LOCAL Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo in December 2012 appointed special interest councillors to represent persons living with disabilities in local authorities around the country. In Bulawayo, Fidelis Fengu was appointed but the Bulawayo City Council refused to swear him in accusing Chombo of exceeding the number of special interest councillors. A disabled Bulawayo resident, Jack Matshazi two weeks ago obtained a High Court order barring the local authority from swearing Fengu in following threats by the minister. Radio Dialogue spoke to Fidelis Fengu who is also the Deputy Chairperson of the Special Advisory Board in the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment.
RD: What was the process leading up to your appointment?
FF:This appointment came after negotiations, we approached the office of the prime minister where we met Jameson Timba who is the minister of state in the prime minister’s office. We made representations as young people with disabilities who were coming from the special advisory board that advices minister Saviour Kasukuwere. Our point was that people with disability need to be represented across the board, not just in government but in any decision making position so that we allow integration. After this meeting , a letter was written to minister Ignatious Chombo and was copied to the permanent secretary Mupingo, this letter was saying that minister Chombo should meet with us and discuss the issue of appointing special interest councillors to represent people with disabilities. that meeting happened in late November and on the 22nd of November we were appointed special interest councillors at a press conference that was held in Harare. We have young people with disabilities who were appointed in more than five cities, Simba Mumbengegwi in Masvingo, Gift Mabhaudi in Harare, Clever Mukwazi in Gokwe and a number of other places. Special interest councillor for Harare, Clever Mabhaudi has been sworn in. Simba Mumbengegwi, Masvingo special interest councillor was sworn in on the 5th of December. This is how the issue of special interest councillors came to being. It is a national issue, it is not a Bulawayo issue.
RD: According to media reports, the Bulawayo City Council had before the court order refused to swear you in saying Chombo has exceeded the limit in the number of special interest councillors that he can appoint to council. What are your thoughts on why the council has taken such a stance.
FF: My understanding is petty politics, in the sense that you can’t question the issue of disabled persons having representation; that is clearly defined in the Disability Act of 1992. Why would the Bulawayo City Council be the only council to reject the appointment of a special interest councillor? Harare, Masvingo, Gokwe and others have these young people with disabilities and it has only been Bulawayo that has rejected it. Fair and fine, they were within their rights to question the minister. The issue of the other eight (special interest councillors), if they were appointed in 2009 and were never sworn in up to 2012, can you be in office without being sworn in? They were only appointed, so you cannot say the minister exceeded his limit when they were not sitting in meetings, by right they were not even councillors. The minister wrote to council regarding the issue telling them to disregard the list of eight that they had been given. As of now, I am the only special interest councillor who has been appointed to Bulawayo.
RD: You have mentioned negotiations which included the prime minister’s office were conducted before your appointment, were there any efforts to engage organisations for and of the disabled people in Bulawayo prior to the appointment.
FF: We have been in the special advisory board that advices minister Kasukuwere on the empowerment of young people with disabilities, we have worked with a number of disability organisations, but what we did not do was to become tribal, regional and petty. We decided to operate at a national level and because of the results that we had given, the minister said, ‘lets have these young people become special interest councillors. The Urban Councils Act does not question or state how the minister should appoint or what criteria he should use, its up to the minister’s discretion.
RD: Do you admit that there were no consultations with disability organisations?
FF: At a national level there was, because in everything that we were doing we were working with the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH). So by consultation do you mean that he (Chombo) should have sought permission to appoint?
RD: By consultation,I want to understand if there was dialogue with disability organisations prior to your appointment. Do you admit that there was no dialogue with these local groups before you were appointed.
FF: I am not minister Chombo, I do not know who he spoke to and who he didn’t speak to, all I know is what we had, what we have done and how we got it to be done.
RD: Are you an active member of any disability organisation or group in Bulawayo?
FF: I am not a member of any organisation and I choose not to be because there is something that is called disability politics that is going on. These organisations are fragmented and I refuse to be part of this fragmentation, I would rather stand for everybody, work with everybody that wants to work with me.
RD: How do you feel about the controversy surrounding your appointment?
FF: It is fun, politics is a game and so far they are playing on it, let them play we will see who emerges the winner. At the end of the day, the key thing is what results are we delivering to the people that matter the most: ratepayers and persons living with disabilities. For so long there has been talk of representation, representation has come and yes we can debate on the modalities but the fact is that it is there. I would rather be criticised for wearing an oversized shoe than walk barefooted. Inside or outside council, I am still going to continue with the work that I have been doing, in the coming few days, we are going to be distributing empowerment forms to people with disabilities and make sure they get empowerment funds from the 5% quota that we negotiated with minister Kasukuwere.
RD: Are you going to be contesting in the Zanu PF primary elections ahead of the next general election ?
FF: No, I am not going to stand in the primary elections, I choose not to stand but I am going to contest as an MP for Bulawayo East constituency as an independent candidate. I am going to contest as an independent because at the moment it makes more political sense. I think the current political parties have their strengths and weaknesses but I haven’t found the one that I clearly identify with in terms of my personal beliefs. I agree with indigenisation and empowerment, I have my issues with some of the modalities in terms of implementation. MDC T’s JUICE has its own weaknesses and strengths, it is not a perfect project but there is some good that we can borrow from.
I am not in any political structure of any political party.