The escalating battle of political control within the MDC-T has seen waves of recalls that have claimed 32 MPs and 165 MDC Alliance councillors. This has created a leadership vacuum at the community level, in the process crippling service delivery and political representation, with residents pushed to the periphery of local governance.
Addressing delegates at the Churches Convergence on Conflict & Peace (CCoCP) District Stakeholders Engagement Meeting held at the Assemblies of God Church at Chiremba, Epworth last Friday, the Epworth Residents Development Association submitted that political wrangles in the main opposition party were putting the halting development in the Harare’s south-eastern high-density dormitory.
“We are worried about the political parties that recall political representatives on their own issues at the expense of service delivery,” said Peter Nyapetwa, Secretary-General of the Epworth Residents Development Association.
“Recalls were supposed to be done on issues to do with service delivery because we elected the councillors to deliver services and work on policies. If the issues were about a failure to deliver services, then we would have accepted the recalls. But when they are recalled and the positions are left vacant, it means we have a problem already,” he said.
Nyapetwa said that Ward 4 and 6 where Cllrs Kudakwashe Chatambudza and Batanai Masunda were recalled were already facing challenges to do with water, land distribution and regularisation. He said his association has since stepped up to try to resolve the crisis with Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation.
“The mandate of a councillor is to serve for five years, so when one is recalled, it halts development. This is one issue we have in service delivery in Epworth. As the Epworth Residents Development Association, we have had progressive meetings with the former Epworth Local Board Chairman Councillor Batanai Masunda on some of the grievances that the residents have raised. But because he was recalled, it means we now have to start afresh and revisit that again with the new chairperson Gift July,” said Nyapetwa.
Epworth Residents Development Association said that it expected that when a party recalls a councillor or councillors, this should be justified by the following reasons: inability to perform the functions of their office due to mental or physical incapacity; gross incompetence; gross misconduct; conviction of an offence involving dishonesty, corruption or abuse of office; or wilful violation of the law, including a local authority by-law.
Churches Convergence on Conflict and Peace is a consortium of church-related organizations self-tasked to foster peace at grass-root level in Zimbabwe. The initiative is made up of Zimbabwe Divine Destiny (ZDD), Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA), the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJP) and Ecumenical Church Leaders Forum (ECLF).
The Epworth CCoCP District meeting was graced by the constituency’s recalled Member of Parliament Hon. Earthrage Kureva, Cllrs Kudakwashe Chatambudza (recalled), Batanai Masunda (recalled) and Gift July. The meeting was convened to summarise issues that were negatively impacting development and to find sustainable solutions for Epworth.
Cllr Chatambudza, a former Vice-Chair of the Epworth Local Board, appealed to the gathering, saying he was a victim of political vendetta. He said he was recalled at a time when most of his community projects were almost completed.
“Those from Ward 4 can attest that about 60% of most of our projects have been completed. If it wasn’t for the recall, we could have been working on completing the projects,” said Cllr Chatambudza.
Speaking at the same event, Churches Convergence on Conflict and Peace’s Coordinated Response Platform chairperson Reverend Guthrie Melusi Gwanzura said it was unfortunate that in Zimbabwe issues to do with development were being “politicised”.
“Issues of development should not be politicised. When water comes from a community borehole, it doesn’t have a political label. It is for everyone. The bible says that there is time for everything. While there is time for politicking, more time must be spent on the development of the communities. We should be able to separate politics and development,” said Rev. Guthrie.
Earlier this year, the Thokozani Khupe-led MDC-T instituted recalls in the main opposition bloc, arguing that both the appointment as vice president and the subsequent rise of Nelson Chamisa -who represented a coalition of eight political parties under the banner of MDC-A during 2018 harmonised elections to which the MDC-T was party to – as president of the MDC-T party was illegal and unconstitutional.
Khupe won a legal battle in which the Supreme Court ordered her reinstatement as acting president of the MDC-T, leading the party’s secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora to recall MDC-A members of parliament on the grounds that they had ceased representing the opposition MDC-T party’s interests.
So far MDC-T has recalled 32 MPs and over 160 MDC Alliance councillors, accusing them of refusing to recognise the 2014 structure. Of the 270 seats in Parliament of which 210 are for elected MPs, the MDC Alliance garnered 64 seats in 2018 elections and has 24 proportional representation MPs, making the total 88 in the National Assembly. With 32 MPs now recalled, it means the opposition party now has 56 seats while ZANU PF now enjoys an unfettered majority.
Residents’ organisation and associations have raised concerns that the recall of the councillors highlights the greater need for a more inclusive law-making to enhance citizen participation in playing their oversight role in local authorities. Their recall from council further disrupts the flow of policymaking and governance, the residents have said.
The Harare Residents Trust submitted that;
“Service delivery continues to suffer as a direct result of the partisan bickering among the councillors from the same political party. This limits the ability of the City of Harare to make progressive policies that respond to the challenges facing residents and ratepayers.”
The Constitution has no provision that empowers the citizens as ratepayers to recall any elected councillors on allegations of incompetence, abuse of office, incompetence and corruption.
This responsibility is left to the political parties’ leadership to write to the respective accounting officers indicating that this or that Councillor has been expelled or no longer represents their political party interests in the local authority. They do this without consulting the electorate who voted for the candidates, which limits the practice of good democratic and accountable governance.
Some argue the recalls expose the inadequacies of existing laws to safeguard the interests of ratepayers and counter the overbearing influence of political parties in the choice and oversight over Councillors.
The recalls revive the advocacy and lobby for the full implementation of devolution according to the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (Number 20) Act of 2013. Devolution promises wider decision-making powers for local authorities in partnership with citizens, thus limiting the role of the central government in the governance and administration of local authorities.
In terms of Section 129 (1) (k) and Section 278 (1) an elected Councillor or Member of Parliament is only recalled at the instigation of their political party, and never by ratepayers. As it stands, the ratepayers have no constitutional powers to recall an underperforming or corrupt councillor.
The laws of the country have not accommodated the full expression of citizens when it comes to oversight over elected officials. The political parties reign supreme over elected officials. Therefore, as long as the elected official is in good books with their respective political party, even when underperforming, the ratepayers have no power to recall their elected councillors.
Even if their elected official disgruntles the residents, they can only hope and pray that the party on whose ticket the councillor was elected would nudge its councillors to start proceedings to cause the removal of incompetent councillors.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is set to announce dates for the by-elections to fill the vacancies. As it stands, the Ministry of Health and Child Care has suspended by-elections, citing the need to prevent large gatherings as a way to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Just under a week ago, ZEC warned it might not be able to run the much anticipated parliamentary and council by-elections in 2021 unless the government releases $12 billion the electoral body requires for the exercise.
Epworth CCoCP District Meeting Event Gallery
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