Muchadeyi Masunda was made Mayor of Harare in 2008 when under the agreement reached between President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the recently elected councillors were free to vote for an independent considered suitable for the role. Richard Forster spoke to His Worship Masunda at the World Bank Urban Research and Knowledge Symposium, where the mayor was one of the guests of honour.
You have been mayor for four years in Harare and recently were recognised for your leadership with the award of UN-Habitat’s Scroll of Honour. What do you think have been your biggest achievements in office?
One is the water situation. When we got into office, the water infrastructure was completely broken. Now we are producing around 620-640 mega litres. We are very lucky to have the kind of water engineers that we have. The second thing is that we have done a lot to improve the service delivery in the health institutions and we are bearing the brunt of everything to do with health in the city. In our maternity centres, the busiest one has 5-600 babies delivered a month and we have made strides there. And on the housing side we managed to get the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to chip in with a grant of US$5 million to help us regenerate the old high density areas and right now we’re working with them on a US$30 million micro- financing facility for housing which is targeting, as beneficiaries, residents at the low end of the scale.
On the international side, we have resuscitated the twinning arrangements with Munich in Germany, Cincinatti in the US and Nottingham in the UK and have entered into new ones with Kazan and Guangzhou. I am very pleased with the support we have had from Munich: they have been paying for two ICT consultants to help us with our billing system. If we don’t send out the bills on time we don’t get paid. So we have two consultants one of whom is a Zimbabwean who has been living in Hamburg for the last 25 years. Now that Munich is satisfied that there is a democratic dispensation at Town House in Harare, the city has given €500,000 (U$640,000) and we got medicines and medical accessories that kept our medical facilities going for 18 months.
You spent 12 years as a lawyer and three as chief executive of a newspaper group. What drove you to make the move to mayor?
One factor is my background: my parents were community leaders in Bulawayo. My father was regarded by many, cynically and in jest, as the unofficial Mayor of Bulawayo way back in the 1960s before independence because of the amount of influence he had. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Bulawayo Townships Advisory Board, which was the precursor to getting black people involved as councillors. There are pictures of him meeting Queen Elizabeth in 1947 when she was only 21. So I have grown up in an atmosphere where community service was part of our family DNA.
Second, there is the business of what I call my children, by which I mean not just my biological children, but all the young Zimbabweans who could actually be cutting it in Zimbabwe. My youngest son has been living in Perth in Australia for the last six years at huge cost to me and each time I ask him when he is coming back he says: ‘Daddy when are you going to fix the problem?’ This is the view shared not only by him but also by his contemporaries.
One thing which really sticks in my craw is to see Zimbabweans who have had to leave the country to pursue their dreams because it has not been possible to do so in Zimbabwe. If we fix Harare, we will have fixed virtually the whole of Zimbabwe as everyone else will fall into line. Harare accounts for 40 percent, if not more, of the country’s GDP. Those are the issues which drive me and the question of financial reward is neither here nor there.
What has been the biggest challenge in office?
Like any metropolis we operate on a committee system and therein lies the problem because each of the eight standing committees must meet during the first three weeks of each and every month as we have the full council meeting on the Thursday of the last week. I have been through the mill in Zimbabwe, in terms of tough assignments I have done, but the toughest by far was when I had to sit down with each of the 57 councillors to find out their pedigree. I wasn’t doing this for the fun of it but to make sure I could slot each of the 57 councillors on to the right committee to avoid ending up with the proverbial square pegs in round holes.
We have conspicuously absent, from either elected or appointed councillors, anyone with a strong accounting background: no chartered or certified accountants. There is only one young special interest councillor who is at the end of his ACCA qualification. There are no medical practitioners amongst the councillors even though we have serious health institutions to run. So we have all these skill gaps that have not been filled.
Do you think it is an advantage to have not been a career politician?
[Laughs] I don’t know as I have studiously avoided getting involved in party politics because as a practising attorney I didn’t want anyone walking through my door and having ideas on where I stood politically. I just wanted to be able to run a service.
When you were elected in 2008, diplomats described the killing of the mayor-elect’s wife as a campaign of terror. Do you fear for your own safety?
The mayor-elect [Emmanuel Chiroto] was part of the council that elected me. The councillors had won their elections in March but there was a hiatus and they only came into office after the presidential run-off had happened. In between time, he [Chiroto] was the mayor-elect and I only got approached on the day I was sworn in. I got a call at 7.30 on Tuesday 1 July and I didn’t know what it was all about. I had had no warning and by the end of the day I was Mayor of Harare. But in reply to the question, I have never ever felt at risk maybe because of my high profile as a lawyer and now as a mayor.
How does your membership of the boards of private sector companies fit with your responsibilities in the office of mayor? How do you balance the different roles?
