Also, there can be a smart way to man­age the mushika-shika menace through de­ploy­ing a cheaper, ef­fi­cient and re­li­able in­tracity trans­port sys­tem. This has been used suc­cess­fully in Abuja (Nige­ria) and Dar es Salaam (Tan­za­nia).

Al­ready, ear­lier this year, an Amer­i­can com­pany, Con­cept Me­dia Group, made a pitch to coun­cil to in­tro­duce elec­tric buses, but ab­surdly, the then city coun­cil tried to force the com­pany to change its plans so that it also cov­ers the coun­try’s sub­urbs. In sum, res­i­dents do not ex­pect bul­let trains, trams or light rail in the city — at least not yet — but they ex­pect mod­ern in­tracity trans­port.

Potable

But all these afore­men­tioned projects might seem to be van­ity projects, es­pe­cially in cities that are presently in the grip of an­cient and prim­i­tive dis­eases such as ty­phoid and cholera.

In par­tic­u­lar, cholera, which is now stalk­ing the cap­i­tal city, has since thrown down the gaunt­let to the new city fa­thers. The water and sewer sys­tems need ur­gent at­ten­tion.

It is time for coun­cil to put its house in or­der, es­pe­cially af­ter bungling the $144 mil­lion water deal with China Na­tional Ma­chin­ery and Equip­ment Im­port and Ex­port Cor­po­ra­tion to re­fur­bish water and sewage treat­ment plants.

The project, which be­gan in 2010, was sup­posed to have been com­pleted by 2014, but it has now be­come one of the most long-drawn-out the Chi­nese have had to im­ple­ment in Africa.

And sadly, some res­i­dents are now pay­ing for this in­ep­ti­tude with their lives.

Recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties

In some coun­tries, recre­ational ar­eas, as used to be the case be­fore the de­cay set in, are con­ve­nient health cen­tres for ex­er­cis­ing, rest­ing or steam­ing off.

They also cre­ated em­ploy­ment through the hu­man resource that was needed to main­tain them. In Glen No­rah’s recre­ational park, where the cur­rent mayor Coun­cil­lor Gomba hails from, there is even a small dam that used to at­tract fish­er­man from far and wide.

But over time, all that has all changed. Var­i­ous coun­cil sta­dia are now de­crepit.

All this needs to change.

Fund­ing turn­around

Viewed dif­fer­ently, the inherent in­fra­struc­ture deficit in lo­cal au­thor­i­ties presents lim­it­less busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­vestors. Ten­ders for street light­ing and road re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion are quite lu­cra­tive enough to at­tract se­ri­ous in­vestors.

But HCC seems to be in­ex­pli­ca­bly fail­ing to raise funds or find­ing pri­vate part­ners to un­der­take these over­due projects. All that is needed is a co­gent busi­ness plan through which busi­nesses can re­coup their in­vest­ments.

And therein lies the prob­lem. Coun­cil books need to be au­dited and qual­i­fied by in­de­pen­dent au­di­tors. Again, coun­cil rev­enue col­lec­tion ca­pac­ity has to be im­proved.

With the water depart­ment con­tribut­ing more than 80 per­cent of rev­enues for Harare, the city fa­thers some­how have been pre­var­i­cat­ing on rolling out pre­paid water me­ters that can help im­prove col­lec­tions. It is ar­guable that water can be pri­va­tised while at the same time pro­vid­ing safety nets for vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

A solid bal­ance sheet that is sup­ported by the abil­ity to col­lect rev­enues can serve as col­lat­eral to raise fund­ing for in­fra­struc­ture projects or at­tract in­vest­ment for the same.

Re­sus­ci­tat­ing mu­nici­pal bonds needs to be con­sid­ered, but again, this de­pends on the city fa­thers be­ing trans­par­ent and in­no­va­tive in the way they struc­ture fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions.

Con­sid­er­ing the back­log that presently ex­ists in in­fra­struc­ture projects that need to be un­der­taken in cities, it might be op­por­tune to at­tract long-term in­vestors that are look­ing for a de­cent re­turn.

Over­all, the im­por­tance of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, which are the coal­face for in­vestors and for an ever-de­mand­ing ur­ban­i­ties, can­not be overem­pha­sised.

So, it is not go­ing to be easy and the sooner the MDC Al­liance wakes up and smells the cof­fee, the bet­ter.

If they say they have the keys, well now couldn’t have been a bet­ter time to use them.

But, as has been ar­gued be­fore, our fu­ture is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked.

There comes a time when we need to shelve pol­i­tics and work to­gether, and this needs to be the time. Con­tin­u­ing to deepen po­lit­i­cal trib­al­ism will make it even more dif­fi­cult to ex­tri­cate our­selves from the rut we cur­rently find our­selves in.

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