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Address the real issues, not the symptoms - Interview with Precious Shumba, Harare Residents' Trust
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
July 08, 2011

Read Inside/Out with Precious Shumba

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Precious Shumba at a rally
Photo by Philemon Bulawayo © HRT

Precious Shumba is the founder and co-ordinator of the Harare Residents Trust. The Harare Residents Trust works to empower citizens and their elected representatives and services providers towards a meaningful engagement that will improve living standards in urban communities.

Why did you establish the Harare Residents Trust?
I have always believed in the principles of social justice, where the issues of the common person are addressed with the same vigour as the issues that affect political actors. During my time at ActionAid International I saw firsthand how communities in Zimbabwe were suffering. I would interview very, very poor people who have nothing to eat and are without shelter or access to clean water. I realised that there is a need for a body of people who have an appreciation of this kind of suffering, one that is anchored in the communities and their issues. There is a serious need for an organisation that is not linked to any political party, an organisation that is led by people with passion for what they are doing and has its roots in the people's issues.

You say you saw a need for a politically independent organisation that represents the people. Do you feel then that in terms of the NGO sector, there are a lot of organisations that are politically aligned or who drive a political agenda?
The majority of NGOs in Zimbabwe have people in them who have a desire to earn a living, but without the passion to address the real issues that affect the citizenry. Ask yourself why we have a lot of HIV/AIDS organisations, yet we continue to receive reports of HIV positive people who are unable to access ARVs. Where is all the money going? You'll find it paying for workshops in hotels. Ask why do we have several human rights organisations that talk about social justice, plurality or good governance, but why is it that we have unending conflict in Zimbabwe if these guys are saying that they are making a positive impact on the situation? They only rely on issuing statements. If you ask communities if they know these people, they will say we only read about them in the papers. The majority of the NGOs that we have are driven by a political agenda that has no link to the suffering to the common person. There is no desire to end poverty or to attack the real problems of society. These are people who are coming in with the intention of making a living out of the crisis. If donor organisations like DFID or USAID have poured millions of dollars into this country to address these challenges, yet you still find very poor people and our economy is not growing, where is that money going to? Are they addressing the real issues or are they playing around with the symptoms hoping that one day things will suddenly change. I don't believe in the politics of appeasement where people only address what the donor wants. I believe that NGOs in Zimbabwe are not independent from foreign influence.
How is the Harare Residents Trust working to address the issues that get ignored?
As HRT we have had occasions where we have engaged the service providers, the policy maker on specific housing, water and issues of disease and we have scored many successes. Our work speaks for itself. We are determined to improve the livelihoods of people at household level. We are trying to instil a certain confidence within individuals and communities to claim and demand their rights. So that in the long term, if these people are adequately mentally equipped, they can face any challenge, they can confront any policy maker. The challenge in our communities is that most people, and especially politicians, are trying to capitalise on the differences. Political parties, whether it is ZANU PF or MDC, politicise almost every aspect of people's lives. What does that have to do with the road network or huge bills? They must begin to separate politics from real issues. This is the disease of our society, where things are portrayed in a partisan way. The MDC guys are refusing to look to the real issues, and ZANU PF is in the business of contesting people's desires. As Harare Residents Trust, we work to build the capacity of ordinary people to productively engage their service providers and policy makers. Our membership is drawn from across the political divide and we have people from opposite sides sitting on the same committee and agreeing. If that happens across the board you may find that we are in a way reducing the areas of conflict in our society and promoting development.

I read recently that ZANU PF youth disrupted your community meeting. Can you tell me what happened?
What happened is that the Harare Residents Trust convened its first ever residents' convention. We mobilised some resources and managed to bring together 2300 people. We underestimated the threat of violence, believing that our activities benefit everyone. Unfortunately for us, the meeting we held was disrupted by ZANU PF youths who were sent my Mr Chirwa who has become notorious in that community. They were drunk, came in and locked the gate and started beating up everyone, including myself and the ZESA representatives, Mr Mandizvidza and Dr Mvundura. I had to rush in to intervene and prevent one of the perpetrators, Kuda, who stays in ZANU PF Joshua Nkomo offices in Majubeg area. I HAD TO LIE THAT Dr Mvundura was coming from Minister Chombo's office. They had already beaten up a ZESA guy and there was no other way to stop them. These thugs hit me on the head and in the face . . . all over. They used fists, batons, booted feet. We had our guests from Kadoma and Rusape and even elderly ladies being beaten up. Even ZANU PF people who are our members were beaten up. We denounce this act of thuggery and believe that the police must take appropriate action. The police left everyone exposed. When people went to the police station to report this act, Inspector Moyo, barred people from entering Stodart police station. We are aware that as a police party ZANU PF says they denounce violence, but we are wondering who is sending these people, who is feeding them and funding their thuggish behaviour and why don't they get arrested?

What do you think motivated Mr Chirwa to do this?
HRT has been working to expose Mr Chirwa and his corruption. Residents of Joburg lines in Mbare, have evidence that Mr Chirwa is taking over residents' houses in collaboration with a lady at Remembrance district offices. The lady facilitates the transfer of property into the name of a new person. Between them they run an extortion racket where they coerce residents into paying between $1500 and $2000 to prevent their property being taken away from them. After the beatings of HRT members Mr Chirwa was heard boasting that he had disciplined people. As HRT we have managed to take him to court and won the return of the property of about eight people. The HRT is a serious threat to his operations and he feels that if he intimidates us we will stop. His crimes are being documented.

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