Chitungwiza mayor battles rowdy political thugs

Newly elected Chitungwiza mayor, Philip Mutoti, has received threatening calls on his mobile from anonymous callers, while his 2014 Budget Consultative meetings have been disrupted by residents in Zanu (PF) regalia.

He has failed to conduct planned budget meetings with residents due to the systematic interruptions. Chitungwiza town council, like any other local authority across the country, consults ratepayers about revenue collection and how council projects should be funded during the next financial year.

Mutoti was elected mayor last month and is visiting all districts of the town, seeking residents’ input into the council budget and unveiling his future plans for this third most populated city in Zimbabwe.

One such meeting was recently disrupted by people in Zanu (PF) regalia beating drums and shouting slogans at Seke Tavern. Chaos ensued after residents accused a Zanu (PF) councillor of lining his pockets with proceeds from council land.

“It is unfortunate that some people were manipulating the consultative meetings to further their political agenda and protect shoddy dealings,” Mutoti told The Zimbabwean.

He said there was no reason for some sections of the community to disrupt meetings organised in the interest of residents, simply because the ratepayers had probed shoddy land dealings by councillors.

It was residents’ right to probe why council failed to pay its workers while some revenue from land found its way into an individual’s pockets, he said.

Mutoti and his council have resolved to investigate how some land barons acquired vast tracts of council land, which they were disposing of at exorbitant prices. The MDC-T councillor for Zengeza ward 3, Darlington Musonza, said disruptions of the mayor’s consultative budget meetings and threats by thugs to manhandle him were meant to frustrate his calls for accountability.

“Disruptions are caused by people identifying themselves with political parties at important non-political public consultative meetings,” said Musonza, adding that part of the problem could be as a result of political rivals who lost to Mutoti in the mayoral race.

The disruptions angered residents who felt deprived of the opportunity to express their concerns to the mayor and hear his plans for Chitungwiza.

Residents interviewed by The Zimbabwean in St Marys’ suggested that the meetings be conducted at ward level, as residents would know each other and be respectful to the mayor and other participants.

“Unidentified people who looked drunk, dressed in party regalia streamed into the St Marys’ meeting from a nearby beer hall. They chanted Zanu (PF) slogans in apparent contempt of the MDC-T mayor,” said a resident, Christina Chingaira.

She added that her area of residence had been without functioning sewerage systems for the past two years, and said she would have brought the situation to the mayor’s attention if the meeting had proceeded.

At such public meetings, Chingaira said, people should rally under the banner of residents not political groupings. She suggested that to flush out rowdy individuals from meetings in future people should be asked to produce council-issued household bills to prove that they are bonafide ratepayers interested in addressing issues affecting the town.

Alice Diana Kuvheya, a board member with the Chitungwiza Residents Trust, blamed council for the meeting disruptions. She said residents were not adequately informed about the meetings’ agenda and mistook them for political gatherings, as was reflected by irrelevant issues raised by some participants.

The absence of genuine residents and ratepayers at the meetings due to work commitments was also blamed. Kuvheya suggested that in future such meetings would serve their purpose better if held over the weekends when legitimate residents were not at work.

“Budget consultative meetings are important for residents since they plan the road-map to proper town management in consultation with ratepayers,” said Kuvheya.

Problems besetting Chitungwiza could be solved by dismissing council management, which was out of touch with issues affecting the people, she said. “Management should be reshuffled if it cannot shape up because it continues to contribute towards the people’s suffering,” she added.

Another resident of St Marys’ and council employee, Amina Likhiliwo, took a swipe at people who disrupted council-residents meetings, saying such misconduct was not in the best interest of the town.

She urged residents from across the political divide to rise above party politics and make contributions to the consultations with one voice. Likhiliwo said residents should seize such opportunities and highlight to the mayor that they were not comfortable with paying bills for services not delivered.

“Together with other workers in my situation, I wanted to find out from the mayor how council would do justice to employees who have gone for nine months without salaries and wages. Unfortunately the opportunity was blown off by rowdy crowds,” said Likhiliwo.

Zanu (PF) disassociated itself from people accused of the violence. Party spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo, said though he was not aware of the rowdy behaviour, and the party had nothing to do with it.

“There is no way Zanu (PF) would disrupt meetings meant to benefit the people,” Gumbo said in a telephone interview. Observers blamed the Chitungwiza meeting disruptions to individuals who benefited from corruption which continues to bedevil council.

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