A warm welcome delayed

Since her appointment as town secretary of the Gokwe council in January 2015, Ms Melania Mandeya says she is yet to feel welcome.
“I am a woman, and here was a woman coming into a largely patriarchal society to come and effect the change that they never envisaged. To them it was and will not be possible. “But I am a woman who has been through the trenches, who has faced gender prejudice on a personal and professional level all my life.

The best attitude is to develop a thick skin and concentrate on one’s core duties and expectations.
“I have been here for two-and-half years and I can proudly point to a number of projects that Gokwe Town Council has embarked on, some of them with a measure of success.

“Admittedly, we have had our number of challenges, most of which have to do with depressed revenues given the operating environment we are currently working under. The cash shortages have affected us, as much as they have affected every other facet of the economy.”

Workers at Gokwe Town Council have gone 10 to 15 months without being paid. Ms Mandeya says of this: “We are aware of the arrears that we have regarding our obligations of our staff. There are a number of initiatives that we are currently working on towards alleviating the situation.

Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development workers reclaim a gulley that had eaten into one of Gokwe’s major roads
Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development workers reclaim a gulley that had eaten into one of Gokwe’s major roads

“Part of the broader plan involves a staff rationalisation exercise, which we have embarked on but yet to fully implement. “We have a bloated workforce, and the preliminary report from the human resources consultant that we engaged for the job evaluation exercise indicate that for a council our size, we have more people in our employ than we would ordinarily need or afford. To that end, once we have finished the evaluation exercise, we would be able to tell what can be done to address this problem.”

But Mr Abedinigo Sinyoro, chairperson of the council workers’ committee, sings from a different hymn book, accusing Ms Mandeya and her team of a living large at their expense and that of service delivery. “She is hardly in the office, always attending this or that workshop. If the money that she draws on travel and subsistence allowances was channelled to paying some of our salaries, we would be telling a different story.

“The Chevrolet Trailblazer that council bought for her, our council cannot afford such luxury. Towns larger than Gokwe have not bought their bosses such luxurious cars and here we have Gokwe, small as we are, buying such an expensive car.

“We could do with a less expensive car, less expensive to maintain. But there we are, stuck with a management set-up that does not care or worry about our welfare, or that of the people it is supposed to provide services to.” Ms Mandeya justifies the purchase thus: “As for the Trailblazer, I am the face of Gokwe, I am here to lure investors, give confidence to our council. So how am I to give that confidence if I am to arrive for workshops, conferences or meetings in, say, a Toyota Vitz?

“Besides, the car is a tool of the trade, and if I could have my way, I could have bought a Discovery or Landcruiser. But this is the car that is specified within my contract. “Mind you, council did not just wake up to buy the car, there were several procedures that had to be followed and adhered to, and these were all followed.

“As for the allegations that I am hardly in the office, maybe reference is being made to the recent week that I spent in Cyprus, attending to my son’s graduation ceremony. Probably there is a mistaken belief that I went there on council resources but it was purely a personal trip, personally funded.

“We don’t attend workshops that have not been sanctioned or cleared by Government. It is not a question of wanting to go to any workshop that we desire, there have to be invites and clearance from the relevant authorities.”

Without pulling punches, Ms Mandeya says there is a mistaken belief that she has to take orders from council, the residents’ association or business.
“My appointment was through statutory provisions and I am here to lead council in decision-making. I am not here to take instructions from councillors but we should work together in a harmonious manner that allows growth and attracts investors.

“But like I said earlier on, just because I am a woman, I am vilified left, right and centre. That the council chairperson is also a woman has not helped matters either.” She says with monthly revenue collections averaging US$80 000 — during the “purple” months like the current farm produce-selling season — it is always a balancing act as the council’s salary bills stands at US$60 000.

“The revenue that we collect has to be spent along Government’s 30-70 guidelines, that 30 percent has to go towards salaries and the rest cover service delivery. This becomes even more challenging in the current shrinking resource era where at times we record meagre revenue collections, hence the current salary backlog. But we are trying everything within our means to address the salary arrears.”

Ms Mandeya shows off the new primary school
Ms Mandeya shows off the new primary school

Mr Sinyoro, on the other hand, argues that council is not collecting enough revenue because ratepayers have stopped paying their dues because council is not paying workers’ salaries. After acknowledging and promising to attend to some of the problems that have delayed her warm welcome to Gokwe, Ms Mandeya changes gears and turns to her gospel of positives that she has brought to Gokwe.

“That we have had these challenges does not mean that we have not had our positives. We completed one primary school and handed it over to the community and we are currently building another primary school. “By the end of this year we intend to have reached window-level with our council clinic. My appeal to the Gokwe community, though, is to desist from vandalising the projects that we will be working on, when they destroy what we would have built, that is only counter-productive.”

She glowingly speaks of the traffic lights that have been installed, as well as some of the street lights that have been reconnected. “The traffic lights, besides bringing normalcy and order to the intersection, where animal-drawn carts, lorries, and other vehicular traffic had a field day as they did as they pleased, have turned into a useful educational tool for schools in and around Gokwe.”

The other project that puts a spring in her step is the construction of storm water drains. “Gokwe sits on a plateau, and not only that, she sits on Kalahari sand soils which are very loose, especially during the rainy season. So one of the major problems that we face every rainy season is the ground giving in to heavy rains but we have managed to put storm water drains in areas which were vulnerable to soil collapse.”

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