Statement by David Coltart, Mayor of Bulawayo
Since the resignation of Nelson Chamisa as President of the CCC, and from the party itself, on Thursday the 25th January, followed by the subsequent resignation from Parliament of some respected colleagues I have been considering my own position.
As I indicated last week my main concern was to consult widely before making any decision. In this regard I have consulted a wide cross section of people, particularly in Bulawayo. I have indicated on social media sites, such as X and Whatsapp, that I am consulting and have invited people to let me have their views. During this past week I have received numerous responses on X, Whatsapp and e mail.
The overwhelming response, particularly from the Bulawayo public, has been to remain in office. I have also been written to by people I deeply respect, some of whom have been involved in the struggle to bring democracy and freedom to Zimbabwe for over 6 decades, asking me not to resign. These are people who have fought consistently during their entire lives for freedom and I take their views exceptionally seriously.
Bulawayo faces unique challenges at the present time. Aside from being in a disastrous state after decades of neglect, it is running out of water and faces severe water shortages this coming year. Whilst of course there is little that I as one person can do to remedy this, I have been involved in critically important initiatives during the last few months to provide short, medium and long term solutions to the crisis. If I were to resign now some of these initiatives may be undermined to the detriment of the City as a whole. Whilst the resignation of any MP is of course tragic, and a great loss to debate in Parliament, it does not have the same direct impact on citizens as would the resignation of the Mayor of a city.
It is also pertinent to mention that when Nelson Chamisa telephoned me to notify me in advance of his intention to resign I asked him what his expectations were of me. His response was that I should keep on the work I have been doing. At no point has he asked me to resign.
It is also important for me to state my own views regarding resignation in general. Whilst I have no doubt that Parliament has become an intolerable place, and that its Constitutional role has been severely undermined, I have always believed that it is important to not to cede whatever democratic space which has been obtained in the struggle against tyranny.
As a Christian I believe in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 that we are to be salt and light in corrupt and darkened society. In other words tiny grains of salt, and single shafts of light from a candle, can prevent blocks of meat from corrupting and provide guidance to people stumbling around in the dark. And history is replete with individuals, such as Wilberforce, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and, closer to home and much lesser known, Ahrn Palley, who have done just this – namely spoken truth to power as individuals against powerful forces and governments.
This may seem irrelevant to many but as the Mexican philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The danger we face in Zimbabwe today is that in our anger with all that has happened in the past year to undermine the will of the people and to subvert constitutionalism and the rule of law, we take steps which will end up consolidating ZANU PF’s grip on all institutions including Parliament and our Cities. So whilst I deeply respect and understand when principled people resign from Parliament, I remain saddened that they will no longer be able to exercise Parliamentary privilege (which is unique) to expose corruption and to fight against undemocratic and unconstitutional laws. It may seem a pointless exercise with ZANU PF being able to ride roughshod over them, but it will now be so much easier for ZANU PF to do this, without any comeback or exposure in Parliament.
The same considerations apply to Bulawayo. If I resign as Mayor I have no doubt that ZANU PF will simply be provided with a foot in the door to assume much greater power in the running of the City, with all that that entails, and the entrenchment of their corrupt politics at the local level. As difficult as the current situation is in running Bulawayo, the fact is that we do have an opportunity to do whatever we can to stabilise and develop the City for the benefit of all its residents.
In closing I need to address two further issues, the one being any false perception that a decision not to resign is an indication that I have turned against Nelson Chamisa, the other being that I have made any such decision solely on the grounds of what I will gain out of it personally.
Long before Nelson Chamisa resigned I publicly expressed my sadness and regret about the apparent rift between Nelson Chamisa and Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube. All three of these men are friends of mine with whom I have been in the trenches ever since the MDC was launched on the 11th September 1999. I have admired their resilience, bravery and commitment to democracy and freedom all these years. I refuse to be cajoled into a zero sum game which pits me against any of these old and trusted colleagues.
Regarding Nelson Chamisa himself I deeply sympathise with and understand the decision he has taken. Although my political instincts have always been to hold on to whatever democratic space one has, I understand his deep frustration with the brazen breaches of the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the Political Parties Finance Act, both before and after the election. I have been appalled by the conduct of unscrupulous politicians over the past few months to cause the destructive recalls, undermine our institutions and hand a two-thirds majority in Parliament to ZANU PF. I have been shocked by successive decisions of our Courts which have ignored, in my opinion, centuries old legal principles in order to deny citizens the right to elected representatives of their choice. The point is that a decision not to resign as Mayor of Bulawayo should not be interpreted as a hostile act against Nelson Chamisa. I stand with him against this brazen attempt by the regime to create a one party state. I remain utterly committed to our overall collective and common strategy to bring about a new democratic and free Zimbabwe.
Regarding any argument that I am making any decision for personal gain, that is simply risible. I reiterate that I did not seek this office; I was asked to take on this role by Nelson Chamisa and several other church, civic and political leaders in Bulawayo. I have always viewed it as a poisoned chalice, and after four months in office I am more convinced of that now than when I started – Bulawayo is in a terrible mess. What many may not know is the fact that my sole income for being Mayor of Bulawayo is a monthly allowance of US$25. That may seem ludicrous but it is true – it is a fact that any person can confirm by contacting the City of Bulawayo. So if anyone thinks that I am in it for the money they do not understand the facts.
In other words one of the ironies for me is that any decision to resign as Mayor, far from being principled, would in fact be in my own self interest. At present I have two jobs, one as Senior Partner of my law firm, which includes running a busy practice, the other as Mayor of Bulawayo. I have never worked this hard as Mayor for so little remuneration in my life. It would suit me and my family perfectly to step back from the immense challenges Bulawayo faces; far from being a principled decision it would in fact be a selfish decision which would result in me having a far easier life going forward.
In conclusion my decision is that I will not resign as Mayor of Bulawayo and will endeavour to see out my 5 year term. I am conscious that I can be recalled at any time, but so be it. I would rather be removed from office by unscrupulous politicians than betray the trust and goodwill of innocent, hard working and principled residents of Bulawayo by resigning.
Senator David Coltart
Mayor of Bulawayo
5th February 2024