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Masunda: Covid-19 a godsend for Zimbabwe

Former Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda says the outbreak of Covid-19 is a perfect opportunity for Zimbabwe to reset its priorities.

Masunda (MM) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube on the platform In Conversation With Trevor that the pandemic was a “glorious opportunity for us right across the board, to take stock of where we are and say to ourselves let us reset.”

The accomplished lawyer and business leader spoke about a number of issues from his background to challenges faced by local authorities.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Muchadeyi Ashton Masunda, welcome back to In Conversation with Trevor.

I promised our huge audience that we would have you back. We had you on, almost three months ago.

We are having you back because I have no doubt that you have an exemplary life.

You have so many lessons to share with Zimbabwe.

You have had a life that has not had the slightest whiff of scandal and that is a lot given the type of country we live in.

Any instructive lessons, memories that have remained with you from your dad and your mom?

MM: My dad had a tremendous network of friends, businesswise and otherwise.

I think the extensive network he built was an indelible lesson for me, an unforgettable lesson.

On my mother’s side, she had come here with her parents, who originated from the Eastern Cape and her parents were part of a team of missionaries that came to this part of the world in the 1880s and 1890s.

My mom was born here though of Xhosa parentage and that’s how they met in Bulawayo.

We grew up speaking Xhosa first, chimanyika second and isiNdebele third and English at school.

In a way, I became Ndebele by osmosis, by virtue of being brought up in Bulawayo.

TN: One thing that you have clearly taken over from your dad is building networks. You are amazing at building networks, in connecting with people at all levels.

MM: I saw those networks worked for my dad and I grew up thinking I have to do the same.

I could give an example, Peter Lobel, the benefactor who has donated those fire engines to various local authorities starting with Harare, his father and mother served with my dad on the then Bulawayo Welfare Society.

Those days there was no social welfare in any ministry or department in the city.

TN: To remind viewers, Much, that you served as Harare mayor from 2008 to 2013.

You would have preferred to serve as Bulawayo mayor, but that was not to be and one of the criticisms from the viewers is that Much is waxing lyrically about what others have messed up on as far as being mayors and MPs.

What legacy have you left for Harare, what were your successes and failures as mayor of Harare?

MM: At the risk of sounding as if I’m blowing my own trumpet, we will start with Peter Lobel.

There is no way that Peter Lobel would have done what we did if it weren’t for the links I had with him.

In fact, I bumped into him fortuitously at a social event.

He was quite taken aback to find that I’m the mayor of Harare.

We started talking about things he is passionate about and firefighting equipment was one such interest that he was very keen on.

One thing led to another and he donated his first fire engine in memory of his friend, the now late Solomon Mujuru, and the rest is history.

There are over 25 fire engines and accessories that Peter has sourced for a number of local authorities.

The second one was my fortuitous meeting with a senior representative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

She heard me speaking and was taken aback by what I had to say and came up to me and said I need to come to Harare and see for myself what you do as mayor and how you can possibly set these elastic walls for yourself.

The long and short of it is we got US$5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

We built 486 houses for members of the Zimbabwe Homeless People Federation in Dzivarasekwa Extension.

At the tail end of my stint as the mayor, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made available US$20 million that was going to be channelled specifically for the lower echelons of society.

But sadly, my successor and his team did not pick up that ball to run with it, those funds never materialised.

During my stint we had a work force of 11 887, I will never forget that figure and there is no single occasion they went with no pay and that again was achieved through the networks that I had.

I became the chief debt collector for the city.

I got hold of the city treasurer and the town clerk and we sat and I said right guys, who are the 20% of the ratepayers, who contribute 80% of our revenues?

So I made sure that towards the end of each month I approached those ratepayers directly.

TN: You spoke about the valuation law and the fact that there has not been revaluation of Harare mansions, what impact would that have on the assets of the council? Why is it an important thing?

MM: It’s extremely important because that’s the major source of revenue for the city.

If you go anywhere within Greater Harare, you will see a number of mansions that have sprouted, mansions that could grace Hollywood and other more developed cities.

But what did not happen and ought to have happened is for all those properties to be captured on the roll and, therefore, vetted accordingly.

TN: So it still has not been done?

MM: To the best of my knowledge, it’s not quite where it should be.

TN: What is the one thing that remained outstanding or frustrating as you walked out of the office of the mayor of Harare?

MM: I think the main thing that I would have loved to have done more about is the house delivery services.

We had already started working on it, and we completed two polyclinics.

I’m pleased to say that during my stint as mayor, the services that were being offered at the maternity services units like Edith Opperman in Mbare and in Mabvuku were second to none.

Again that came about in a small measure as a result of the contributions from Zimbabweans in the diaspora.

TN: I would have loved us to meet in person but as a result of Covid-19, we can’t.

There is talk that we ought to build back after Covid, from where you sit, what should be Zimbabwe’s priority as far as building back after Covid-19 is concerned?

MM: In a way, Trevor, the advent of Covid-19 has been a godsend.

It’s a glorious opportunity for us right across the board, to take stock of where we are and say to ourselves, what is it we ought to be doing to cope with Covid-19?

The other Sustainable Development Goal that we really need to focus on is building sustainable communities and cities and communities.

That includes making sure the infrastructure, health-wise, infrastructure transport-wise and otherwise is in practice and it requires investments and planning.

We have turned it during the best part of 40 years of independence, to focus on consumptive lessons, people worrying more about what sort of chariot they drive than what services they are actually rendering through that office Mr Mayor occupies.

We have an ironically cruel situation in Zimbabwe where we are not at war and yet the symptoms are manifestations of all things that have gone wrong.

We need to put our heads together and forget about toxic party politics and focus on how to get the best people possible from wherever in Zimbabwe.

They are there and put our heads and search for homegrown solutions.

TN: Your current day-to-day job which is, you are chairman of the Commercial Arbitration Centre; not a lot of people understand the role and function, could you just break it down briefly?

MM: The Commercial Arbitration Centre is simply there to render alternative dispute resolution services.

So it complements the administration and delivery of justice in Zimbabwe.

We started in the early 90s, six of us, and we felt that we needed, as a country, to be in sync with what was happening in the rest of the world.

Not all problems should necessarily be resolved by way of litigation.

We focus mainly on resolving disputes amicably and cost-effectively through conciliation, mediation and arbitration.

TN: How is it funded?

MM: For the first three years it was funded through the business sector.

They insisted that for them to fund it, there had to be someone who would champion the cause, that’s how I became the guinea pig and gave up my job as managing director of Duly’s and I’m pleased it worked out very well.

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