ZIMBABWE: Unity Govt – Guarded Optimism At Local Level

BULAWAYO - Zimbabwe's power sharing deal comes as the country's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) controlled urban councils are facing a multitude of challenges after years of what they claim is interference in the running of their affairs by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

All of Zimbabwe’s major cities are controlled by the Morgan
Tsvangirai-led MDC. Urban areas have been plagued by poor service
delivery amid complaints by the municipal managers that, as part of
efforts to discredit the country’s main political opposition, the
ruling ZANU-PF was deliberately frustrating efforts to effectively
provide essential services to ratepayers.

Central government for years blocked plans by the councils to increase
utility rates as part of efforts to improve service delivery. This has
seen the deterioration of services, with refuse piling up, potholes
littering the roads, and sewage flowing into homes from burst mains as
council lacked resources to maintain infrastructure.

Both the capital, Harare, and the country’s second city, Bulawayo, have
been hit by wildcat strikes as council employees press for salaries in
foreign currency.

However, in January, as part of ZANU-PF’s concessions under the power
sharing agreement, government handed back control of water and sewer
reticulation, reversing a 2006 decision to transfer authority over them
to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) having accused the
MDC-led councils of incompetence.

Not expecting miracles

Councillors in Bulawayo have met the return of public water works to
the city council – and the power-sharing deal itself – with guarded

"The damage done over the years by wresting control from us will hard
to reverse," said Councillor Reuben Matengu. "We will still need to
raise tariffs but as we know this will have to be in foreign currency
to which many residents have no access."

Bulawayo was once celebrated for its wide roads and clean streets but
these have been replaced by crater-sized potholes and heaps of refuse
piled up right in the central business district, creating an eyesore
city officials say has chased away tourists.

"We are faced with innumerable challenges, but we hope our fortunes
will change with the formation of a new government," said Thaba Moyo,
the city mayor. "This should afford us a chance to get adequate funds
for our operations as our hands have been tied by government for too
long," Moyo said.

While it is not yet known which party will be allocated the local
government ministry which is in change of municipalities, one of the
focuses on the new unity government will be to rebuild confidence in
the councils where years of poor funding have seen skills flight and
deterioration of infrastructure.

"What the unity government needs is to have an MDC-Tsvangirai minister
to be in charge of the municipalities," said Jacob Mwale of the
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BUPRA), which represents
resident grievances.

"We have watched the city go to the dogs under the interference of
ZANU-PF but this (unity government) must be given a chance to right all
the wrongs that multiplied over the years," Mwale told IPS.

With a population of more than two million, Bulawayo has long
complained of being marginalised by the ZANU-PF government. Many here
expect that the coming into government of the MDC will bolster efforts
to stem deaths due to the cholera epidemic.

But spokesman Nelson Chamisa told the media on Jan. 2 that if they
joined government, they would still lack capacity to deal with the ever
increasing humanitarian crisis.

The MDC would not have "have any real power" to help address the
humanitarian crisis created by the cholera epidemic, Chamisa said. "We
want to be able to provide a real change in governance and not become
part of a symbolic act," he added.

In Harare, Budiriro MDC-T legislator Heneri Dzinotyiwei welcomed the
handing back of water works to local councils, adding this could offer
a chance for the new government to fight cholera which the World Health
Organisation says has killed over 3,300 while up to 67,000 cases have
been reported countrywide since August 2008.

"There are a lot of challenges ahead and the burden will be placed on
the MDC-T which is expected to deliver in a short space of time," said
Simon Gama a political analyst and activist championing the autonomy of
Matebeleland – under which Bulawayo lies – from central government.

"We have for years called for federalism where Matebeleland would look
after its own affairs but this has been ignored. The result is there
for all to see: the problems our city council is facing," Gama told

"Even if the MDC-T is to run local government, these problems are not
likely to disappear as long as donor nations do not unlock their funds
to rebuild this country," Gama. "If the GNU does not work, we can
expect the municipalities to fail with it."

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