I work long hours and I never go to bed before 1. But the saving grace is that
in all the things where I am involved I have made sure that we get the right
teams in place and the way I have gone about it is that when I am appointed a director or chairman, I sit down with the chief executive and ask what type of non-executive directors they need to make their job better. So I supervise the recruitment of the non-executive directors. And if I cannot manage to get to quarterly board meetings then there must be something wrong with me. By the end of each November, all the companies’ diaries are set up for the year ahead and so I enter them in my diary and that is the whole of next year taken care of. If I did not do that, I would not be able to manage all these responsibilities but the tough thing about being mayor is that a lot of things just happen unpredictably.
Is there a danger of conflicts of interest between your business roles and that of being mayor in the capital?
No, because I have managed that situation. Wherever there is a possibility of a conflict of interest, however remote, I remove myself. Recently, there has been a lot of fuss about my involvement as mayor and my being chairman of Old Mutual and also being a chairman and shareholder of John Sisk & Son [a building contractor] but in all those instances, I am squeaky clean and the reason it gets raised now is because of the build up to our elections.
Let me give you a recent example. Old Mutual [Masunda is chairman of Old Mutual in Zimbabwe] is essentially a South African company, which migrated to London and so is set up as a PLC. Old Mutual PLC, a multinational organisation, was offering the Zimbabwean government US$40 million towards the establishment of a national housing fund to be disbursed through the Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities. US$20 million of that was earmarked for a fund that was going to be jointly funded by Old Mutual and the Zimbabwean government, which itself was going to put in US$20 million. And then another US$15 million was to go towards a housing project in Harare and it is that US$15 million that is creating a stink.
The US$15 million is in fact going to be channelled towards the construction of 3,106 housing units. The deal was done between Old Mutual through the Central African Building Society (CABS) and the City of Harare. Now there has not been a housing scheme of any consequence in Zimbabwe for a long time and the targeted beneficiaries are cock-a-hoop about it. And at the beginning when I started as mayor, I made a full disclosure of my interests and every year I submit an updated return in case of any changes. But going towards an election, the Minister of Local Government seems to have woken up and said ‘Ah there is a conflict of interest’ as he has been told that the mayor is going to benefit as I am chairman of Old Mutual and chairman of CABS, which is not true. They even trot out that I am still involved on the High Court and Supreme Court Rules Committee but that happened 30 years ago when I was a partner at Gill, Godlonton & Gerrans [a law firm in Harare].
What opportunities did you see in becoming a UCLG co-president?
I thought it was an opportunity for me to get more mayors from Africa to take advantage of the many opportunities coming out of UCLG [United Cities and Local Governments]. Because for instance, you have some serious templates, which have been generated by the more mature cities on urban transportation systems. The Mayor of Stuttgart, Wolfgang Schuster, (see Interview in Cities Today, September 2012) has done some brilliant stuff and we want to tap into those templates and avoid reinventing the wheel. So there are many opportunities for cities in developing countries, more than for developed countries. The second point for me to be involved as co-president was to help the mayors in Africa to appreciate that there is a need for us to depoliticise service delivery. People want to wake up in the morning, turn on the tap and find there is potable water. And those who are fortunate enough to have cars want to drive over pothole free roads. All those things should be devolved of party politics. The third point, which I thought needed to be made again to mayors in developing countries, is the simple fact that they should stop looking to central governments for funds. In most cases, especially in the case of capital cities, mayors can and should leverage the assets, which the city owns. They can leverage those assets with a view to funding and become bankable institutions. We borrowed US$10 million from IBC bank and the money we got, we used to replenish the fleet of refuse removal vehicles and we paid back the loan in less than two years.
Talking of finance we are at a World Bank symposium on cities. How do you think multilateral aid could better help Africa?
The point I made to the World Bank country guys in Zimbabwe is that it is all very well for you guys to do all this research using as many consultants as you can but at the end of the day, I am the person who is at the core of this and I am the one who is going to translate your high voluted ideas into reality so please temper the information you get with pragmatism. Luckily we have a strong rapport with the World Bank country team and they are working closely with us not only on water and sanitation but they have actually crafted a concept note which will actually help us map out our strategy for the next twenty years.
The World Bank has been the preferred conduit for funding being made available including from the Multi-Donor Trust Fund, which is largely administered by the World Bank in conjunction with UNDP so they are a trusted player in Zimbabwe, by the politicians who have certain issues with western countries. From a city perspective, the World Bank has been helping me get things going, enabling us to get US$17.1 million from the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for us to lay water pipes in the Central Business District. It also helped me with three work study practitioners to address the structure in terms of headcount in the city administration. We had 11, 887 persons when we started off and are now down to 9,600 and that exercise was carried out in the face of fierce opposition from politicians.
You are a promoting Harare as the sunshine city with a vision on your business cards that it will be a world- class city by 2025. What is your definition of a world-class city and what does Harare need to do to get there?
A world-class city implies all those imperatives that constitute a liveable city. We just want to be able to attract the right investors both socially and economically. Before we can get to where we want to get to, we need to address the infrastructure issues for water and electricity. We can only take on so many issues and not bite off more than we can chew. But once we have taken on housing and water then we need to make Harare become a sought after destination for diplomats and for people who want to live in a progressive city.