Government fiddling with urban constituencies
GOVERNMENT is preparing for massive expansion of urban constituencies in selected towns and cities in order to strengthen the ruling ZANU-PF’s hand ahead of national elections in 2018, the Financial Gazette can exclusively report.
The creation of new settlements is meant to neutralise forces opposed to ZANU-PF’s continued rule, especially the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) which has previously capitalised on the rising disenchantment amongst urbanites against President Robert Mugabe’s administration, under whose watch the country’s economy has imploded.
Government is seeking to ride on the National Housing Delivery Programme under which it plans to deliver over 300 000 housing units across the country by 2018 to vanquish the opposition.
Launched in November 2014, the programme is being spearheaded under the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) — an offshoot of the ruling party’s 2013 general elections manifesto.
Under Zim-Asset, Harare province is expected to deliver 105 935 houses by 2018; the Midlands (56 760); Matabeleland North (28 772); Mashonaland West (23 819); Manicaland (21 830); Masvingo (20 269); Mashonaland Central (16 607); Bulawayo (15 100); Matabeleland South (12 500) and 11 776 in Mashonaland East.
Because of resource constraints, the Ministry of Local Government has positioned its guns for a major onslaught in the country’s two major cities, namely Harare and Bulawayo.
The MDC-T has posted easy victories in the metropolis since its inception in 1999 as a labour-backed party.
Its dominance is now confined to the capital and the second city after former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party was trounced by ZANU-PF at the 2013 polls.
In Bulawayo, Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere pledged, in April, to dish out 20 000 residential stands to youths when he addressed a party gathering there.
Government has since identified swathes of State land in an area called Umvustshwa Village, just outside Bulawayo to rollout the first phase of the programme.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the initial phase of the housing scheme that will see about 700 houses being built was held last week while land development is set to commence soon.
Already, the move has unsettled the MDC-T, which has dominated Bulawayo for the last 16 years.
In Harare, ZANU-PF is determinedly fighting to push out city fathers who were voted into office on an MDC-T ticket to pave way for the election project.
Huge tracts of land have previously been allocated to housing cooperatives, most of which were parcelling out land to desperate home seekers without the involvement of the local authority.
The housing cooperatives are led by officials aligned to ZANU-PF.
“It’s a political strategy to bring in new settlements in the capital or encroach into existing suburbs. There will certainly be new (local council) wards and (Parliamentary) constituencies in 2018,” said a ZANU-PF insider privy to the plan.
He said victories in the last election in new settlements such as Harare North or in areas in which new settlements had encroached into existing ones such as in Mt Pleasant, had emboldened the party to “move on with this plan”.
In the 2013 polls, ZANU-PF’s Tongesayi Mudambo beat Theresa Makone of the MDC-T by 7,917 votes to 6,555 to land the Harare North seat.
In Mt Pleasant, Jameson Timba of the MDC-T lost to Jason Passade of the ruling party by a massive 4,128 votes.
ZANU-PF insiders said expansion was expected in areas around Borrowdale, Budiriro as well as in Mabvuku where land has been parcelled out to desperate home seekers in Caledonia by ZANU-PF activists.
Currently, the Urban Development Corporation has embarked on an initiative aimed at regularising slums such as Caledonia – home to over 100 000 people.
Hatfield’s Retreat area, also known as Harare South, is also expanding.
“More of those areas are being created. The land will be parcelled out by the Ministry of Local Government and National Housing,” said the source.
Reports from Gweru also suggest that ZANU-PF driven housing projects are sprouting.
Gweru businesswoman, Smelly Dube, who is a member of the ZANU-PF Women’s League’s national executive, is leading the programme through her River Valley housing project.
In Mutare, efforts are underway to revamp a massive slum settlement known as Gimboki, with local ZANU-PF legislator, Esau Mupfumi, leading the process.
ZANU-PF sees these slums as key in winning urban constituencies. The party is further encouraged by the discord rocking opposition parties, especially the contest of strength between the MDC-T and Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), led by former vice president Joice Mujuru.
ZPF and the MDC-T are involved in a nasty tug-of-war for urban voters and have hardly threatened ZANU-PF in the rural areas, where nearly 70 percent of the country’s population resides.
For ZANU-PF to achieve its objectives, the party needs city fathers who are compliant and not those who will demand that there be proper urban planning; that the allocation be done by councils and not the Ministry of Local Government and that the allocation should follow the housing waiting list.
ZANU-PF’s strategy is likely to worsen urban planning nightmares confronting city fathers in towns and cities where settlements are mushrooming in the absence of supporting facilities such as roads, sewer, water and electricity infrastructure.
The situation already poses a health time bomb for residents who are being settled in these slums.
Analysts this week intimated that while ordinarily the move should have necessitated the delimitation of new constituency boundaries in the affected settlements, ZANU-PF is not bothered.
They said the party simply wants to dilute opposition voices in metropolis that have been hostile towards it without necessarily growing the number of constituencies in these areas which might work against it.
In their current form, the National Assembly constituencies are a product of an intricate delimitation exercise carried out in 2008.
Political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza, said it was not proper to use land, which is a human right, as a campaign tool for elections.
“It’s not proper, yet it’s already happening. Have you seen anything proper in our version of politics?” he asked rhetorically, and added: “It’s no longer even a question of whether or not constituencies will be disfigured, that is exactly what is going on at the moment.”
The MDC-T is, however, attempting to put spanners into the works by frustrating Kasukuwere.
Last week, councillors in Harare requested the Local Government Minister to allocate land for the resettlement of thousands of residents illegally settled on land around the city, including council farms and land reserved for other uses such schools, hospitals and recreational facilities.
Council made the resolution during a full council meeting held at Town House and has since established a special committee to lobby Kasukuwere to address the matter with urgency.
“Council approves the recommendation to relocate illegal settlements on institutional sites, that is schools, hospitals, clinics, churches, open spaces, home industries, commercial centres and recreational centres in line with the (government) housing policy,” reads part of the minutes.
“A team comprising of the acting town clerk, director of works and acting director of housing and social development and the two chairpersons of the environmental management and housing and community services will consult the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing on illegal occupations within council farms and paddocks and request for additional land to relocate people,” the minutes said.
The MDC-T hopes that Kasukuwere will be duty bound to provide the land, capitalising on his recent promises at ZANU-PF gatherings.
Political analyst, Alois Masepe, said ZANU-PF had realised there was a great opportunity to expand urban settlements and was ready to make full use of it.
“They have discovered that it can work to their advantage.
“They can expand these settlements and move their people there. It is purely a political consideration and, ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with that.
“Problems can only come if the people are settled in an unplanned manner,” said Masepe.
“The ideal process would be for government to identify land for urban expansion and hand over to a local authority which, through planners, wo-uld determine what goes where and this is done well before allocation of stands.
“So you cannot honestly blame ZANU-PF for exploiting this system but if done without following proper urban development procedures, it can create problems like those we are seeing in some slum settlements.”
Follow us on Twitter @FingazLive and on Facebook – The Financial Gazette