Mathabelazitha/The Anvil BY ZIFISO MASIYE
He must have been a pro. We never had a glimpse of the camera-man. He stood afixed to the door and focused on the desk and the town clerk’s quivering face and frothing mouth. Even watching, many faint ears had to duck the flurry of explosive expletives spewing generously in the direction of the dreadlocked provocateur, but none of it shook that camera lens. So too was His Warship, the deputy mayor, (as we soon learnt, for the camera always stayed behind him, never showing the audience his face). Unmoved. Dogged. Deliberate. Methodical. Dousing. Probing, poking, as one does a blinking wood of fire on cold night’s funeral vigil. Likewise, the provoked sparks and ambers responded into the ugly flame that has engulfed Bulawayo into a frozen anger, shame and grave disappointment. The mood, City of Kings, What Kings!
The drama that gripped Scene one, that opening episode of the Bulawayo Indaba was spellbinding and supremely choreographed. The camera, as is the custom of the media pursues the warring protagonists and seeks to accentuate the conflict and its news-hugging theatrics… and true to its culture, it completely shadowed-out and overlooked what, in my view may have been the most critical factor inside that battle-chamber and its bitter aftertastes, the busy but clearly overwhelmed mediator, the grieved pacifier, the pacing conflict manger. The poor fellow must have done 7,1 kilometres to and fro in that little room, seeking to calm the flare that the camera sold the world.
My barber thinks the verbal spat between the virtual city parents was always a bomb waiting to explode, both an inevitable and necessary dramatic sewer burst that brought to the fore deeply cancerous city relations and governance taboos that we have tip-toed around way too long. I don’t quite agree. The City Hall drama set the tone. The ensuing brouhaha, the jockeying and the political jostling is perhaps, indeed the inevitable consequences of bottled-up city emotions and must be allowed its venting space in conflict management.
But the City of Kings and her glorious people must find the formula to dust themselves down,pick themselves up and move on, beyond this expensive sideshow.
Always, there is an unmistakable, but determined sense of undue urgency, hyped up anger, excitable euphoria and a peculiar “jumping-into-conclusions”, accompanied by a selective preferences for the most radical solutions, presented as if they are the end-and-be- all and the life-and-death panacea for city survival. That gear is as unfortunate, unproductive, undesirable as it is malicious and dangerous.
There are few things I know with sufficient confidence to claim singular authority. And mine is an opinion as free as personal as any out there. I write both as an affected, concerned resident citizen of Bulawayo and as one that has a fair working understanding of City of Bulawayo, a grounded flirtation with leadership and governance, and a useful interface with civil society and residents associations here. But perhaps more as a passionate observer and budding commentator.
As a resident my anger and dismay at the tempestuous spat that brought disrepute to my city and shamed our collective pride is as raw as any other bona fide son of Kings out there. But I’m no hypocrite. I’ve been a CEO and our singularly polarised politics has subjected me to a hundred doses of the treatment Chris Dube received, and my heart immediately related, empathised and lept to his corner. He is strong ,in all his weaknesses, for I have said and done worse in his shoes — much to the expense of my career and cardio-vascular peace. But that’s for another day.
The venomous ire and crossing of swords that has characterised local governance discourse recently ,must be framed and understood within the context of the history of local government since 1980. In his typical warped wisdom Robert Mugabe, who always lost local council elections with a spectacular consistency made it a point to checkmate his political adversaries in the council chamber and altogether dislocate local governance by placing a celebrated anti-people Zanu PF guy at the apex of the ministry .The deliberate combination of a Zanu PF minister superintending over opposition local authorities has always been the fundamental cauldron of governance disaster.
Over the years,we have experienced fierce battles between, the centre and the periphery, where an overly zealous and legally powerful minister rides roughshod over the mayor and city fathers , often issuing particularly damaging directives to cull cheap favour with residents at the total and irresponsible expense of basic council viability. How can a sane minister, overnight cancel millions of dollars that form the bulk of a Council budget in residents debts? How can sane residents gleefully accept such a poisoned gift? From then to date, that catastrophic political madness remains. A council that imports the significant bulk of inputs to deliver service is rendered virtually collapsed where the $US-based services and debts are settled in a currency 10 times below their landing value… counting!
Be that as it may, in historical scenarios, where for instance, Zapu held unambiguous fort in the council chamber and there was a seamless unity of purpose between council, council management and Bulawayo residents, the nefarious machinations of errant government ministers always found little room to manoeuvre. A queer kind of democracy seems to have changed that and power charlatans, special interest factions and political and intra-political bidding in the political arm of the council, in the executive management and staff and also amongst the residents have taken root. The ultimate mandate of the citizens and the residents agenda at City Hall is severely compromised by the divisive political meddling, rented mandates and virtually absent residents.
Even at its weakest, I know it is an irresponsible exaggeration to suggest that Bulawayo is the worst governed local authority in Zimbabwe . The governance and leadership at City Hall has significant gaps, granted . With a convoluted, so called harmonised electoral process, with disengaged residents that are keen to vote political brands rather than reasoned, issue-based mandates and accomplished community leaders into office, the likelihood of governance failure is reality. Leadership is nurtured. It does not just “mera sehohwa!”. The worship of political party culture over merited leadership can only mean councillors that are accountable to no one, and residents that are exposed to the plunder.
Zii Masiye (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.