A headline on local online news pages just caught my attention. One of them read “Kwekwe rates boycott bites”. Further reading revealed that the people of Kwekwe decided not to pay council rates after the council presented a budget that allocated 70% of revenue collected to salaries and 30% to services (services that they do not get). A bigger chunk of that 70% goes to high level staff in council like the Town Clerk who gets paid 8000 USD per month. The ratepayers boycott is worth 23 million United States dollars.
My first thought was to verify if really these are Zimbabwean citizens in a Zimbabwean town and alas! Kwekwe is part of Midlands Province which also is part of Zimbabwe.For some who do not understand this initial inclination,let me explain that this kind of citizen action is not inline with how we are portrayed as a people. Often times we have been called sheepy, peace-loving and the list goes on. I have found this to be a polite way of telling us that we just do not get people power, we do not comprehend our rights as a people plus we do not have minimal understanding of the power we have to control how our government at local and national level behaves. The result of that lack of comprehension is poor service delivery and a bunch of fat men with huge pot-bellies masquerading as city fathers. Well guess what Kwekwe just woke up to that knowledge!!
We need to understand that most of us are kiya kiya survivors of this economy having to live from hand to mouth. The little we make has to make our every aspect of life function. By this I mean that this is money that needs to feed a family, send children to school, pay for medical bills, buy clothes, make long-term investments, pay for electricity and including pay council rates. I do not know how we do it in this archaic economy but somehow council manages to compete and win with other equally important needs that our families have and at the end of the day a few men and even fewer women think that, that hard-earned money should pay for an eight thousand dollar salary plus other luxurious benefits. What this means is that contribution from meagre earnings, that are ranging from at least 100 USD to 500 USD per month, have to contribute to an 8000 USD salary. We need to understand that these seemingly little contributions we make for our service delivery, help fund lavish lifestyles. This type of lifestyle normally means that the children of town clerks can attend private schools where school fees is at minimum 1500USD whilst we struggle to pay 40 USD per term at public schools; they have more than 3 meals per day whilst we are happy to eat once only; still manage to buy their clothes in real shops whilst we make do with Pedigars outfits; they get to choose a car to use for the duration of their term whilst we struggle with ever fluctuating combi fares; they get to choose a house to stay which comes complete with a borehole and beautiful garden whilst we have to make do with daily trips to nearby boreholes and non-manicured loans, they visit those private hospitals that look like hotels inside whilst we line up for a prescription note at dilapidated council facilities so that we buy paracetamol at a local pharmacy. When we do not have water for days and our bins are not collected despite several calls to inquire why the services we paid for are not being delivered we need to understand that a lavish lifestyle that we pay for leaves little time for the city fathers to attend to our needs, mostly we end up competing with the city mothers and several concubines whose needs are expensive and time-consuming and this is a fight we are losing.
As citizens of cities and towns we need to understand that if we do not care where our money goes then we will be used to fund other people’s lavish lives at the expense of ours. We need to show that we care what happens with our money and there are many ways that we can use to demonstrate this. The citizens of Kwekwe town chose this non-violent action and guess what the city fathers heard and now they want to make peace. The Town Clerk of Kwekwe and his cronies have become aware that they do not call shots in this town. Aren’t we all familiar with the saying, “He who pays the piper plays the flute”. We pay for select services therefore we determine how they are delivered. Council should be having discussion with ratepayers to know the quality of service they desire, cost it and simply just deliver. It will be easier to talk of challenges in payment of salaries and benefits if we can trust the services we get as ratepayers. If council is not doing so in your area then it really is up to you to make sure that it does so.
We should be challenged enough to emulate the people of Kwekwe and others who have mooted similar actions for different causes-remember the Matopo villagers who gathered to pray against a forced eviction and were unfortunately beaten up by overzealous policemen. We need to use the most suitable tactics available to us and most relevant to our context in order to get the attention of our council workers. We must know that those council workers are there to serve us and not boss us around. When we do not care what happens to our money then we are like a customer who enters a shop to buy a suit and the next thing the sales manager of that shop comes out wearing the suit that has just been bought, showing off how good it looks on her, acting unconcerned about the customer’s expectation and then the customer smiles, turns around and goes home until the next time she needs another suit whereupon she comes back and pays for another suit she will never wear. However a customer that understands the value of her money will not leave till she has fit her suit and it’s packed in a nice plastic bag. A great number of us are leaving without receiving the service we paid for.
Finally I thought it wise to share a few tips on getting your money’s worth as stated below:
1. Always know that it’s your money you call the shots!!!
2. Ask why your council is not delivering.
3. When you have learnt to do it on your own invite someone in your community to do the same and this time do it together. Remember that every social platform you have access to provides opportunity to share this information so talk to people at work, church, the bar etc
4. Use the resources you have to let more people know when you take an action i.e. when council is not performing, when you report its faults, the response you get. Such resources are your whatsapp, facebook and sms. Updating helps to get people interested.
5. Never give up asking and if asking is not helping come up with creative means to let your council know you are not happy with service delivery. Some creative ways are such as, boycotting payment, calling a local radio station to let your complaint be shared in the public domain, name and shame, using art to share and portray the inefficiency of council, solidarity meetings like prayer meeting, parties and motivational speeches etc.
6. Always make sure that all your actions are not reactionary and are done after studying your situation and coming up with appropriate strategies.
7. Never use violent actions.
8. Play your part as a responsible citizen, helping where you can.
It is your money after all!!