As service delivery and key infrastructure across Harare continue to decline, Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni cuts a lonely figure in speaking out against the inefficiency and rot at Town House, including political interference from the Ministry of Local Government.
Fighting battles on at least three fronts, including the hiring of the town clerk, the rationalisation of salaries for all staff at council, and the chopping to size of the budget for Harare City Football Club, the Mayor has openly resolved to do whatever it takes to free up and better manage council’s finances and assets in a bid to claw service delivery out of the deepest trough it has been in to date.
Like the MDC mayors before him, his stand against corruption and cronyism has resulted in clashes with the office of the Minister of Local Government, currently occupied by Saviour Kasukuwere. Manyenyeni has been suspended, arrested, bullied, threatened, and undermined every step of the way as he has sought to halt the looting and misuse of council assets, including a budget which in 2017 totals $345.7 million.
He has also on occasion alienated himself from the councillors who, according to one council member, “were unemployed before becoming councillors, and depended on their jobs for their livelihoods”.
The mayor has backed this up, suggesting that even on obvious and sensible decisions, if councillors fear backlash from the Zanu PF-led Ministry of Local Government, they will vote whichever way offers them job security. Councillors earn roughly $400 per month, though the position does open up opportunities for corruption, and many of them allegedly also have wives and other relatives occupying lucrative jobs throughout council’s staff.
Manyenyeni is fortunate to have had a long and profitable career prior to his entry into the political fray, and will likely be able to resume employment afterwards.
“I’m carrying out the duties of mayor eight days a week as a service and not for the $1,250 salary. The last time I earned that figure was in July 1990. From August 1990, every job I’ve had has paid me more than the job of mayor,” he told Harare News.
The likelihood of future employment has perhaps contributed to his confidence in pushing for fact-based decision making. “It’s about sharing the facts figures and issues as they come up,” says Manyenyeni, emphasising that a move away from emotion and politics is needed to improve governance at Town House.
At a recent meeting with residents, he announced jokingly that he had carried out his first “executive order” in the manner of US president Donald Trump.
“Council has been funding the city’s football team to the tune of $2 million per year, but this has just been another way for some executives to cash in, enjoying unnecessary trips and perks in the name of football, whilst other premier league teams sponsored by corporates are equally successful at a fraction of the cost. I have cut the budget to $400,000, and I welcome anyone to challenge this then we can discuss the facts as they are,” he told the assembled residents.
The mayor has also been a lone voice in insisting that council salaries are too high by up to 50%, and not just those of the top executives who were embroiled in a salary scandal last year.
“Salary cuts are not a popular conversation,” he told Harare News earlier this year, “but one that we must have. We can free up $4.5 million overnight if we bring salaries closer to market rates.”
However, getting council resolved on this seems to be a mission impossible. Councillor for Borrowdale, Rusty Markham, told Harare News that “Many of the councillors have brought in relatives to occupy council jobs, and some of them have wives working for the city. That is why council has failed to resolve the issue of the high salaries.”
Perhaps the biggest battle on the mayor’s hands is the collision with Minister Kasukuwere over the appointment of James Mushore to the position of Town Clerk last year. The mayor told Harare News that Mushore was appointed not by him, but by full council after he suspended Josephine Ncube over performance issues.
“In September 2015, I asked her to resolve some mission critical aspects for council, including the salary rationalisation, including outsourcing payroll for greater credibility, including putting our fleet of vehicles on tracking for monitoring and control. Over a year later, these things were not done, so I suspended her. She went to her political masters, and now she’s back.”
The mayor believes that former banker Mushore is the best candidate for town clerk, since taming the chaos of Harare’s finances is the biggest challenge facing the City at present.
“If you want to build roads, the town clerk should be an engineer. If the city wants to host the Olympics, then you appoint a marketer. Harare has serious issues with finances and banking, that’s why James Mushore was and is the Town Clerk for the time we are in,” he said.
According to the mayor, the conflict around Mushore has spawned three court cases that spiral up as high as the Constitutional Court.
“There is James Mushore seeking to have his employment reinstated. There is my case challenging the power of the minister to suspend me. There is a Constitutional Court application in which my party is seeking to nullify a number of sections of the urban councils act for the simple reason that they are no longer in conformity with the constitution of Zimbabwe,” said the mayor.
“These cases remain unresolved and are gathering dust in a stalemate situation for now,” he added.
Whilst Mushore’s appointment was made by full council, the mayor is not confident that the councillors, who should be representing the interests of residents, are up to the challenge of seeing through their decision.
“The James Mushore support that I have from councillors is only to the extent that their jobs are safe. If they feel that because of my hard stance that they risk being suspended or fired, then I lose 90% of them,” said Manyenyeni.
Being sacked from council is a real possibility given the amendment to the Urban Councils Act last year that was pushed through parliament by Saviour Kasukuwere in controversial circumstances.
Adding weight to the desire for councillors to hold onto their posts at all costs is the fact that political posts in council chambers are seen by many as a stepping stone to higher office, including become a member of parliament. Asked if his recent activity is motivated by political aspirations, Manyenyeni denied this.
“I have already told my party what I told them in January 2013, that I’m serving one term, and I told them again that I’m not running for MP or councillor or mayor,” said the mayor.
The mayor’s current vigour and openness clearly demonstrates the need for councillors who are not reliant on their political appointments to put food on the table. Residents can only hope that 2018 sees more professional candidates emerge who truly represent the interests of their constituents, even if it possibly lands them in trouble or sees them confronting other more senior politicians.