President Mnangagwa last month swore in former Harare Mayor Oliver Chidawu as the Minister of State for Harare Metropolitan Province. His new role comes at a time when the country is pursuing devolution. Our Features Writer Leroy Dzenga (LD) recently spoke with Minister Chidawu (OC) and below are excerpts from the interview
LD: Minister, you have been in office for slightly over a month since your appointment as Minister of State for Harare Metropolitan Province and I am sure you have been acclimatising to your role. What is your appreciation of the city right now?
OC: I have been in office a month and a few days, I was appointed on March 8. The days that I have been in office have been quite revealing. I think from the time I was involved in civic affairs more than two decades ago, things have changed, they are no longer the way they used to be.
From that perspective, I think it is a changed environment, but I think we are able to take the challenge.
LD: Now that you have understood the terrain, what are the priority areas that you are going to be looking at as minister?
OC: The infrastructure has collapsed. It is quite visible as you drive around townships. It is important to emphasise that the appointment is not about the City of Harare, but it is the metropolitan boundaries which include Chitungwiza, Epworth and Ruwa for now.
We have the responsibility of that population, and it could be the highest concentrated population in the country. Infrastructure in all these areas, in some instances has actually collapsed and there is nothing. Where you had tarred roads, there are dust roads, where you had potable water through taps, there is nothing and sewer system has collapsed. So, we need to make sure that we modernise and become serviceable again to provide services that those living in Harare are looking for.
LD: There is devolution coming up. The interpretation was that the implementation of this idea would eliminate the role of Minister of State. I would like you to clarify how your office can exist at a time the country is pursuing devolution?
OC: I think with devolution, it actually simplifies our coordination.
I am a coordinator and I put together the province. I am the one who can superintend over the various authorities which are within the province. For example, councillors elected in Harare, their jurisdiction is managing the affairs of Harare, they will not be able to interface freely with those in Chitungwiza, whereas those in Chitungwiza should manage affairs in Chitungwiza equally as Epworth and Ruwa Board.
My role is I superintend all of them. I bring them all together and then we have a plan for how the infrastructure is going to be implemented, which is physical planning for the province.
This includes plans like how roads should interface within the province and other related processes. My role is to ensure the province then eventually interfaces with the country in a cohesive manner. That is my role, it does not conflict with the other authorities at all. I coordinate them, I provide leadership.
It is very easy for me to call on whoever is in the province to ask and assist or give direction on processes. It actually benefits all of us, it brings efficiency, so we don’t conflict at all.
LD: If coordination of local authorities is part of your mandate, is it not duplication of effort with what the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, who are also in direct relationship with councils and municipalities, are doing?
OC: We are all guided by the Urban Councils Act. So the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing does the administrative work, they report through, but I do the coordination. It’s like right now there is no transport, that is my duty, I raise it at every point I am, but the ministry just does the policy through the Urban Councils Act, but I coordinate and we work together. We don’t conflict, we work together.
Areas that we interface, we check with each other and we do what we are supposed to be doing in the interest of the public we serve.
LD: The City of Harare has vision 2025 where they want to turn this city into a world class city, whereas the central Government has Vision 2030. I would like to know from where you stand how these two plans reconcile?
OC: To be honest, I have read the Government’s policy, which is the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, but I am still to receive the city’s Vision 2025. I have not read it. I have heard them talk about it and make pronouncements, but I have not read how they are going to execute it. But in any case, it is good that we are all talking about development. Whatever the city is planning should be progressive and I should be able to support it. That is where I come in, I would like to understand what they mean.
I am going to have a look at their plan and if there any additions to be made, I should be able to add so that we make progress.
We want to be a developed economy and there are benchmarks in any developed economy, we should ensure that they are encompassed in any plan being implemented currently.
LD: There have been land barons in Harare for a while now. You find there are places like Harare South where they have not had basic infrastructure since those suburbs were established. Are there plans to ensure that those areas get amenities fit for human survival?
OC: I think let us unpack the issue. Land barons is a colloquial term for people who have stolen money from needy people who wanted housing and shelter over their heads.
These are just criminals, the point is what are we going to do with the criminals who have been roaming around cheating people? It is the duty of the local authority to provide housing to the people, it is a national duty for Government. In my time as Harare Mayor, we used to do that in places like Warren Park and Kuwadzana. We serviced the land and properly gave people land. Unfortunately, as things deteriorated, we have ended up with greedy people.
When people in local authorities are elected, councillors have turned to be the ones at the forefront of cheating the people who have elected them. Councillors should not do that, they are supposed to be respected leaders who should provide, lead, account, encourage people to pay rates.
Being elected a councillor is not a job, you give service for your infrastructure to be kept intact and for services to be provided to people who pay rates properly. But the problem that we have had, we may be forced to look at the quality of people we are electing today. Do they qualify and how do we end up with people who cheat those who elect them?
Who are these land barons? The same criminals and greedy people who are exploiting those who need housing. For me, I think there is nothing like land barons, there are people who have been stealing land and using all sorts of methods of getting money from people.
There is nothing like a land baron, a baron would be a person who owns land and service it for sale, but these you are calling land barons are criminals.
Unfortunately, these criminals become very powerful because institutions have become very weak. The police, maybe because they are not well-paid, they get paid by these so-called barons, so they cannot act. If you go report these barons, they are not arrested because some police officers are complicit, we cannot have a society like that.
LD: As a result of the greedy activities, you would agree with me that there are places which were established, but people have not gotten their title deeds and people still do not have basic services like roads and water. What is your plan as minister towards assisting people in that position?
