Chitungwiza appears to be a cursed city. For close to two decades now, the residents of this sprawling town have known no peace and there is no indication the situation is going to improve anytime soon.
Not that there have been wars involving guns and blood — although it had its fair share of bloodshed in the electoral carnage that left scores of people dead over the years and especially in 2008.
And there was of course the forgettable post 2015 election Murambatsvina which left hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers homeless after votes indicated an opposition inclination. But all these were scars that healed.
There is however, an unwanted permanent feature that has wrought misery on the people of Chitungwiza over these many years. Elements of this disease include corruption, administrative decay, official arrogance and outright theft and plunder of public property and funds; all of which have translated to untold misery for the two million residents of this city.
The culprits are a few individuals who have and continue to abuse their offices to enrich themselves — out of sheer greed — at the expense of the rate paying masses.
The acrid smell that has become Chitungwiza’s identity tag, emanating from perennial burst sewers, mountains of uncollected refuse, a rotten road network and countless illegal settlements, vindicate rumblings of the city’s ratepayers; complaining to deaf government ears that Chitungwiza has gone to the proverbial dogs.
The long-serving former Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo did nothing to help the situation. In fact, he worsened things by capitalising on the obtaining corruption. He brought in his friends, as administrative commissioners or “resuscitation teams”, ostensibly to restore sanity to the city, yet in reality they were coming to milk the dying cow dry.
For years, Godfrey Tanyanyiwa plundered the city in broad daylight under Chombo’s protective armpit until the arrogance drove impunity to a point where the criminality became too glaring for justice to remain blind.
If justice has not been tampered with, Tanyanyiwa should still be in prison today. He was arrested and jailed for two and half years exactly two years ago (October 2013) for embezzling council funds.
Chombo then brought in Fungai Mbetsa from Manicaland and later George Makunde from Kariba to run the city on caretaker basis. Makunde has since set permanent base at Chitungwiza Head Office as the city’s new Town Clerk.
The resuscitation teams headed by the two men earned themselves instant infamy among residents. They received allowances of up to $12 000 per person on top of such freebies as huge telephone, entertainment and numerous other allowances that the broke city could definitely do without.
Needless to say, they failed to make Chitungwiza any better. In fact, many Chitungwiza residents began to say “Tanyanyiwa was better!”
The most recent example of the folly of the sick minds at Chitungwiza municipality is the dismissal of the council Chamber Secretary, Priscilla Vengesai.
Her crime was daring to speak out against corruption, against the mayor’s alleged incompetence. The final straw, was her attempt to stop the purchase of top-of-the-range vehicles for Mutoti and Makunde.
The mayor and the town clerk ganged up against her and fired her, albeit using some technical fault in the manner Vengesai may have presented her valid views.
Opportunities to make Chitungwiza more habitable have been squandered in endless barefaced acts of corruption by successive administrations.
As the decay at Head Office manifested itself in the form of direct theft of funds, equipment and abuse of council property including buildings, a new form of pillage emerged. Council land began to disappear and, out of nowhere, people such as Fredrick Mabamba became household names.
As city fathers took a freehold on the land in Chitungwiza, giving each other no limit to the number of stands they could lay claim on, people like Mabamba threw all caution to the wind and became defacto municipalities in their own right – selling off council land and pocketing the proceeds in broad daylight.
In 2010 Tapiwa Mashakada, who chaired a committee of the MDC-T which exposed the rot in Chitungwiza, said Mabamba had come to own over 25% of land in Chitungwiza.
When the media poked its nose into the rot, the councillors legalised their action by passing resolutions that gave them entitlement to free stands —ostensibly for the benefit of their less privileged subjects.
The legalised land scandal became a raging fire and city fathers literally lost their heads. Council management failed to resist the temptation and they too, joined the gravy train.
These men and women grabbed vast tracts of land for free and sold each stand for an average $4 000, instead of the official council price of $200 per stand. And, because they made sure nobody got anything by following the legitimate housing waiting list, the stolen stands sold like cake.
No open space has been spared in Chitungwiza and the city’s housing plan has been trashed. Chitungwiza has stood out like a sore thumb in terms of haphazard land use.
Meanwhile, proper service delivery collapsed under the hands of disgruntled workers who are finding it difficult to survive and feed their families — workers who have no money to buy soap in order to bathe before going to work!
Makunde and his managers have apparently failed to deal with the issue and have no idea what to do.
I believe it is time the new broom at Local Government, Saviour Kasukuwere did another Gweru at Chitungwiza.
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