By Prince Tongogara
President Robert Mugabe on Monday redefined Local Government at the stroke of a pen when he reassigned the long serving and scandal ridden Ignatius Chombo from the portfolio to Home Affairs in a long awaited cabinet reshuffle.
Chombo after more than 15 continuous years in the portfolio had literally become the institution. He decided and installed traditional chiefs, appointed district administrators and provincial administrators and all senior council and local boards’ appointments.
Chombo presided over the infamous Operation Murambatsvina and its successor the dismally implemented Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle. Over 700 000 people were left homeless across the urban areas in 2005 after their homes were condemned as illegal or unapproved structures. To date very few of the homes built under Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle ironically do not have services such as reticulated water and sewerage systems, access to electricity and even access paved roads.
As Local Government minister Chombo since 2000 has systematically sabotaged municipalities run by opposition MDC-T by suspending councilors or even dissolving entire councils and replacing them with commissions. Harare, Mutare, Chitungwiza and Kariba bore the worst of the minister’s intervention. Chombo literally became the mayor of these cities.
Mugabe replaced Chombo with the youthful but combative Saviour Kasukuwere. Will Kasukuwere dismantle Chombo’s stranglehold on local authorities and improve on social services?
The jury is still out on what changes Kasukuwere will ring in the ministry but one thing is certain – it will not be business as usual. His track record at Youth and Indigenisation and at Water and Environment has shown his trait of getting the job done and damned be the consequences.
However, among political analysts the question is will Kasukuwere grab this opportunity to extend the influence of G40 in the ongoing succession battle in Zanu PF. Local authorities have the advantage of being the face interfacing directly with the electorate in providing basic things like housing, water, sewage reticulation, education, health and recreational facilities.
Kasukuwere first test in Local Government will be policy direction on the contentious and politically risky question of illegal vending in urban areas.
Chombo and Sithembiso Nyoni have been criticised in public media for failing to decisively deal with illegal vending over the years until the matter has grown into the current eyesore. Sunday Mail columnist Bishop Lazarus recently bluntly wrote Chombo and Nyoni should be shown the exit for failing to handle illegal vending in Harare’s CBD and portraying Zanu PF as impotent against vendors yet it has state machinery to deal with the matter once and for all.
During the same reshuffle Mugabe true to the expectations demoted Jonathan Moyo from the political high table by re-appointing him to ministry Higher and Tertiary Education from the powerful Information, Media and Broadcasting Services where he lorded over all as the communication Czar.
Moyo has twice served as Information minister with devastating effect on media since 2000. He will be remembered for crafting the two obnoxious pieces of legislation – Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Broadcasting Services Act. The two pieces of law have since 2000 stifled the entry of new independent/private players into the media industry through skewed licensing processes.
It remains to be seen what impact he will have on tertiary education. Will he pursue the privatization of education with vigour? How will he drive the improvement of college education that has been declining over the years through inadequate teaching staff and resources and the new phenomenon of parallel programmes at colleges?
For now, Mugabe has played his cards after the in reshuffling his cabinet which many political analysts had expected as early as February this year after the tumults’ Zanu PF congress that saw some party stalwarts expelled from the party and dismissed from government for being ambitious and seeking to succeed him. Will it work? It may just be a ruse a no changes were done to the crucial economic portfolios like treasury, industry and trade, energy and agriculture.