City fathers or city dealers at council chambers?

City fathers or city dealers at council chambers?
Published: 21 July 2019 (164 Views)
THERE is a wide and telling difference, just like the North and South Poles, in stature and charisma, between city councillors of old and the current generation of men and women in the council chambers.

One of the requirements for one to contest in council elections back then was to be a ratepayer, which meant that prospective councillors had to be property owners in the city or entity they wished to contest in.

That requirement was shelved in the late 1990s, and it opened up the floodgates for some people with "nothing to defend or safeguard" in actual sense, apart from going to council to look for a pay cheque in the form of allowances, defending political party positions and lining up their pockets through underhand deals.

According to the Electoral Act, a prospective councillor is no longer required to be a ratepayer, yet he or she is expected to superintend over interests of ratepayers. Furthermore, there are no basic educational qualifications required.

The Electoral Act says the candidate should be a citizen of Zimbabwe and be at least 21 years of age and would be disqualified if they have a criminal record or if they are a Member of Parliament or have previously been declared insolvent or bankrupt.

Did the removal of the clause to be a rate payer for prospective councillors have dire consequences on the resultant quality and calibre of councillors? Is the issue of educational background an issue?

In an article titled "Are minimum qualifications for local councillors panacea?" Tawanda Zinyama and Precious Shumba paint a sorry picture of the state of local authorities in the country.

"The major crisis that the local authorities have is that the councillors are not doing what the electorate put them into office to do.

Throughout all the local authorities in Zimbabwe, there is tellingly and persuasively evidence of poor judgment that has uncovered the pitiable calibre of politicians the electorate has catapulted into the local authorities.

There is massive corruption in almost all local authorities. However, this problem is now institutionalised in Zimbabwe."

Proven cases and allegations of corruption at councils across the country have been reported over the years, and Bulawayo stands among those topping the list.

It has been argued that the quality of councillors has deteriorated, with a majority of them going to council to seek riches, instead of serving the wards that voted them into office.

There have been countless cases of councillors involved in underhand tender deals, influencing procurement and violating this and that rule, with the sole aim of amassing wealth.

In short, one might argue that instead of having city fathers at city hall, residents now have city dealers.

A local journalist who covered the council beat for a number of years while working for Chronicle, Mr Methuseli Moyo, in an interview, said he believed that the current crop of councillors in Bulawayo was a far cry from the councillors of yesteryears.

"To use a clichè, the current crop of councillors is a far cry from the councillors of yesteryear, most of whom were distinguished and self-respecting individuals of honour and means.

The likes of Aldermen Nicholas Mabodoko, Dennis Ndlovu, Nelson Sidanile, Nelson Siwela, Michael Batandi-Mpofu, Abednigo Nyathi, David Ndlovu, Collin Lumsden, Mike Constandinos, among others, were real city fathers.

They were not aldermen for nothing. They had experience, wisdom, and capacity to steer development in the city.

Then there were councillors like Mohammed Esat, an accomplished businessman and philanthropist.

Then there was the only lady in the chamber, Clr Margaret Sibanda, who was a lecturer at a local teachers' college. Then there was the "terrible trio" of Aldermen Matson Hlalo, Mika Parira-Mpofu (late) and Charles Mpofu (late also).

"I call them terrible because they were 'brutal' in their debate and engagements in the chamber. Sense was spoken then in the council chambers. The debate was so robust, even when all the councillors were from one party, Zanu-PF.

They debated until cows came home and adopted resolutions and oversaw their implementation. When it came to issues of local versus central Government, the team was unflinching, and always consulted residents."

There were other characters who left an indelible mark at council like the first black mayor of the city, national hero Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu, Arthur Lee Ncube, Elliot Madanke Dube, Enos Mdlongwa, Tryphine Nhliziyo, Israel Gadhlula, other former executive mayors like Joshua Malinga and Japhet Ndabeni Ncube, among others.

When history is written about the yesteryear greats in the council chambers, there is little if not nothing about corruption that arises.

All they fought for was betterment of service delivery in their wards, and never were they caught fighting over "bottle stores and residential stands".

"Almost every ward had a meeting every weekend.

The meetings were orderly and fruitful. Councillors were really committed, but they received negligible allowances, unlike current ones who are almost on salary and loot stands.

Those councillors, most of them, were established and stable materially, unlike the new breed of fortune-seekers masquerading as city fathers. In fact, the title city fathers is a misnomer now.

I blame the parties, especially MDC-Alliance for fielding any other member, without regard to suitability, for Local Government polls. Such people cannot lead a city of the size of Bulawayo. They are a huge joke.

They have allowed a clique of greedy schemers to capture the chamber, which is unfortunate," added Mr Moyo.

The issue of the calibre of councillors has become more topical than ever before following the goings on at the council, which culminated in power wrangles witnessed recently at the Bulawayo City Council.

The truth of the matter is that councils are mini-governments where there is a need for astute, stable, capable and honest leaders.

That is why the Government has had to intervene and come up with rules barring councillors from helping themselves onto land and procurement issues, among others.

A blogger last week put a witty tale on Facebook of how a young man can leave his rural home at a distant province and push their way into the council chambers via the MDC-Alliance and wake up the next day owning 8 000 square metres of land in Bulawayo, without paying a cent, simply because he is a councillor.

Is that what it means to be a city father now?

Does anyone care about service delivery, roads, clinics, education at council nowadays?

- sundaynews

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