BY TAWANDA MAJONI
There is a road that runs past Sunningdale suburb in Harare on the left and Graniteside on the right if you are coming from the traffic lights off the Seke link.
The road rushes through the industrial area, all the way to the famous Adbernnie area in Mbare.
This road is now a marvel to drive on, day or night.
They made it very smooth, complete with reflective markings, when they recently re-surfaced it.
But the smoothness beguiles a rough story.
The story of how the ruling Zanu PF — beaten in almost all the urban areas by the opposition in the last two decades — is trying to regain relevance in towns and cities.
The “they” here is central government.
But since there is this frequent conflation of government and the ruling party, let’s say the “they” is Zanu PF.
What actually happened is that the road was re-built without the slightest input from the Harare City Council.
Its engineers were not involved.
In fact, they refused to be part of the whole scheme when things were imposed on them.
Government just grabbed the jurisdiction to re-do the road and tried to hassle the council into the project, with the help of the Central Mechanical Equipment Department, a project that has for long been associated with the Central Intelligence Organisation, take it or leave it.
They brought in their own engineers and the final product looks good.
But that’s problem number one.
Just wait for the next four or so months when the rains start falling from the heavens.
The road was done without any consideration around drainage.
So, if Zanu PF manages to generate enough rains as it did in the last rain season, no motorist will want to use that road because it will be clogged from morning to night.
Here is what happened. The ruling party — and government — is labouring so hard to prove that it is still relevant in urban areas.
God knows what the thinking is all about, but somehow, it concluded that if it re-did that road, voters and all sorts of people would start noticing how the post-coup dispensation was so good.
Which is funny stuff because the stretch from Hatfield to Coca-Cola along Seke Road is still as primitive as roads in Zimbabwe can ever be.
In other words, the government — aka ruling party — has decided to take the war to the Harare City Council to try and prove that, one, it is worth people’s votes and, two, that the opposition-dominated council is not worth any ink on the ballot.
Because, you see, it would always be messy to have a “ruling” party that has no control of or influence over urban areas.
This makes better sense if you look at the ongoing demolitions of illegal structures in the capital and its environs.
You will notice that, in the past week, the Harare and Chitungwiza municipalities, with the aid of the police and the usual plainclothes suspects, have been demolishing informal structures, which manly comprise vending stalls.
The thing is, what’s illegal is illegal.
At the surface, it makes sense to be razing down the stalls because they were built without following the law. Rule of law.
That’s what you will be hearing ad nauseum from the government, in the next week and going forward.
There is nothing new in this, of course.
In the winter of 2005, they did a similar project, bulldozing informal stalls and “unauthorised” houses in all urban areas and displacing almost a million people in the process.
It was called Murambatsvina—Drive out the dirt.
Just last year, you had the same narrative when they demolished houses in quite a number of settlements in Harare — again!
They are trying to make the urban voter angry against the opposition.
The logic is like this. Urban councils are dominated—and, therefore, “managed”— by the political opposition.
When they start razing down people’s livelihoods by taking the stall and what not down, the urban municipalities are to blame.
Since the municipalities are still dominated by the opposition, it’s the opposition that is cruel and, therefore, to blame.
Once the opposition is blamed, people will start loving Zanu PF again.
Because, you see, they will start hating the opposition.
After all, it’s the same opposition that’s demolishing stalls and making it hard for people to survive in urban areas.
For, how can the Harare City Council demolish vending stalls without the authority of the councillors, who are, in fact, dominated by the opposition?
Of course, things are more complex than that. Urban councils are, in reality, controlled by their secretariats.
As ever, these secretariats are appointees of Zanu PF.
Lots of stuff happens without the councillors knowing or approving, so you can hardly blame them.
The real issue is, Zanu PF has for a long time wanted to replace the councils with its own commissioners.
That way, the party — aka government — would take practical control of urban municipal affairs.
Ask Ignatius Chombo. He perfectly knows about this.
Once the affairs of urban municipalities are in the hands of Zanu PF, the ruling party is in control.
But it’s not clear yet what gain that will bring to the ruling party.
That institution is not capable of running even a tuck shop, so it remains a mystery what it wants to do by running entire municipalities.
- Tawanda Majoni the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on email@example.com