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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Residents must take Charge!

Emerging from the Covid19 lockdown there are lesson learnt for residents and residents’ associations in the country.  Pre lockdown, residents were leaving their oversight role of overseeing how their cities and towns are managed to elected officials. When the lockdown was first announced in March 2020 residents had a blackout of the happenings in their cities and towns in terms of service delivery. Issues of service delivery were now being imposed on them without consultations and involvement. The blackout on the social and economic activities of councils provided an opportunity for residents to do more. In this article I will deal with some of the take-home lessons for residents and residents associations post COVID-19. This is hinged in the establishment of functioning Ward Development Committees.

Residents must make sure that they have properly functioning Ward Development Committees (WADCO) in their respective Wards. Through the Ward retention funds released by councils to residents, Ward Development Committees can assist the vulnerable members of the community with food and other necessities such as face masks and sanitizers for use at public places like water points. WADCOs can be instrumental in the formation and supervision of health clubs in a particular Ward. These clubs will coordinate various patients and assist them to access healthcare services in difficult times like lockdown. A good example of these health clubs can coordinate patients under Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) to access their drugs without hustles leading them to defaulting.

The lockdown period has seen the deterioration of service delivery after several councillors were recalled throughout the country. Residents were left without representation in difficult and demanding times. This is the time WADCOs are important to be the go between council and residents. With WADCOs in place residents will get engaged in various council activities such as feedback meetings and budget consultations. WADCO members are for the community by the community meaning their life cannot be terminated unceremoniously. They also open opportunities for inclusiveness, hence tackling social inequalities. Men, women youths and marginalized groups must be well represented in these committees.

Water and sewage reticulation are the major challenges facing most residents in Zimbabwe. Residents need to keep in contact with council officials to access water and report sewer blockages. The emergence of boreholes in cities has brought with it many challenges. Residents are required to pay for water treatment chemicals for these boreholes. Lockdown regulations such as maintenance of social distance and use of sanitizers are some. Misunderstandings have been witnessed between Water Points Committees and residents. The presence of a functioning WADCO will minimize these disputes and improve service delivery leading to enjoyment of social and economic justice rights.

The lockdown period saw the collapse of most economic activities and this affected livelihood of most residents particularly those in the informal sector. The fact that market stalls were closed, and some destroyed means most residents were not able to pay their bills to local authorities. This situation was exacerbated by the government moratorium on rentals. The key lesson learnt here is that council survived on rates meaning during this period they borrowed and incur debts in order to mitigate the pandemic. This was done without the consent of residents through their elected officials. In the absence of WADCOs debt was incurred on behalf of residents without being consulted. WADCOs will be very influential in tracking budgets and debts incurred by council officials.

Going forward it is fundamentally important for residents to organize themselves towards improved social service delivery. WADCOs are community centered and focused. They will complement the work being done by councillors and council officials. Since members are drawn from the community there is abundance of community focus for development. The ideology remains that local authorities are owned by residents hence residents should take charge.

COVID-19 a lesson learnt!

Darlington Madzonga (Cde Danso) is a former Board member of ZIMCOOD and a Social and Economic Justice Ambassador (SEJA). He can be contacted at cdedanso@gmail.com

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