OC: What I think we should do, this is a view we are going to try and sell to colleagues in Government. We should go back to basics, each area had a local plan and we should follow what was on the local plan. For those that have been settled where there were supposed to be housing, we will have to provide the basic infrastructure. This includes water, sewer, roads and other amenities.
However, those who have settled in areas which were meant for other uses like schools, they have to be removed. If people have settled in a place earmarked for a school, where will they go to school? We should follow the plan which was there.
I have had meetings with planners from City of Harare. There are those who were given areas that planners agree that we should just give services, but there are those who have occupied illegal land like wetlands, it is unfortunate, they will have to leave those areas and we find alternatives.
But, the problem has been, if you try find alternatives if people were 30, you come back there are 300 because they have heard there are plans to provide alternative places of settlement. There are people who put their proxies and they live on this because of the barons you are talking about. So, yes there are genuine home seekers, but there are also people who are causing problems and we should nip this in the bud.
LD: What are the key deliverables which we would be able to look at in a few years and measure the success of your tenure?
OC: I think you are aware that there is no water and we cannot live in an environment without water. It is important that we ensure that all of us receive water.
In the next few months, we should try and sort out at least for people to receive basic water. Sources of our potable water are badly contaminated and rundown. Sewage has been flowing in there for the past 20 or more years. Lake Chivero is a cesspool. There is no sewage plant that is working now, we must get the sewage plants back to work as soon as possible.
When we have done that, everyone should see improvements. This should reduce the requirement where a lot of money, foreign currency is required to buy water chemicals. Where we used to have only one chemical — chlorine — now we have to use between 10 and 20 chemicals to produce water, that is expensive.
That water will only probably be close to drinkable, you are not sure whether the chemicals have been taken out. So, if we are able to provide water, I think I would have achieved.
I also want to ensure that places like Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Epworth that have no sewage plants, get those basic facilities.
Let me tell you my vision and how I think we would achieve it. If we have sorted out water and sewer, which is my priority, I would like to go on to re-look at the town planning to ensure there is order in the city. It is a priority. If you have ever tried to drive at the Mbudzi section around 5 o’clock, sometimes you are stuck there for three hours. I would like to encourage that we put interchanges for vehicles. There are places where those interchanges are needed and the money is in Zimbabwe.
These are all civil works, I am an engineer, myself we do not need forex for them, we should be able to do them.
We should also have a law that prosecutes people who are cheating home seekers and we hope the legal system will assist us. The problem is this money is shared across the whole system, so getting a judgment this day is a real problem as people sit on cases.
My term might end without even a single prosecution, it is a challenge, the system is not working, it is full of corrupt people.
On urban transportation, the goal is I would like to sort out urban transportation. If we can achieve that, I think I would have done my job for the whole metropolises.
LD: How are you going to implement your vision and plans?
OC: Everyone in Harare wants a better Harare, we all must have a Harare we want and we want to engage the citizens in Harare.
We need a law that enforces that we all pay our bills. If people pay their bills, funds are collected and are transparently managed with accountability, I tell you we will be able to collect enough funds to do these projects without borrowing. I want to engage all those who want to live in Harare, if you want to live in an urban Harare, you must behave like an urbanite. Just imagine, if all these buildings in town everyone had paid up their rates and the money is properly used to the benefit of these citizens, we will not have any problems.
I would like to suggest that those who have not paid be prosecuted, people with property and collect rent, but don’t want to pay the city. People who use water daily but do not want to pay for the water, we must prosecute.
LD: At an individual level, some may suggest that your proposition is not sensitive to the state of the economy in the country. How would you respond?
OC: Those who cannot afford to pay bills must sell their property and go to the rural areas. You were not invited here, you came on your own. I was not invited, I came on my own and I am enjoying the benefits of those who have paid. If you cannot do it, go home.
The situation can only be made better by us, if we pay, we are accountable, we manage our affairs properly, we create activity and that activity is the economy, then all of us will have jobs. Any economy that is working is getting everyone involved. It is like you go to a fast-food outlet and say the economy is bad, I must have a meal for free. If you have no money to buy chicken, do not eat chicken, otherwise you are going to steal and you will be arrested. Same as rates, if you cannot afford them, sell your property and go where you afford. We do not need loans, our people must be able to pay, but when they pay, we must account for the money. Once you demonstrate that you are providing services, when people receive the services, they will pay.
LD: Zimbabwe’s economic thrust includes the adoption of the Special Economic Zones model. How well positioned is Harare to implement this idea in comparison to other provinces?
OC: We are more than ready and we are already engaged, there are various MOUs I have found here. There are many people interested in Harare. My biggest problem right now is that people want to invest, but there is no land. Land has been taken away by the barons, there is absolutely no land. Some of which has been taken by the city and is being hoarded. Harare has no land, so where do I put the investors.
I have had three investors, two of them local and one is foreign, they have serious cash, but there is no land.
A group of specialist doctors approached me saying they intend to open a specialist hospital to stop people from flying out to be treated by their own students who are now specialist doctors, but there is no land. We have to reverse some shady deals to free up land for investments. Everything happens in Harare, it is a province that thrives on innovation.
We are not going to be borrowing money, going cap in hand to people. Once we demonstrate that we are responsible and we can manage funds, we would have created conditions for our own people to invest back home. Those best brains around the whole world must see that things are happening back home and most people who are outside are identified with Harare.
We need land, to build hubs so that youngsters who have ideas get the opportunity.
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