Diarrhoea scourge exposes ‘blundering’ councillors, residents push for electoral system changes

By Lizwe Sebatha

A killer diarrhoea outbreak in Bulawayo has invited attention to the country’s electioneering processes with some quarters now calling for rigorous voter education and the de-harmonisation of the polls to assist the electorate to make informed election choices.

The MDC Alliance led Bulawayo council is blamed for the diarrhoea outbreak that has claimed 13 lives and infected over 1500 others in recent weeks.

The opposition MDC Alliance party has been quick to apologise for the water shortages induced health crisis as residents and other stakeholders push for the councillors to resign  for their failure to provide clean and safe water to residents. 

This is not the first time that questions have been raised on the calibre of councillors elected into local government.

The previous MDC led council attracted controversy over unbridled corruption among city fathers with residents and other stakeholders going to the extent of calling on the central government to appoint a commission to run the city’s affairs.

Councillors have been known to develop a taste for fine things once elected into office, pushing them to corruptly award themselves tender deals among others to finance their dream lifestyles.

According to the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA), citizens should play a critical role to not only protect the plunder of council resources but to ensure the right candidates assume office.

“Politicians must protect national resources rather than become accomplices of plundering. There is a need for residents’ involvement and strengthened oversight mechanisms, checks and balances,” said BPRA coordinator Emmanuel Ndlovu.

Ndlovu however noted: ‘In the absence of political will, recommendations can be made, draft laws discussed and position papers made but no action may be made to implement changes proposed.”

Dumisani Nkomo, a civic activist, argued the right candidates can only find a way to local government office if the elections are de-politicised.

“We could have individuals contesting as councillors based on what they have to offer and what they have offered. We have had so many independent candidates losing to party bootlickers from either side of the divide…Let these elections be about issues and not slogans,” Nkomo argued.

“Opportunists, political charlatans and predators have descended on municipalities and caused untold harm hiding behind names of big political parties.”

In 2016, exiled former Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere was forced to step in and suspend then deputy mayor Gift Banda and other councillors over corruption.

Records at the time showed that Banda bought vast acres of land at Ascort Racecourse for a song during his tenure while other serving councillors also acquired vast properties, some on lease arrangements ranging from car park spaces, shops, toilets and farms.

In June, current mayor Solomon Mnguni attracted controversy following revelations that council allocated him a 2.5 hectare plot situated at Lower Rangemore for urban farming purposes for a paltry ZWL$165 per month for 25 years.

The figure is equivalent to US$2 at the black market rate.

Florence Ndlovu, representing the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZimCodd), a coalition of a number of interest groups covering developmental issues, public finance and local authority administration among others emphasised the need for voter education to empower voters to elect the right candidates with capacity and not chancers.

“There has to be a change of civic education and voter education discourse to focus on quality leadership rather than party representations…continuous capacity for political party candidates on their roles when in office cannot be ignored to strengthen political parties’ internal anti-corruption mechanisms,” Ndlovu argued.

According to Ndlovu, de-harmonisation of elections is “not an issue as long as we work on leadership qualities”.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) election guidelines also emphasise the need for voter education.

In particular, Article 7.4 of the Sadc election guidelines speaks on the need to safeguard the human and civil liberties of all citizens including the freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression, and campaigning as well as access to the media on the part of all stakeholders, during electoral processes.

Political activists however believe that de-harmonisation of elections is the answer in ensuring candidates with proven track records are elected into local government office to guarantee provision of quality service delivery.

Opposition MDC activist Discent Collins Bajila added that this must be accompanied by a reform of political party processes in selecting the right candidates.

“Political parties must also be reformed so that meritorious candidature is not limited to populism. Civil society also has a huge role to play in educating the electorate,” Bajila argued.

“Political parties are the only institutions formed for the purposes of participation in elections. There should never be a time when society aspires for strong individuals instead of strong institutions.”

Zimbabwe’s first harmonised elections were held in March 2008 within a political context that had been created through the facilitation of Sadc.

A Sadc-facilitated dialogue resulted in the enactment of Constitutional Amendment Number 18 that provided for the harmonisation of the presidential, house of assembly, senatorial and local government elections.

“There has never been interrogation as to capabilities by candidates to meet the least expected deliverables, hence the mess Bulawayo in particular and indeed Zimbabwe generally has suffocated under poor leadership spanning four decades,” Zapu spokesperson Iphithule Maphosa said 

“Election choices in Zimbabwe have always been informed by emotions rather than logic and interests. De-harmonisation will give equal prominence to both national and local government polls. It must be noted that we have had cunning parties who have deliberately overemphasised on a narrative that made voters to subconsciously overlook the importance of electing a capable local government official.”

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