Friday, 26 December 2008

MAYORAL ELECTION WARS

By Gershom Ndhlovu

 

As a young boy growing up in Kwacha in Kitwe in the late 1960s and early 1970s, one day my friends and I were shepherded to one of the community welfare centres in the township where we were made to sing songs for a mayor who was coming to officiate at a function there. I cannot remember the name of the mayor neither do I remember what the function was.

One song’s refrain went something like “Abo baleisa bapala ba mayor wesu” loosely translated as “that one coming looks like our mayor” or something like that.

Then I did not even know what role a mayor played in the civic affairs of a city or town and I am sure that a lot other people in that part of the city did not also know the functions of a mayor, or if they knew, they did not care. All I can remember though is that we had running water 24/7, rubbish was collected at least twice a week, roads were regularly graded and street lights, like other social services, were functional. To me, and I am sure to other residents too, this was all that mattered.

Ever since the MMD came to power, the role of mayors and council chairmen has assumed an important but of course misplaced political aura that goes with the allocation, mostly illegally, of plots, being driven around in reconditioned but air conditioned Japanese second hand cars, welcoming the president and other dignitaries to the city or town and, above all, earning a cool allowance for it.

But go to Kwacha today, 44 years after independence, the place is in a sorry state worse than it was in 1978, 14 years after independence. It is an overgrown shanty compound with erratic water supply, roads look like the surface on Planet Mars, rubbish heaps on street corners are the order of the day, street lights stopped working eons ago, never mind the Zesco power cuts, and people build structures anyhow in terms of where there is open space and structure-wise.

This is true of all Zambia cities and towns, be it Ndola’s Masala township, Kabwe’s Lukanga township, Lusaka’s Matero, Livingstone’s Dambwa, name it. The mayors, and, indeed, whole local government authorities, turn a blind eye to all this for fear of upsetting their party supporters.

I know for a fact that there was a time between 1980 and 1991 when the Kaunda regime changed local government laws--it must have been during the era of decentralisation which I only have a vague memory of--replacing mayors with governors who assumed immense powers, except may be those of life and death, over the rest of residents of cities and towns.

Today, the issue of mayoral elections is assuming controversial proportions with the minister of local government and housing, Benny Tetamashimba unilaterally cancelling what is supposed to be an annual exercise with some obscure if feeble reasons. Meeting him head on is, of course, PF president Michael Sata, an Alderman of the city of Lusaka, former minister of state for decentralisation, former Lusaka Governor and former minister of local government and housing. A tall CV in the area of local government I would say. Backing him is former Lusaka City Council town clerk Wynter Kabimba.

It may appear that the Town Clerks supporting Tetamashimba’s decree are only doing so to protect their employment contracts because they may not have a legal leg to stand on. I only hope Attorney-General Mumba Malila’s advice is to the effect that Tetamashimba’s decision is ultra-vires the law.

Eleven years ago, or almost that long, in 1997 or thereabouts, President Chiluba when commissioning the Chinese-built housing complex in Masala Township, announced that plans were afoot to change the law to allow the election of mayors through adult suffrage but unfortunately, that was never implemented. I think it is time to pass such a law so that we, the residents, have a say on who is going to be the mayor of our cities and towns rather than him being elected by a bunch of partisan councillors.

This will put paid to the manipulation that goes on in the election of mayors in which trade offs and manipulation are part of the recipe and at the end of the day, the person elected has to pay back the debt to those who made him mayor. If the law changed, the mayor’s duty would be to repay the debt to the city’s residents who will have voted for him by ensuring that a council provides them with essential services. On this score, Chiluba had the right the idea although he never implemented it.

In the last few weeks, I had to deal with two cultural-related issues. The first was the 2008 Zambia Diaspora E-Conference which took place in October on themes ranging from Investment and Commerce, Human Capital, Land and Housing and Culture and Identity. I was privileged to be part of the Culture and Identity group which was ably chaired by Canada-based Chasaya Sichilima.

The second was a paper presented by Senior Chief Mwamba Kapalaula II to the Zambian Open University’s Forum Discussion entitled Culture: The Missing Dimensions in National Development a copy of which he kindly forwarded to me.

From these two mutually exclusive events, I concluded that culture has not been given the place it deserves in Zambia’s economic sphere and that is why it is divided in terms of administration between the ministry of tourism when it comes to traditional ceremonies such as Kuomboka and N’cwala, etc., and the ministry of community and social services under which the Department of Cultural Services falls.

What the Zambian government does not realise is that a cultural industry can flourish in the country irrespective of the so-called foreign direct investment or indeed other sectors such as mining and tourism, if only the right approach is taken for its development. Music is one area of the cultural industry that has shown capacity to develop and provide employment to a lot of people but without government support, cultural industries are doomed.

 

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