Zimbabwe: Of Cholera, Perks and Poor Performance

Cholera treatment in Zimbabwe.
19 September 2018
opinion

The cholera outbreak, which was reported in Harare at the beginning of this month, has so far claimed the lives of 31 people from the over 5 000 reported cases.

Most nations have completely eliminated cholera and Zimbabwe would have achieved the same were it not for the MDC-dominated Harare City Council and the municipal management under it.

So bad has been the cholera outbreak that a school in Harare's southern high density suburb of Glen View had to be closed temporarily following the death of two pupils.

The disease was traceable to unrepaired sewage pipes whose seeping contents contaminated boreholes in Glen View and Budiriro. Red flags about the contamination of underground water in the area were raised way back, but the city authorities ignored the matter forcing residents to continue using the boreholes as council is not dependable when it comes to supplying clean water.

The disease also spread to other provinces such as Bulawayo and Midlands given that Harare is the nucleus of socio-economic activity in Zimbabwe, which makes it difficult for the Ministry of Health and Child Care to contain.

Harare's poor service provision especially as it relates to facilities such as refuse removal, constant and consistent supply of clean water and equipping its primary health care services have always been cause for deep concern.

The situation has always been a ticking time bomb. If a deadly cholera outbreak occurs in September, killing innocent lives, one shudders to imagine what would happen if this occurred at the height of the rainy season given the unattended heaps upon heaps of uncollected refuse around the city.

While the cholera outbreak lasts, Harare residents and Zimbabweans in general have naturally been asking questions, and rightly so too, as to what should have been done by who to prevent it?

MDC supporters, stung by their 30 July electoral defeat, are vaguely accusing central Government of being responsible for the disaster while others who are level-headed have placed the responsibility for the unfortunate deaths of innocent residents on the door of the MDC-dominated Harare City Council which superintends over the secretariat which runs the city.

While the council operates under the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, it is responsible for the day-to-day running of the capital city and should take blame and responsibility for the state of disaster which the city finds itself in.

The City of Harare management has always blamed residents for its poor service delivery citing low revenue caused by defaulting residents. Yes, the prevailing economic challenges have seen many residents having to make the difficult decision between paying their children's school fees, food and rates when they get financial resources.

The city fathers have, however, not been great stewards of the little revenue which is coming through.

Former Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, though not a saint himself, left the Town House in July a disappointed man as he tried to prioritise service delivery by reducing the obscenely and disproportionately huge salaries and perks paid to the city executives at the expense of service delivery.

He tried to ensure that the city abided by the Government requirement to allocate 70 percent of the $13 million collected monthly to service delivery and 30 percent to salaries and wages, but in vain as approximately 80 percent of the city's revenue continues to be allocated to wages and salaries. Most of it is gobbled in executives' salaries and perks.

Despite the city's financial challenges, it competes with most blue chip companies when it comes to paying high salaries. For example, a City of Harare guard earns $1 057 while a Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officer earns around $400 a month.

A municipal nursing sister earns $1 527 per month compared to $500 per month for a Government sister and about $1 000 per month for a private clinic sister. If these non-executive workers are paid this much by the local authority, one cannot even begin to think of the city's directors and other senior managers' salaries and perks. Since 2013, the municipality has reportedly lost up to $350 million in salary over-payments. It is against this background that Harare residents, relatives of the cholera victims and Zimbabweans at large should understand the ongoing and unnecessary cholera outbreak.

City executives care more about their perks than performance of their duties in the service of the city's main stakeholder -- the residents.

Manyenyeni fought with fellow councillors over the matter, but he was defeated because councillors sought to please executives who routinely employ their (councillors') relatives and party youths when the need arises.

It is the executives who facilitate the illicit acquisition of pieces of council land by councillors.

Manyenyeni also failed to convince his fellow councillors that the City of Harare did not need to spend millions of dollars owning and running a football club while southern suburbs residents are drinking contaminated water.

The same Government which the MDC-T Chamisa faction accuses of interfering in its administration of Harare is currently carrying a road resurfacing exercise in the capital after the city authorities and the council failed to maintain the roads. The road network of Harare had been transformed into porthole trails under the watch of the MDC's lopsided priorities.

The same Government is mobilising resources to contain an outbreak which should have been prevented if the council and municipality did their jobs. Companies such as Econet Wireless, Delta Corporation and others are committing financial and material resources which could have been used elsewhere in society were it not for the negligence of municipality and the council which oversees it.

The opposition won the majority of the council seats again this time around and most of the new councillors are obviously celebrating in anticipation of the benefits of their new positions.

They are expecting residential and commercial stands as well as any other unwritten benefits. They are expecting to serve themselves first ahead of the residents as usual and blame central Government and the economy for their own failure. They are, obviously, going to trash the city's pro-residents motto, "Pamberi nekushandira vanhu (Let's prioritise serving the people)."

The city executives are not expecting anything less than the continuation of their gravy train in a city of embarrassingly poor service.

In the past, the councillors have lamely accused the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing of meddling in the running of the capital city. If that is what it takes to ensure that the capital city is as properly and professionally run as the City of Bulawayo so be it. Government and the people of Zimbabwe cannot idly watch the once "Sunshine City" being transformed into a city of garbage and cholera -- not in the new Zimbabwe under the new dispensation and not again.

This should be the last cholera outbreak in Harare and, by extension, in Zimbabwe. Going forward everyone -- residents, residents' trusts and Government -- should hold the Harare City Council and management accountable for their actions and omissions to ensure that Harare attains modern status befitting the capital city of this great nation. And this can be achieved.

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