As Harare News hits the streets, we thought there no better start than a trip to Town House to get a measure of the man who has run the City for the last five years. Muchadeyi Masunda, whose term ended just as this paper went to print, has a deep love for the city of Harare. The five years he’s spent in office, set high over bustling Jason Moyo Avenue, have given him an intimate knowledge of how the City of Harare works, with its 46 wards and various administrative departments.
But what does a businessman, and consummate sportsman (Masunda is a first league tennis player who still knocks about on the court of a Sunday), know about being a Mayor?
Shona, but born and bred in Bulawayo, Masunda says that it’s no accident that his career path eventually brought him to Harare’s Town Hall. His father was a key player in our southern capital’s civic affairs. “He exposed me to civic duty and awareness and the need to put something back into the community,” says Masunda of his father. And he puts Peter Lobel’s recent donation of fire engines to the City, in part, down to a personal history that reaches back a generation.
Masunda’s business background has had a huge influence on the way he has approached his role as the first non-executive, non-partisan Mayor. “The City of Harare is arguably the second largest enterprise in the country. Just think of the real estate that belongs to the City!” he says. Under its jurisdiction lie 28 housing estates, a large number of golf clubs and recreational facilities in a 20km radius that include the likes of Royal Harare and Old Georgians, as well as all the green belts that can be seen on the map of the city. These are huge assets, yet it’s hardly been an easy term. Masunda implored Harare News to reiterate that the City has always, historically, generated its own revenue: “There is no allocation from Central Government and people need to know that.”
“I would be the first to admit that it’s been a turbulent 59 months,” he says. “But we’ve made tremendous strides, not only what we have done under the auspices of the Mayor’s Cheer Fund but we have also managed to enlist the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.” A grant from this Foundation has put City of Harare on the road to regenerate Mbare, one of the city’s most densely populated low-income suburbs.
Another milestone for him has been the resuscitation of the twinning arrangements with Munich (see here), among other cities. This relationship with Munich, one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, led to a €600K injection of cash to support City Health medical centres. The secondment of two ICT specialists from Munich should also help to make rate-collection, and thus revenue generation, more efficient.
Masunda has recently come under fire for the ailing water system. Residents continually ask him how so much of the city’s water is wasted through leakages while they languish without water for days. He points, on the framed map of Zimbabwe that hangs in his office, at just how much the city has grown since Fort Salisbury days, geographically but also in population from 1.6m to in excess of 3m, with its day population hitting 4.5m as commuters come from places such as Marondera and Chitungwiza. “There was an expansion of the water treatment plant with the growing population. But the last time that there was any meaningful expansion of that plant was in 1992.” He tells us that the city’s water pipes run to over 5,000km and need an ongoing budget of US$50m – a sum he hasn’t come close to raising.
On the upside, the Mayor’s Cheer Fund is high on Masunda’s list of achievements. Traditionally run by the Mayoress, Masunda’s wife and her band of dedicated volunteers work tirelessly to ensure the funds raised are dished out among the under-privileged in the capital (see here for news of their latest disbursement).
Despite the criticisms levelled at him, it is clear that Masunda is proud of the city he has steered these last five years, with its world class schools (he is a patron of St. John’s Educational Trust) and the growing involvement of the corporate sector in the City’s affairs (see Bin It article here). As co-president of United Cities and Local Governments, elected by his peers in Africa, he has a strong belief in the importance of cities. “The GDPs of most countries are generated in cities. They are the coalface of everything that happens.”
“We need to make [Harare] worthwhile for all our kids to want to come back home to and work and make this place even better than it was.”
A sentiment that rings true with Harare News’ mandate. We wish Mr Masunda all the best as his first term ends.