- Last Updated on 06 February 2012
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The past two weeks 2 issues have dorminated the Public Sphere, which beg for apt analysis and reactions from civil society organisations and Zimbabweans at large. Politicians have had their say, with extensive media coverage, but civics and ordinary members of society have not been covered by the media in equal voice.
The first issue is the end of the term of office of Police Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri. Chihuri has been head of the police service since 1991 when he succeeded Henry Mukurazhizha and has had his contract renewed a record 13 times with limited if any public scrutiny and input. In contravention of the Police Act which stipulates that the law enforcement agents should be non- partisan and apolitical, Chihuri was quoted in The Daily News of 2 June 2001 as saying,
'Many people say I am Zanu PF. Today, I would like to make it public that I support Zanu PF because it is the ruling party. If any other party comes to power, I will resign and let those who support it take over.'
The second issue, is the typhoid outbreak which, like the 2008 cholera outbreak is largely a result of poor sanitation, erratic water supply and poor sewer retention. Since December 2011, more than 1,500 cases of typhoid have been recorded in Harare, with Kuwadzana, Warren Park and Dzivarasekwa being the hardest hit.
The government has responded to both developments albeit in a fragmented manner. In response to the expiry of Chihuri's tenure, the Attorney General, Johannes Tomana indicated that the issue is not subject to discussion and tantamount to treason while the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai believes that the principals should discuss the appointment of a Police Commissioner.
Responding to the typhoid outbreak, ZANU PF has termed it a 'biological warfare' while both the city council and Ministry of Health blamed untreated water sources and poor sanitation.
But what have the Civcs had to say on both matters, and what has been said so far with regards to them. The Coalition did a snap survey of views from civics groups with a director interest on the matters and this is what they had to say:
Mr. Okay Machisa, Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zimrights) and Crisis Coalition Chairperson, made the following input:
'Chihuri holds public office, therefore people should be involved in discussions around whether he should be appointed or not, they should not be silenced by Chihuri. In addition, his tenure should not be renewed because he presided over a police force which defied court orders and the rule of law. Amendment 19 clearly states that the President should consult the Prime Minister in any appointments. Mugabe cannot just appoint.'
Irene Petras Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) butressed Machisa's points and added that:
'This is an issue of public interest. People should be allowed to discuss how successful public officials are. Any public position, which includes judicial, deserves public scrutiny as is done in other countries such as South Africa where a lot of public interest and debate is generated during these appointments. This is part of the exercise of the Freedom of Expression. Whether or not he is going to be retained should be informed by the outcomes of a process which measures his performance against his constitutional mandate. There should be proper, factual and transparent debate'
Mr. Wellington Zindove, of the Youth Forum was less diplomatic in his sentimence stating that:
'It is really regrettable that ZANU PF through its apologists is trying tirelessly to gag public debate around the intended unilateral reappointment of Augustine Chihuri by President Mugabe. The people of Zimbabwe know for a fact that Chihuri is the man who has been commandeering human rights abuses in Zimbabwe since ZANUPF fortunes started waning in the late 1990s and this is the man who enhanced electoral fraud in 2008. If allowed to retain his post it means that efforts to see free and fair elections and a democratic Zimbabwe will remain imaginary.'
The last of our samples on this matter came from Professor Lovemore Madhuku, Chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) who was quoted in The Standard of February 5- 11 2012, commenting on the Attorney General's Sentiments on the matter, as saying:
Tomana expressed a very primitive view which we do not expect from the government's top lawyer. I think he was misquoted because such a view would mean that any debate in a democracy becomes a criminal act.'
People queuing for borehole water in Ruwa
Mr. Itai Rusike, who Directs one of Civic Society's foremost Public Health organisations, the Community Working Group on Health had the following to say:
'Typhoid is a medieval disease. This problem started way back when we, as a country, failed to attend to the infrastructure, water reticulation system and sewer disposal. The current typhoid outbreak is as a result of decay in infrastructure, failure to attend to fundamental public health, erratic water supply and refuse collection, burst sewer pipes which take days and months to be attended to and the disposal of raw sewage by the Harare and Chitungwiza councils into Lake Chivero.
The Public Health Act empowers the Ministry of Health to bring to book local authorities who fail to provide basic social services to residents. The Ministry Of Health is not properly funded and as such cannot takeover water management from the councils. The Central Government must, as a matter of urgency,
- take an active role in terms of making sure that local authorities are supported in order to fund their activities.
- The private sector also has a role to play in providing technical support and resources, the City of Harare cannot do it alone.
- The international community should respond like they did with cholera.
- There is also need for investment in health education and health promotion.
Targeting and victimising defenceless, poor vendors will not fix the problem as the informal sector is a reflection of the economic woes facing the country. Instead, there is need to educate vendors and all citizens on what causes typhoid so people can play a role. The question is; Is there enough space for civil society to play the role of promoting public health?'
In addition to the above, Mr. Mfundo Mlilo, Director of the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA)
'The issue is about government insincerity and misdirected effort. Government must direct council to reconnect residents water supplies in the typhoid prone areas while council must close contaminated boreholes. The Government must take immediate action to curb the outbreak.'
What is apparent from civil society comments on both Chihuri and typhoid is that the two issues need civic involvement and input as opposed to vilifying Zimbabweans. Demanding that people desist from discussing the appointment of a Commissioner General and arresting vendors for simply trying to make a living will not promote a democratic developmental state in Zimbabwe. The preponderance of views seem to suggest that the Commissioner General has had his time, people would like to discuss his tenure and most are of the view that he must go. Likewise, residents are tired of water borne diseases such as typhoid and believe that sten meaningful action needs to be taken to end their occurrence in the future. In short the preponderance of views is that, Chihuri and Typhoid MUST GO!