Ignatius Chombo’s 15-year reign as Local Government minister finally ended last week and he will be best remembered for presiding over collapsing local authorities.
BY MOSES MATENGA
President Robert Mugabe’s mini-reshuffle moved Chombo to the Home Affair ministry, leaving Saviour Kasukuwere as the new Local Government minister.
During his tenure, service delivery plummeted to an all-time low as evidenced by the poor state of roads, erratic water supply situation and uncollected garbage, among other issues.
The mushrooming of illegal settlements in different cities and towns took place under Chombo’s watch.
History would remember him as the Local Government minister who presided over Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 which left more than 700 000 homeless, while 2,4 million were affected indirectly, according to the United Nations.
His protection of suspended Harare town clerk, Tendai Mahachi raised eyebrows last year after he, within hours, reversed a decision by mayor Bernard Manyenyeni to suspend him.
“He protected unpopular chief executive officers of urban and rural authorities and interfered too much in the running of urban local authorities,” said Harare Residents Trust boss Precious Shumba.
“He forced urban local authorities to pay unbudgeted allowances to bloated probe teams which he chose without involvement of citizens and their local authorities.”
Shumba said there were consistent reports of corruption in the allocation of stands to well-connected officials and the minister, who interfered with the running of MDC dominated councils since his appointment in 2000, failed to stamp out the rot.
Residents and civic society organisations seemed to celebrate Chombo’s re-assignment while welcoming the arrival of Tyson, as Kasukuwere is known in Zanu PF circles.
While vendors were warming up to the youthful minister to open up dialogue with them, he immediately declared war on them.
He was quoted saying if the city fathers failed to clean up the Harare mess, he would clean up town house, a move that put pressure for council to act and use force against vendors.
Kasukuwere has stepped into his new portfolio amid higher expectations, particularly on service delivery.
But can Kasukuwere clean Chombo’s mess?
Obert Gutu, the MDC-T spokesperson thinks there is nothing that has changed, describing the two as two sides of the same coin.
“Chombo and Kasukuwere are two sides of the same coin. Both men are very long on promises and extremely short on delivery. In local government, because of the boisterous and combative nature of Kasukuwere, we will witness the enhanced victimisation of MDC mayors and councillors. Threats and ultimatums will be flying all over the place but I can bet you my bottom dollar; there will be absolutely no improvement in service delivery,” Gutu said.
“As for Chombo, he spent 15 years at the Ministry of Local Government and his long tenure at that ministry is a classic case study in ‘how to not properly manage local authorities.’”
Analyst Takura Zhangazha feels Kasukuwere, like Chombo, has no intention or capacity to deal with challenges in their new portfolios as the broad government policy is already well established.
“The changes to portfolios have limited consequences. The broad local government policy is already established and centres on the privatisation of services and the distribution of land to mafia- like politically-connected elites,” Zhangazha said.
“Similarly, Home Affairs has failed to professionalise the police force or address issues to do with migration and dual citizenship. Neither of the two ministers has demonstrated any intention, let alone capacity, to deal with these challenges.”
The Zanu PF national commissar served in Mugabe’s government first as youth deputy minister then was elevated in 2009 to serve in the government of national unity as Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister.
He served in the ministry and stepped on several toes in his combative ways of dealing with foreign-owned companies. He was described by former mayor and Zimplats deputy chairman Muchadeyi Masunda as “behaving like a proverbial bull in a China shop”, who was “throwing toys out of the cot” in 2011 after he had threatened to cancel Zimplats’ licence.
Masunda accused Kasukuwere then of using bully-boy tactics.
Kasukuwere takes over at a time service delivery had plunged to its all-time low and he will now be on the spotlight.
“The coming in of Kasukuwere is significant. This means he has a huge task to dismantle the systematic abuse of authority and accountability systems within local authorities. Whether or not he is coming from the same party as the predecessor, a lot is expected of Kasukuwere to regain his own credibility as a cabinet minister,” Shumba said.
“He didn’t have much impact at Water, Environment and Climate ministry, neither was he more effective in the Indigenisation ministry. If he wants to be counted in the history of Zimbabwe’s local government sector, he needs to tackle the issue of corruption in local authorities, deal with illegal land developments in urban areas, expedite the process of reviewing the local government legislation in line with the constitution which requires the decentralisation of service provision.”