Harare residents recently received their belated ‘corona gift’ from the Harare City Council.
After spending several months trying to update their billing system, the council finally dropped the bombshell in the last week of March and beginning of this month.
The bombshell came in form of a 2800 percent rate hike which was effected in January, the move alone meant that each and every rate payer was now in arrears of at least 2 to 3 months.
What a greatest city heist since Zimbabwe got its independence?
Imagine receiving a billing statement showing that you owe your local authority thousands of dollars in unpaid rates despite not being a defaulting ratepayer?
It was a nasty surprise.
Adding salt to injury is the fact that residents now have to pay steep charges for services that are poor or non-existent.
City roads continue to deteriorate, while refuse collection is disturbingly irregular.
It is the same for many other services that are offered by the city council.
Residents in different suburbs are now grappling with uncertainty, scared that they are going to lose properties for failing to settle these “abnormally high” bills, which range from as low as $2 000 to as high as $30 000 for some households.
More than 5 000 residents have since signed a petition expressing concerns over the newly gazetted rates. They want the local authority to slash the charges by half.
“Council is saying the rates are backdated to January. Honestly, where do they expect me to get such a huge amount of money? The economic situation is tough. My income has not changed over the past months. I will only pay what I can afford,” argued Annah Maposa, a widower and pensioner who resides in Harare’s high-density suburb of Budiriro.
She recently got the shock of her life after her bill topped $8 000 early this month.
The development has affected thousands of already broken people who are still trying to recover from the wounds of the enforced lockdown in January and February
A 77 year old man from Dzivarasekwa, Regis Muyambo also found himself in a fix.
“I am unemployed and can therefore not afford this $17 000 that the council is demanding. I survive on rentals, if I enforce this bill on my tenants I risk losing each one of them” he said.
Nancy Chikowore a nurse in Kuwadzana 2 also weighed in saying that council has failed its people as they have increased their rates without checking if their service delivery is in order.
“What is even more disturbing is the fact that they are increasing rates while their service delivery is getting poorer with each passing day” she said
Swatches of Harare are now littered with ever-growing mounds of uncollected garbage, while rising incidents of water shortages and burst sewer pipes are raising the specter of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
While both Harare and Chitungwiza have grappled with water and sewer reticulation for years, the inability to attend to faults has worsened under the current leadership.
Illegal dumpsites have mushroomed in and around residential areas.
In some areas in Glen View, sewer is flowing into homes, while in Mabvuku raw sewer has had to be diverted into makeshift septic pools.
So adamant, when contacted for comment the Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme responded that residents were okay with the rates since no one had officially complained to the council about the recent hike.
All this circus has been a result of bad leadership, both the council and its local government ministry have failed to cater for the people they ought to serve.
The council has of late made several headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Council has been plagued by a plethora of problems, which are unfortunately affecting service delivery. Government recently ordered a forensic audit into the operations of the local authority after shocking allegations of corruption against serving and former top officials, including former mayors.
This rot has originated from the core, and the only way out of such a messy is in leadership renewal, there is real need to change hands of those holding the nation at ransom whilst the masses are suffering.
Zimbabwe now needs a government that has its people at heart.
As Zimbabwe Democratic and Economic Freedom Party (ZDEFP) we have been following events happening both at local councils and local government level but what we have observed is these both arms have continued to take Zimbabwean people for granted.
We have so far made strides in addressing these issues, soon or later we will be launching our strategic plan that will try and improve the state of our councils in a shortest space of time.
The current leadership in our local councils and local government have strived on a décor of unhindered mal-practices and citizens have been placed on the edges with their tongues tied.
Zimbabwe is now ripe for a new servant leadership that understands the importance of accountability and transparency.
This chronic crisis steered by council’s incompetency has repeatedly resulted in a multitude of diseases such as typhoid and cholera, which are potentially fatal.
Residents are feeling cheated but, some might not voice their grievances for fear victimization by the government that has recently declared war on dissent voices.
What is so disturbing is that most of the revenues generated by the local authority are going towards salaries of its 4 000 workers. On several occasions, it has also failed to pay them. Not surprisingly, the city is failing to honour payments to service providers, including fuel and water suppliers.
Experts opine the rate hike will only lead to increased indebtedness of residents, which is unlikely to be helpful to council.
Meanwhile, chaos is also brewing in Masvingo with residents saying they will not bow down to any form of intimidation from Zanu PF, the state and their local council to stop protests demanding better service delivery despite repeated threats they are receiving.
In recent weeks, the residents grouping under the banner, “Masvingo United Residents and Rate Payers Alliance (MURRA)”, has been holding wildcat demonstrations demanding improved service delivery including, a reduction of council rates, more water supplies, improved refuse collection and road repairs.
However, the organizers of the protests have received threats from irritated Zanu PF officials while some of their leaders have been arrested on a litany of charges under their civic society campaign #ratesmustfall.
Early this year, the Masvingo City Council imposed a unilateral 700% hike on all rates.
Residents are now paying a minimum of $2 600 a month but service delivery, in the country’s first urban settlement, remains non-existent.
In recent weeks, the demonstrations and street graffiti on walls with messages demanding the city council to slash rates, have characterized the daily life of Masvingo.
Zimbabwe is now desperate of a leadership that is prepared to walk its talk, a leadership that bare fruitful promises, and a leadership that can guarantee its citizens socio-economic and political safety nets.
Edith Chibhamu is a Dubai based business woman, human rights activist and aspiring president for ZDEFP. She can be contacted on Instagram: @official_queendee