January 7, 2003

Mugabe to appoint governors over MDC mayors

President Robert Mugabe's decision to put two new governors in charge of the opposition-run capital Harare and second city Bulawayo was an attempt to dilute the power base of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC's), analysts allege.

The official Herald newspaper on Monday, January 6, quoted Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo as saying the appointed governors would work with government agencies to implement development projects like roads, schools, and public works programmes and address "uncoordinated issues".

The two key cities have already been declared provinces, but unlike the other eight provinces, did not have appointed governors and were run by the elected mayors Elias Mudzuri of Harare and Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube of Bulawayo. "The executive mayors are supposed to run the show but now they will have to report to the governors. It is a frustrated attempt by [the ruling] ZANU-PF to reduce the power, authority and political activity of the MDC by appointing an overseer," said John Makumbe, political lecturer and chairman of Transparency International Zimbabwe. It would make the mayors, whose main functions are the provision of services and collection of revenue, a secretariat to the governor and would reduce them to ceremonial functions, Makumbe told IRIN.

The government also announced last week it would redraw the cities' administrative boundaries, turning districts previously part of Harare and Bulawayo into rural areas, traditionally considered ZANU-PF strongholds. "It is gerrymandering in reverse," Makumbe said, referring to the practice of redefining urban boundaries before elections. "It means the MDC is reduced to a toothless bulldog."

However, the government has faced a complication as although the country's constitution allows for more than eight governors, only eight can sit in parliament. "If they violate the constitution, they would have to amend the constitution," said constitutional law expert Greg Linington. "But although it is creeping up to the 100 [out of 150] seats required to change the constitution, the government doesn't have enough votes. So they may turn to ordinary legislation which they can pass in parliament through their simple majority."

MDC legal affairs director David Coltart said that the party's leadership had sought urgent advice on the legality of the move. "I have told them it is illegal," he said. "It is a violation of the Provincial Council and Administrative Act. It would also create an overlap between that act, which gives power to provincial governors, and the Urban Councils Act, which gives the mayor sole responsibility for development within the council," he added. The party's national executive would decide whether to challenge the matter in court.

Of the mayors, MDC party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said: "They are already under severe strain and they are really frustrated by this latest invasion of their territory. Their jobs are difficult as it is." Last month the Harare council was embroiled in a battle to extract enough foreign currency from the government to pay for the chemicals required to keep the city's water supply safe, and the Bulawayo council has struggled to bring in revenue from rates defaulters. (IRIN)

In a separate development, a new wave of invasions has hit parts of Zimbabwe targeting the few remaining commercial farmers, many of whom took out loans from banks to produce for the season. So-called "Section 8 orders" are still being issued to farmers and the mayhem that characterised the exercise in 2000/2001 is now being repeated to scare-off commercial farmers who had already planted their crops. In an Extraordinary Government Gazette published on 3 January 2003, Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Dr Joseph Made, said the government had listed 46 farms for resettlement. Made said the properties had been compulsorily acquired for resettlement purposes in terms of subsection (1) of section 5 of the Land Acquisition Act. According to JAG, 27 of these farms are in Tengwe area, four each in Lomagundi, Hartley and Marondera, while four are each in Harare and Bulawayo and three were listed in Nyamandlovu.

In a statement, "Justice for Agriculture" (JAG) president David Conolly condemned this latest listing, saying that the move indicated inconsistency in government policy formulation. JAG said 13 of the farms which were on the list were below the supposed 400-hectare size for commercial farming, including one of only 36 hectares, hardly a viable size for commercial farming. JAG said chaos and poor planning which characterised the land reform programme continued with some farms being listed more than once. It said one farm in Chegutu had been listed for the seventh time but refused to disclose the details about the farm for fear farm the owner would be victimised.

In August last year Mugabe said the land acquisition programme was over and that the resettled farmers were now on their land. More than 95 percent of farms belonging to commercial farmers have been listed to date. The total land area of the farms to be acquired is 69 236 hectares. (IRIN / The Daily News, Harare / Zimbabwe Independent, Harare)

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