Nduduzo Tshuma, Political Editor
BULAWAYO councillors are expected to vote for the city’s mayor and deputy mayor today, following chaotic scenes that rocked their swearing in last Friday and deep- seated intra-MDC Alliance divisions over the elections.
From the onset, the reported conduct by some people attacking Ward 24 councillor Arnold Batirai over allegations that he took his oath in the Shona language should be condemned in the strictest terms.
Zimbabwe is a unitary state whose constitution recognises 16 languages that should all be respected with equal measure.
It was therefore Clr Batirai’s constitutional right to take the oath of office in the language that he was comfortable in, in any case Bulawayo and Matabeleland region at large is known for its cosmopolitan set up.
It is the reports that Clr Batirai arrived late to take oath and when he finally arrived, reeked of alcohol which should be condemned again in the strongest of terms.
It should be known that the role and duty of a councillor is very important in terms of the development of the city and the town house should never be mistaken for a drunken hall.
Before people start taking Clr Batirai and any public official for that matter seriously, he should take himself seriously and appreciate the role that lies before him for the tenure of his term in council.
In any case, over the years the Bulawayo City Council has always represented the cosmopolitan nature of the city and anyone with a sense of history would remember that even members of the white and Indian community have represented respective wards post Independence.
There is also a group of divisionists not very different from that which attacked Clr Batirai, which lunged to his defence on a basis similar to his attackers — tribe — and those too must know that fanning of tribal divisions will not be tolerated.
Merit and not ethnicity should be the qualification to hold office to ensure the development of the city.
It is sad therefore to hear reports of internal contestations within the MDC Alliance over the selections of mayor and deputy mayor that are said to have taken a tribal twist.
Tribal consideration, we are told, is now the basis for supporting desired candidates for the two positions and it should be made clear that such behaviour and attitude can never take the city and country forward.
This brings us to another issue of the calibre of people that Bulawayo has seen occupying positions in council and Parliament that forms part of the opposition’s legacy in the city.
Since MDC dominated the city in respective elections since 2000 it has deployed some of the most controversial characters to hold office and represent the people of Bulawayo.
The party brought into Parliament postmen, shebeen queens, messengers among other questionable characters that do not belong anywhere close to the august House.
In 2011, a story was published in the media on the qualifications of councillors in Bulawayo and many read with shock that some of them had cookery as their highest qualifications, some were netball coaches, some had first aid certificates from a local organisation offering training in first aid yet some had nothing other than their respective names and surnames.
After the publishing of the story, there was reported disgruntlement in the corridors of City Hall with councillors protesting what they interpreted as exposure.
They advocated that in future, it was said, council minutes should exclude a list detailing the qualifications each councillor possessed.
We are told again that in this current crop of councillors, there is another colourful mixture of characters ranging from dubious qualifications and drunkards, both male and female, that if a drinking competition was to be introduced in the Olympics, the country would bag record gold medals.
So bad is the situation that some of them are known by members of the public for their exploits. It happened that when one councillor was taking their oath, they spoke in a very low tone that a resident in the gallery exclaimed, “if you give that councillor beer, you will be shocked at how loudly they speak.”
It can be said therefore that the calibre of candidates that the opposition has forwarded in Bulawayo, is a reflection of their seriousness towards the development of the city and on a broader level of the country.
The issue of candidates also brings us to the debate soon after elections when pro-MDC Alliance supporters attacked the rural voter for backing the ruling Zanu-PF leading to the coalition’s shattering defeat.
Backing their arguments with an imagined sense of authority and sophistication, the pro-Alliance supporters attributed the rural voters’ backing of Zanu-PF to lack of a full appreciation of politics.
Basing on the individuals who the so-called wise characters backed to occupy public office since 2000, it is not really a mystery who has over the years made the “sophisticated choice.”
So as the councillors gather at the Large City Hall in Bulawayo today, they must know that the candidates they back will be an anchor of their history in the local authority.
In the long run, the end of today’s election of mayor and deputy mayor is the beginning of yet another five-year lesson for the voter on the quality of the candidates that they back in elections and decide whether or not in 2023, they want to perpetuate the legacy and quality of characters the city has been subjected to in the last 18 years.