Battle brewing in Zimbabwe over two main cities

The view of Harare from my room at the Rainbow Towers Hotel. The tall building to right (about 300 m away) is the headquarters of the ruling party, Zanu PF.

A battle for the control of Zimbabwe’s two main cities‚ Harare and Bulawayo‚ is brewing.

The ruling Zanu-PF is hoping that for the first time in nearly two decades it will wrest away control of the two cities from the MDC‚ led by Nelson Chamisa‚ in next Monday’s election.

Harare is the country’s capital‚ and Bulawayo is second-largest city in Zimbabwe.

Although most of the attention in the run-up to the election has been fixated on the presidential poll‚ the ruling party has not made it a secret that it has its eye on the two largest cities. The election next week will see voters elect candidates for president‚ parliament and local government at the same time.

The warning shots of the ruling party’s intentions were fired last month by vice president Constantino Chiwenga who made it clear that Zanu-PF wanted control of the cities.

“We have lined up developers to spruce up the cities since the MDC-T led councils have failed. Since 2000 the MDC-T has been controlling cities and towns but there has been no meaningful development on the ground.

“It is now time for development and this can only be done by Zanu-PF‚” Chiwenga said at a rally in Hopley and Epworth.

Zanu-PF is making use of the discontent by urban dwellers over poor service delivery provided by MDC councillors‚ in order to score points with voters.

It is a gamble that may pay dividends.

Mfundo Mlilo‚ the director at Combined Harare Residents’ Association‚ told TimesLIVE that most people in the capital “were not happy” with the quality of services.

“There is clearly resurgence in terms of people wanting to participate in the elections‚ but our analysis shows that most people have not been happy with the quality of service delivery‚” said Mlilo.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) figures show that there are close to a million voters registered to vote on July 30.

In its push to gain entry into the urban centres‚ alliances are also an important factor – and Zanu-PF on Thursday took its charm offensive to vendors and taxi drivers‚ just days before voting day.

Stern Zvorwadza‚ the leader of the National Vendors Union‚ gathered members of his association for a meeting with Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri‚ the environment and climate minister‚ who addressed them on behalf of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The president travelled to South Africa for the Brics Summit.

In his address‚ Zvorwadza urged Mnangagwa to “form a commission of inquiry to investigate councilors” in urban areas which he accused of being corrupt. An anti-corruption mantra has been one of the hallmarks of the Mnangagwa administration.

July Moyo‚ the local government minister also fired potshots at the MDC-run urban centres‚ while praising the current administration for its exercise in rehabilitating roads across the country.

“There is no doubt that since the new dispensation took over‚ local authorities have revived service delivery as you can see how the roads have been rehabilitated around Harare and in other urban councils… This election the voters will have to decide and remove the opposition [MDC] councillors‚” Moyo said at the meeting with vendors.

In Bulawayo‚ which has been controlled by the MDC since 2000‚ it appears that it will not be business as usual.

Zanu-PF was emboldened by the six parliamentary seats it clinched after by-elections were held in 2015 and in this election is on the hunt for more seats in the city.

There are 12 constituencies in Bulawayo‚ and six senatorial seats under proportional representation and 29 council seats. According to the ZEC‚ there are about 400‚000 registered voters in Bulawayo.

But what is giving Zanu-PF a further spring in its step are divisions within the MDC that formed earlier this year.

The MDC suffered a split‚ with the party controlled by Chamisa and another by Thokozani Khuphe. Zanu-PF sees this break-up as a blessing in its push into the second city.

Joseph Tshuma‚ Zanu-PF’s legislator for the Mpopoma-Pelandaba constituency‚ who will be seeking re-election‚ is bubbling with confidence.

“We took part in the by-elections… the people of Bulawayo saw what we can do for them. I will defend my constituency and I believe the electorate that I have lived and worked with in the past three years will support me‚” said Tshuma.

However Gift Banda‚ the Bulawayo deputy mayor who is contesting for the MDC Alliance for the Njube constituency‚ ruled out the possibility of a Zanu-PF win.

“We will obviously win everything in Bulawayo. What’s even assuring is that more people are showing interest in voting. Thus our tally will be high, culminating in a better aggregate for the presidential poll‚” said Banda.

But for both parties‚ the election could potentially be spoilt by the surge in candidates running for office as independents in both parliament and local government. About 300 are standing as independents.

The rise of independents has been explained by political observers as underpinned by frustration with party politics; Zanu-PF is blamed for wrecking the economy and the MDC is blamed poor service delivery.

Evan Mawarire‚ founder of the #ThisFlag Movement is contesting as councillor and Fadzayi Mahere‚ a lawyer‚ for the Mount Pleasant constituency.

Bernard Manyenyeni‚ the Harare mayor‚ is however confident that MDC Alliance will reclaim the capital – even though he is wary of the impact of independents.

Manyenyeni took a swipe at the independent candidates saying they will impact negatively on the MDC Alliance rather than Zanu-PF.

“They will steal from us more than from Zanu-PF because Zanu-PF voters are rigid and loyal. They are not worried about performance. Such splitting may award Zanu-PF candidates who may take seats on overall minority votes‚” Manyenyeni said.

Josphat Ngulube‚ who is an independent candidate for Bulawayo South‚ believes the time is ripe to run as an independent.

“The MDC-T first split and then the MDC Alliance fielded two candidates in my constituency. People don’t like Zanu-PF in this part of the country‚ hence I fancy my chances‚” he said. – TimesLive

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