Who do we blame for the mess we’re in?
It’s in a sorry state our city, and all ratepayers have the right to be angry.
In addition to paying for the services and maintenance that are not delivered, there are subsequent costs that are also borne by us. Typhoid victims must pay medical bills. Cars must be repaired after potholes bite. We pay twice for our water, and so on.
Council, led by Mayor Bernard Manynenyeni are responsible for running Harare. Residents can easily find fault in their work. Things have been less than transparent and questions about efficiency and professionalism are asked frequently. It has been the prerogative of this paper to highlight these shortfalls and I think we generally are aware of them now.
Yes, Harare News has had a long standing focus on community, service delivery, and bread and butter issues, rarely straying into politics. But that must change a bit.
We will never delve into party politics — factional wars, coalition debates, or succession bids — but as we near elections, the weight of the mis-governance has put too much pressure on our communities to ignore any longer. The manifold crises brought on by the rain have heightened the need for us to get to the roots of the problem. We will spend more time and energy holding to account the central government that is wielding its excessive control over council.
Trying to shame the MDC at the expense of residents
Right now, central government is starving out the opposition-led council. For instance, Zinara allocated a paltry $1.2 million for road repair in Harare this year, from a revenue of $120 million. In addition, the army of overpaid council workers, at all levels, appear to have the tacit support of Zanu PF Minister Saviour Kasukuwere in the fight to hold onto their jobs and their absurdly high salaries that are guzzling our rates. The mayor explained recently how after salaries and water treatment chemicals, there is $1 million remaining to run the city. $1 million! And so, the MDC-T council are unable to perform, all the while council workers look more fondly to the central government, despite public grumbling against them.
Also choking council is their inability to collect rates from Zanu PF members and allies in Harare. Council has limited leverage over the sheriff’s office for example, but the Mayor has alluded to ‘untouchables’ in the past. We hope to obtain and publicise more on this soon.
Your hyper-local propaganda
In carrying out these plans, the ruling party needed a mechanism to focus attention on council. What was needed was some media, something to push the anti-council agenda so that every time a pothole swallows a car we blamed the mayor, not the government at large. Enter The Suburban.
As Donald Trump has demonstrated, it is unbecoming to talk ill of the competition. Since its launch, the paper has imitated us (including shameless plagiarism) and aggressively gone after our clients with impossibly (I mean that) low advertising rates. But nonetheless, we have mostly taken their entry to the market as encouraging — we obviously occupy a desirable nook in the media landscape.
But after nigh on two years of being quiet (aside from reporting plagiarism), I am sharing my thoughts now. The Suburban is a cunning ploy by Zimpapers to reach the upper and middle classes in Harare, and paint the council in a negative light without getting to the roots of the problem.
Why do I believe this? Well, in true Zanu PF style, they refer to oppositional councillors and other politicians with just the surnames, but members of their party get the “comrade” treatment. Their “anonymous” letter writers, supposedly just ordinary residents are ardent supporters of wetland development. I assure you, I would be delighted to publish letters from pro-development residents, even anonymously. But I’ve never had any. Developments such as the Borrowdale mall, are mired in controversy, all pertaining to Zanu-related misdealings.
I don’t doubt that Zimpapers have a business plan behind the paper. When we launched Harare News in 2013, we saw scope for a community free-sheet covering the basics of living in Harare. It’s a model that has taken off elsewhere. But with how things are now, it’s too tough to rely on ads alone, and there is little doubt in my mind that Zimpapers are haemorrhaging money on The Suburban. They have deep pockets though, and can continue indefinitely from what we’ve seen. Using our taxes they will keep going, parading as “your” paper, a non-political source of news, etc. But it all feeds into the original plan to take back Harare.
There is consolation in that I don’t think people are so naive! With all of central governments departments in complete disarray, the ruinous state of our council is obviously part of the broader disaster. It is still important to take action however.
Here are some ideas.
Get courageous. Speak out. REALLY talk to your councillor. We don’t have to demand that they fix the roads, but we have to demand that they stand up to salary abuses and politicians whose interference is undermining our democracy and leading to the collapse of our roads.
Vote with your wallet and your feet. To advertisers and readers . . . The Suburban, and all the other state media, IS the government, and the government IS Zanu PF. By spending money on these products, you are directly contributing to the tyranny.
Here’s a thought. If you really want to see change, why not BE the change. I look to examples like Councillor Peter Manjoro, who panicked just before the Mabelreign by-election, when the Zanu PF candidate was set to run unopposed. He gritted his teeth. He printed flyers. And he ran for, and won, the position of councillor for his ward.
Accountants, engineers, doctors, teachers, high-calibre professionals and community-builders — please consider taking leadership roles in your area. Use the tools available to us — Whatsapp and Facebook to network and get your neighbourhood talking.
Hear what people have to say. Don’t promise the world. Just commit to being courageous, transparent, and democratic in your work, and you could be on the front line in making Harare better in the future.