By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
THE opposition MDC formations began to govern towns and cities in Zimbabwe in 2002.
By 2008, the opposition parties were so proud of their control of city and town councils that they even tried to characterise former President Robert Mugabe as ‘the President of rural poverty’ while the MDC-T leader, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, was called ‘president of progressive and prosperous cities’.
Yet in the run-up to the 2018 elections, Nelson Chamisa and his opposition alliance partners do not want at all to take any credit for the criminal misgovernance and disaster that have befallen Zimbabwe’s towns and cities.
Why is Chamisa not foregrounding the many years of opposition control of town and city councils as a proud record of the ‘good governance’ which opposition parties promised urban dwellers?
While it may be true that some of the problems of urban council management can be blamed on central Government and on the overall economy of Zimbabwe, the opposition cannot get away with refusal to take blame or credit for what has happened in those town and city councils.
For instance, former MDC Mayor of Harare Muchadeyi Masunda accused his party of electing to the Harare City Council councillors who were illiterate and semi-literate. The outgoing Mayor of Harare, Bernard Manyenyeni, has said the same about the current crop of MDC councillors!
But the question I am posing goes beyond the 2018 election politics.
Harare as Zimbabwe’s capital city is supposed to be the 21st Century embodiment of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, African identity and Zimbabwean memory.
But African memory is modelled after the ubiquitous dariro (circle).
Politically speaking, it goes back to First and Second Chimurenga especially.
The guerillas, on arrival in Dande in the 1970s for instance, joined the dariro or circle of memory which at once integrates past, present and future.
The circle was adjusted creatively and the freedom fighters were defined in it as part of the royal lineage precisely because of their role in rescuing the three bases of memory and therefore helping to reconstruct the collective African memory of Zimbabwe against Rhodesia land theft and apartheid.
One of the bases to be reclaimed was the land, stolen, occupied and defiled by the settler.
He or she who reclaims the land and possesses it becomes royalty.
The second base was the African body surviving the white chattel plantations of slavery, the African body surviving the single-sex labour barracks and compounds of apartheid and WNLA (Wenera), the African figure now able to stand on its own ground after abolishing the Vagrancy Act and its no-trespassing signs.
The third base for this African memory was the African institution, that is the engine for creating relationships.
On arrival in Dande, the freedom fighters introduced the African institution which was going to reclaim and reconstruct lost institutions while also creating new ones. That one institution was the African liberation movement. That institution is still, to this day, the target of the whiteman’s ongoing onslaught on Zimbabwe.
By restoring these first three bases, the freedom fighters deserved to be incorporated into the African circle of Dande as royalty.
Authour David Lan documented part of the restoration in his book Guns and Rain.
What surprised Lan was the native dynamism and contemporary flexibility of this African memory shown through the execution of the Second Chimurenga which brought about Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
In short, ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ succeeded in 2017 because the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), as the successor to the liberation fighters, has nurtured its relationship with the community in the form of optimal civil-military relations and in the form of international peace-keeping missions within the United Nations (UN) systems.
But Harare does not show that it is the seat of the Government of Zimbabwe; the seat of the one institution transforming colonial space into autonomous African space.
In terms of this memory and identity, Harare fits the image of the typical post-colonial city in southern Africa as documented back in 1987 by consultants for the National Gallery of Zimbabwe who concluded that:
“In southern Africa, the impoverishment of the visual environment falls with a double blow.
It is not just that the dominant images and forms come from abroad, outside the cultural mainstream of the region, not just that so much is inferior and in poor taste, but that the organic links between present societies and their cultural inheritance have been severed or submerged, so that criteria of worth, of value, of fittingness, beauty and functionality are no longer representative of local (indigenous) cultures, but depend on external stimulus and sanction.
All modernising societies have experienced similar historic displacement from their pasts, but in few has the dislocation been so severe as the colonised societies of southern Africa.”
Harare is no exception.
But even as a neo-colonical southern African city, Harare is a big embarrassment:
While the new central administration is urging all citizens, all institutions and Government departments to show that Zimbabwe is open for business and that Government has instituted a policy to make it easy to do business, Harare remains open to typhoid and cholera as a result of its inability to supply enough clean water to its citizens.
At the time the opposition won control of the city council, failure to collect refuse on time was restricted to a few high-density suburbs; but now it is cross-cutting.
Even in the prime areas where most foreign embassies are based, there are mountains of uncollected rubbish as we go to press.
In terms of resource allocation, the City of Harare bought a fleet of new vehicles to use in clamping and seizing motor vehicles for ransom fees as high as US$400 per seized vehicle.
This policy for a long time punished, especially visiting motorists who were unaware of the rules, and it presented the image of Harare as a most hostile place.
When the G40 cabal was using the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to collect illegal traffic spot fines on the highways, the City of Harare also embarked on a policy whereby they wanted to force every motorist to pay a dollar every time he or she took up a parking bay.
This meant that a motorist going shopping would pay one dollar each time he or she changed parking spaces.
If the motorist went to 20 different shops in the course of one trip, he or she would pay US$20 dollars in separate parking fees.
Finally, the most unpopular policy of the Harare City Council was the unleashing of contracted debt-collectors on rate-payers.
The debt-collectors were aggressive and unscrupulous.
But there were also serious problems with the Council’s billing system for those wishing to clear their bills.
My own experience with that system was that it was designed to maximise interest on arrears.
So if a person owed US$500 on rates and paid US$300 cash, the system would clear the current bill and leave the arrears unpaid in order to maintain the highest possible interest charges on arrears.
In the end, the aggressive debt-collectors so offended even compliant rate-payers that many became defiant.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe has already decided to move its seat from the Central Business District of the City of Harare to Mount Hampden.
But Mount Hampden remains part of Harare.
In my view, the governance, character and identity of the City of Harare ought to be made part of the elections debate for 2018 and the opposition MDC-Alliance should be made to take responsibility for the big national embarrassment that is Harare today.
The question to be posed for 2018 is: Does Harare make sense as the capital of a proud nation liberated though the Second Chimurenga and its latest version called ‘Operation Restore Legacy’?
To call for common sense is also to demand originality, local content and a hard-nosed reading of our own condition.
We must abandon the lazy habit of always inviting outsiders first to name our reality, to smuggle-in their own ‘readings’, stereotypes and repeat them ahead of our own self-definitions — indeed ahead of our own analyses of our condition.
Common sense is a melding of many texts derived from the common understanding of the people.
The African dariro was the original linguistic, aesthetic and philosophical structure for synthesising ‘texts’ in the quest for unity and unification, against unilateralism, against exclusiveness, against linear excesses.
In this context, Harare as living space and as the capital of Zimbabwe still stands for the worst neo-colonial excesses including typhoid and cholera.