EDITORIAL — Urgent Need To Make City Life In Zimbabwe More Equal, Democratic, Safe, And Humane

 The Editor; The Zimbabwe Sphere

Upon the attainment of political independence, the historic moment portended optimism for the black majority who only knew subjugation, subservience, degraded existence, and dehumanization under the colonial rule of the Rhodesian minority settler regime.

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However, post-colonial Zimbabwe has only brought mass immiseration to the black majority of Zimbabwe. The hope of economic emancipation and egalitarianism has all but eluded the masses. It has become a remote possibility. 

The dichotomy between the urban and the rural still carries with it colonial perceptions—the former being the sign of civility and success; the latter still regarded as perpetually backward and unworthy of any meaningful, empowering development. With all that has happened in our post-colonial history, the obstinate facts of poverty and inequality demand greater attention than ever before. 

What has derailed any potential for transformational social change has largely been the blind obedience to neoliberal capitalism—the default global order that has been parroted as the universal panacea to human suffering and at the same time the only avenue for human development. Yet, this has not been the case. Globalized capitalism has only brought suffering to the world at a frighteningly harrowing scale. 

This approach to the political economy, entrenched in Zimbabwe via the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) in the 1990s, has led many in Zimbabwe—in the global south as a whole—to envy political and economic systems in the global north, and applying the same here but with dismal results. It has become unassailably clear that the World Bank and IMF have got nothing to offer us except misery.

The administration of central and local government is predicated on this ideology. This means that central and local government, notwithstanding perceived political differences (of a populist nature), religiously believe in privatization, deregulation, liberalization, individualism, materialism; with the state being totally divorced from being the primary guarantors of life. Everything must be left to the market. The market is believed to solve everything. Trickle-down economics and all. 

With particular reference to urban and rural councils, the effects have been devastating. Local government claims that central government is eternally meddling in its affairs. Central government claims that local government is inherently inept. This has to be viewed in the context of changing political dynamics since the emergence of the largest opposition party in 1999-2000. 

With an economy predicated on consumerism, individualism, and narcissism, the urban retains its colonial perception as the sole marker of individual arrival to success. The urban is viewed as the only place for a meaningful existence. And with the hegemonic dominance of neoliberal capitalism as the global economic and political order, it has only been worse. Rural to urban migration continues to spike exponentially, and because of these faulty ideologies which the country's political and business elite believe in, the cities have become one massive disappointment and failure. 

Neoliberalism as advanced by ESAP meant that the state no longer provided basic social services, outsourcing these to the private sector. When the latter is only concerned with profits and nothing else. 

The failure to progressively plan the future of urban areas in Zimbabwe along lines envisaging equitable access to water, health, education, transport, power, and housing has been phenomenally disastrous. 

A quick example becomes Harare. The city has become a monumental human catastrophe. It is brutal to the soul. It is run in the business language of neoliberalism, with insistence on investors, world-class city status, order, and all other insensitive talk. Yet there is no water, there is a biting housing crisis, homelessness is on the surge, healthcare is abysmal, transport and communication are a nightmare, and education remains a privilege for the few. 

All this is a huge indictment on our leaders, both in central and local government. The issue of corruption at City of Harare is one that must never go unmentioned. The cases of double allocations of housing stands, as well as allocation of stands on illegal land stand out. Daily, there is an assault on the poor; vendors, transport operators, the homeless, the elderly, the disabled. 

The city, resembling all other urban centres in Zimbabwe, is unequal, undemocratic, unsafe, and inhumane. Crime is on the rise. Revealing the contradictions of capitalism. Water provision remains a nightmare. The city is being sold off to private capital—local and international business elite—while zero regard is paid to the provision of basic social services. 

We collectively need to make the city an equitable space for every human life. And this can only be achieved by fostering organic participatory democracy where residents are consulted on every matter. With that, a disregard for capitalist approaches to local governance will make city life in Zimbabwe more habitable and humane. 

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