Since MDC won control of the urban Councils the Minister of Local Government has abused his powers under the Urban Councils Act and the Town and Country Planning Act to subvert and control the MDC Councils. This activity has taken many forms including:
1.The suspension and dismissal of Mayors and Council Chairpersons and even entire Councils on spurious grounds in order to intimidate and control Councils and to sometimes replace them with partisan Commissions which have then controlled all Council activity, abused their positions to make political appointments of senior staff and to misuse Council revenues.
2.The Minister’s abuse of his powers has extended to continuous interference with Council decisions and activities, long delays in the approval of Council budgets and orders to rescind Council decisions affecting basic issues and the general governance of Council affairs.
3.To use the control the State has over former commercial farms on the outskirts of the urban areas to settle hundreds of thousands of desperate homeless families in politically controlled and sponsored Housing Cooperatives.
4.Abused the ability to extort funds from both the informal sector operating in urban areas and the recipients of State controlled land in both urban and peri urban areas to the benefit of politically linked “Land Barons” who have amassed fortunes in the process.
5.The appointment of the Minister of Local Government as the Political Commissar of the Zanu PF Party confirms the role he is playing as a key player who can use his position and his Ministry and its considerable resources to establish control over all MDC led Councils.
In 2013 the Country adopted, by a massive majority, a new national Constitution that, for the first time, adopted the principle of devolution. The new Constitution makes it absolutely clear that the rights and the powers required to Govern in the broadest sense, local government areas, and lies with the elected Councils responsible.
Despite this new dispensation, which now takes precedence over all existing legislation, the Minister has continued to abuse his position and to defy the tenets of the Constitution by continuing the onslaught on urban Councils. The reasons for this onslaught are political as the Minister seeks to ensure that elected Councils do not deliver on their mandates and that the Zanu PF Party is able to maintain its indirect control and interference in Council affairs.
The present wave of illegal actions began in Gweru where the Minister, using the Urban Councils Act, dismissed two Councilors and suspended the entire Council, replacing it with a Commission which has now been running the Council for a year. The Commissioners are drawing fees and allowances of over $1000 a day and have taken steps to appoint, illegally, senior staff on a totally partisan basis. In addition, a Company controlled by a relative of member of the Commission has been awarded a contract to conduct an “audit” of water supplies without due process.
The MDC took the Minister to Court on constitutional grounds and both the Courts in Gweru and the High Court in Bulawayo have ruled that the Minister has acted unconstitutionally and ordered the elected Councils to resume their duties. Despite this when they attempted to return to their duties, the Mayor was arrested and held without charge and the Councilors found themselves locked out of their offices on the instruction of the Minister.
In flagrant violation of his obligations to implement and respect the Constitution and the decisions of the Courts, the Minister has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. In desperation the MDC has now taken steps to have the clauses in the Urban Councils Act that are unconstitutional, ruled as such by the Constitutional Court, to try and put an end to this activity in the absence of any attempt by the Ministry to redraft the Act in compliance with the Constitution.
Then the Minister turned his attention to the affairs of Harare City Council. This is the largest local authority in the Country with responsibility for the welfare and living conditions of one third of the population of Zimbabwe. The result is that Councils affairs are now in a shambles, disputes over the appointment of a new Town Clerk after the dismissal of the previous incumbent who was a partisan appointment, has resulted in the “suspension” of the Mayor and an attempt to stop the new Town Clerk taking up his appointment.
It must be noted that the selection and appointment of the Town Clerk, Mr. James Mushore, took place after a lengthy process which involved advertising the vacancy and inviting applications, the professional short listing of suitably qualified applicants and then interviews conducted by a panel drawn from the Council and a professional human resources firm. In the final process it was clear that Mr. Mushore was the best candidate, by far, and the Council subsequently agreed to appoint him as Town Clerk.
In respect to the Local Government Board who have in the past been responsible for such appointments, the Council informed the Board of their decisions and sent the details of all applicants and the short list with the results of the interviews to the Board – not for approval, as this s now a responsibility of the elected Councils, but out of courtesy and to seek endorsement that the appointment had been made in a professional and non partisan manner.
The MDC does not know what Mr. Mushore’s political affiliations are and is not interested to know. In terms of the Constitution he is required to be non Partisan.
These flagrant violations of the fundamental principles of the new Constitution are extremely serious. The attempt by the Minister to get an amendment to the Urban Councils Act and the Rural Districts Councils Act, which will restore his right to interfere in elected Councils affairs in the same way as before, is not an effort to “align” these Acts with the new Constitution. Instead they constitute a deliberate effort to subvert the new Constitution.
In regard to the drive to settle hundreds of thousands of people in urban areas using politically aligned Housing Cooperatives, this is reaching new heights. In Harare, on 8 commercial farms acquired during the fast track farm reform programme, have been used to settle over 1000 Housing Cooperatives, all of which, are directly linked to Zanu PF. The nearly 200 000 families settled in these farms have paid for their stands and up to $20 a square metre has been charged.
All settled families are required to join Zanu PF and are recorded on registers that are used to monitor attendance at Party meetings. All are carefully monitored and any links to MDC are immediately rewarded with expulsion and even the destruction of any shelters build on the stands. All such areas are then incorporated, illegally, into neighboring urban Wards and Constituencies and special polling stations set up during elections. Any polling station delivering a MDC candidate is then targeted for destruction of housing in the subsequent period. It was in this way that areas of informal housing were targeted by the Ministry in both Ruwa and Chitungwiza Urban Councils in 2013.
All urban areas are being subjected to this effort to influence elections – in Masvingo Zanu PF has occupied a 6000 hectare property to the south of the City and is settling 13000 stands that are being “sold” to occupants at a total cost of $52 million. None of the families so settled has any tenure rights, the only record of payments being a receipt issued by hand by the financial beneficiary who has no responsibility to provide any services.
In Harare City Council two such farms have been incorporated in the City for planning and servicing. The Council has found that up to 250 000 people have been settled in these two farms without water, roads or sewerage facilities, no schools or clinics are planned and no recreation areas provided. The beneficiaries to whom these unlawfully settled families have paid money for the right to occupy their stands, have vanished.
This rampant abuse of the absolute poor in urban areas is being extended to attempts by the Zanu PF Party to exercise their control over the informal sector, In this way a criminal mafia has been established in Mbare where the informal sector markets and bus depots are being controlled by these gangs and money is extorted for the right to occupy vending stands or small plots for industrial activity. Senior members of the Zanu PF Party are linked to these activities and use these same structures to enforce compliance with voting activity and the operation of political activity and structures in these areas.
These wholesale abuses of the rights and needs of the Citizens of the Urban Councils have only one objective and that is to restore control by Zanu PF of all urban Wards and Constituencies in the next elections. In the process the Zanu PF is making life even more difficult and worse for the great majority or the urban population and all of this activity is not only illegal but fundamentally abuses the edicts of the new Constitution that was won after so many years of struggle.
At its epicenter is the Minister of Local Government. The MDC demands full compliance with the Constitution and for Zanu PF to cease and desist from all criminal and illegal activity which impacts the welfare and needs of the urban majority. Elected Councils and Councilors must be left alone to get on with the task and responsibilities they were elected for by the people of Zimbabwe. We also call upon the Judiciary to fulfill their responsibilities to the full in an impartial and professional manner.
E G Cross
Secretary for Local Government