The first Movement for Democratic Change mayor of a city Alois Chaimiti of Masvingo told United States embassy officials in June 2002 that the government was so broke that it was trying to squeeze money from relatively successful local authorities.
Chaimiti who had been shunned by both Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and Masvingo provincial governor Josiah Hungwe when he was elected in May 2001 said the two had now accepted him because of the overwhelming support the MDC enjoyed in Masvingo urban and the city’s ability to raise funds locally and operate independently from the central government.
Chaimiti said Masvingo obtained 90 to 95 percent of its revenues from local residents in the form of property taxes and service revenues. It no longer received any funds directly from the central government which was basically broke.
Viewing cable 02HARARE1507, ZIMBABWE: OPPOSITION MAYOR OF MASVINGO GAINING
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001507
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JFRAZER
LONDON FOR CGURNEY
PARIS FOR CNEARY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/01/2012
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWE: OPPOSITION MAYOR OF MASVINGO GAINING
GRUDGING ACCEPTANCE FROM RULING PARTY
REF: HARARE 1463
Classified By: Political Officer Todd Faulk for reasons 1.5 (b)
¶1. (C) On June 27, poloff met in Harare with Alois Chaimiti,
the MDC Mayor of Masvingo and the first opposition mayor in
Zimbabwe’s post-independence history. Chaimiti came into
office in May 2001 after a typically violent election
campaign. In the 13 months since his installation, Chaimiti
has gained the grudging acceptance of the ZANU-PF-dominated
City Council, and he contends that he is making progress in
improving city services and demonstrating that the opposition
party is capable of governing. The ZANU-PF Minister of Local
Government, Ignatius Chombo, and Governor of Masvingo, Josiah
Hungwe, have even begun to acknowledge his presence in
public, Chaimiti laughed.
¶2. (C) When Chaimiti first came into office, the City
Council, which comprises two independents and eight ZANU-PF
members, had difficulty accepting and working with him, much
as the council of Chitungwiza hinders its new mayor (reftel).
Difficulties still arise, but now the council generally
takes a live-and-let-live approach and is cooperating with
the Mayor in improving city services and repaving some city
streets. Chaimiti admitted some surprise when the Ministry
of Local Government approved in February 2002 his application
for city status for Masvingo, which has about 100,000 people.
Shortly after his election, Chaimiti sent letters to Chombo
and Governor Hungwe signaling his desire to work congenially
with them for the benefit of Masvingo. Chombo simply ignored
his letter, but Hungwe reportedly became “very angry” and for
a long time refused to appear in public with Chaimiti.
Recently, however, Hungwe’s “hard feelings” appear to have
abated somewhat, as he has shown up at some of the same
public functions that the mayor attends, and even indirectly
acknowledges his presence.
¶3. (C) Chaimiti attributed the partial turnaround in ZANU-PF
attitudes to: 1) the “overwhelming” support the MDC enjoys in
urban Masvingo, and 2) the city’s ability to raise funds
locally and operate independently from the central
government. Soon after his election in May 2001, ZANU-PF
organized a large, angry protest at the mayor’s office. A
few months later, a similar effort fizzled because ZANU-PF
was simply unable to find enough local people willing to
protest against the MDC, Chaimiti claimed. After the March
presidential election, a few ZANU-PF youth paraded around
town with a mock coffin labeled “MDC” and called for
retribution against MDC supporters. However, the retribution
failed to materialize, and Chaimiti reported that he has been
untouched by the threats of violence or actual violence that
befall so many other MDC officials. Furthermore, the city of
Masvingo now obtains 90 to 95 percent of its revenues from
local residents in the form of property taxes and service
revenues (water, sewerage, etc.). The rest of the funds come
from bond issues that must be approved by the Minister of
Local Government, but the city no longer receives any funds
directly from the central government, which is basically
broke, Chaimiti said. This gives local authorities much more
independence than they used to have. The GOZ is so desperate
for funds now that it is even trying to squeeze relatively
successful local governments for money. Masvingo has so far
resisted the pressure, and instead, has compelled the central
government to pay back service fees for the offices and
colleges that it operates in town. Chaimiti added that his
job is likely to get easier after council elections are held
in August of next year.
¶4. (C) Chaimiti took time to thank the USG for the
USAID-funded projects that have built 3,100 housing units in
two Masvingo suburbs, and for the USAID-funded good
governance project that has improved relations between the
City Council and the new Resident Taxpayers’ Association.
Chaimiti made a pitch for the U.S. to establish a sister-city
relationship with Masvingo and inform American cities that
they should not be overly wary of Zimbabwe, where they can
still be of help. The mayor noted that Masvingo’s
sister-city relationships with towns in Germany, Sweden and
the UK have yielded positive results. Kernan, Germany, for
example, has been very helpful by building two clinics in
Masvingo and providing hospital equipment.
¶5. (C) Comment: The City of Masvingo, with the oldest MDC
administration in Zimbabwe, provides a testing ground and
possible glimpse of what MDC/ZANU-PF cooperation could be
like for the new mayors of Harare and Chitungwiza (reftel).
However, ZANU-PF’s kid-glove treatment of Chaimiti is less
likely due to a genuine desire for cooperation than a
realization that its support in rural Masvingo is
half-hearted, and ZANU-PF rebel Eddison Zvobgo could mobilize
public opinion against the regime province-wide if it
inflamed the situation with attacks on the mayor.
Nonetheless, the GOZ has to be concerned with the growing
independence of local governments and the proving ground they
provide the MDC for its ability to govern responsibly in
direct contrast to the central government. It may be only a
matter of time before the GOZ turns its attention to this
growing “problem” and rewrites the legislation that governs
local authorities. End comment.