ZDDT Field correspondent, Mandla Tshuma (MT), recently visited Bulawayo’s Ward 6 Councillor, Tabitha Ngwenya (TN), at her residence located at Number 79 Balfour Road in Bellevue suburb.
The two discussed leadership issues, community work and other related factors. Below is their conversation in full.
MT: As we meet here in Bellevue at Councillor Tabitha Ngwenya’s house, madam, can you tell us, who Councillor Tabitha Ngwenya is.
TN: Tabitha Ngwenya is the councillor for Ward 6, residing at Number 79 Balfour Road in Bellevue. I got into office in 2013. I am a married woman with five children who are all grown up. They are now working and some of my grandchildren are working as well.
MT: You have said you are a married woman. Tell us briefly about your husband.
TN: I am married to Philemon Ngwenya from Mberengwa.
MT: In 2013, what inspired you to contest the elections resulting in you becoming the councillor for this area?
TN: I have worked as a Sister-in- charge at BG Clinic, which is a council clinic for quite some time. I have also worked at government hospitals. However, towards retiring, I worked for almost 12 years in Council. As a nurse, I travelled across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe and saw what was happening and what people were going through.
I got to know so many people in the community because I had been working for Ward 6; therefore becoming a councillor for the area was not an issue for me. All I can say, is that residents requested me and said, ‘since you are retired, wouldn’t you want to be a councillor?’ and I said it was ok. Even campaigning was not a challenge because I had already been working with people. In getting into Council, I just wanted to continue working with the community.
MT: What was your perception of local governance before you got into Council and has that changed after these years you have been in office?
TN: My perception of local governance has changed significantly because before I only knew that there was local government but I did not have much knowledge. Although as residents we always have expectations from local government, I did not have deep knowledge on the operations of local government. Therefore, I would not say my working as a nurse was better than what I am now doing in council because these are two different spheres.
I did not know much on the issue of making policies and the fact that we are a governing body in the wards where people are. As councillors we communicate with residents at meetings in which they tell us what they want, which is different from the central governance.
Above: Councillor Tabitha Ngwenya (left), her husband, Mr Ngwenya (centre) and ZDDT Field Officer, Ennie Mhangara, pose for a photo after a ZDDT visit to the councillor’s home in Bellevue, Bulawayo.
MT: Looking at your interactions with ZDDT, how has that assisted you in your working with the community?
TN: ZDDT has helped me a lot because they always organise workshops for us as councillors. They were the first organisation to train us when we got into office in 2013.
We did a number of courses with ZDDT. I can say throughout our term, ZDDT has walked with us because time and again they organise refresher leadership courses for us reminding us of how to work with residents. These workshops sometimes bring together residents and councillors.
MT: What is your idea of a good leader, and do you consider yourself a good leader?
TN: A good leader is a listening leader. If you want you want to be a good leader you must be able to listen to what people are saying and then take their concerns to where they are supposed to be taken.
A good leader is not supposed to discriminate people because as a councillor you are expected to work with everyone. You have to work with people from different political parties and even churches. These are some of the characteristics of a good leader. There are many things that I can say about a good leader. In a nutshell, it is about having good relations with residents in the community. Gender issues must also be taken into consideration.
MT: What would you say you have learnt from ZDDT’s trainings which you are still holding on to, even up to today?
TN: Some of it is what I have just said. It is what is expected of a good leader. The other thing has to do with what kind of projects we can run in the communities.
MT: Now with the next general elections beckoning, will you be contesting these polls?
TN: Remember we got into Council through our political parties and for now we are yet to have primary elections. We have not even made nominees. However, if I am to be given another chance, I would want to return to Council but if the party has seen it otherwise, I would not go against that.
MT: Still on leadership Councillor Ngwenya, do you consider yourself a good leader?
TN: I think I am a good leader because I have managed to coordinate residents. There were no residents associations in this ward before. We have seven suburbs altogether. We have Sidojiwe, Bellevue, South Wold, Montrose West Summerton, Barham Green and Newton West. We have managed to form resident associations in each and every suburb.
These committees run the affairs of residents. In those associations there is the chairperson, the executive committee and other members. This makes it much easier for me when I want to communicate something to residents. I can even make phone calls to the residents’ leadership and my message gets to everyone in the ward. I have managed to work with all residents. Upon realisation that since we wanted development in our area, we then formed what is called Ward 6 Development Committee.
This committee consists of people from all the seven suburbs who were chosen by residents there. I meet with these almost every week. The representatives from each suburb will be bringing to me their issues and concerns from their suburbs, while I also give them feedback from Council. I would say I work so well with these committees.
MT: What is your take on ZDDT’s monthly zone meetings which you have attended? How important are they in creating a platform for interacting with residents?
TN: That platform is so good because people are free to say what they come across in their areas while at the same time exchanging notes on areas of cooperation and improvement. This gives even residents an opportunity to self-introspect as they get to learn about what other leaders are doing. That platform is important because councillors can take up issues raised there to committees in which they sit.
MT: Do you see Zone Meetings as a test of your leadership when you get criticised or challenged?
TN: All I can say is that, that platform is good. If you are to view it as a time for you to be criticised, it will not be good. I am saying this because if there is anything which is not being done properly and people say it out, as a leader I am supposed to take it forward.
MT: What would you say are some of your achievements as a councillor since you got into office about five years ago?
TN: I can say, in this area, Ward 6, we have two community properties over which I managed to engage BCC for residents to have access to. As you might know that eastern suburbs do not have community halls or public recreational facilities, working with residents we managed to get the Bellevue Recreational Club. This was not an easy thing to get notwithstanding that it had always been Council property. The challenge has been that people running it, were now treating it like their personal property. I managed to discover that, that property belonged to Bulawayo residents. I fought that case time and again until we won that battle.
The other project is the Nkunzi Beer Garden, which was being run by the Ingwebu Breweries and was later handed over to council. It then remained defunct for about 10 years. The beer garden in question is close to Sidojiwe Flats. I also managed to request that it be made available for residents use factory shells. I also managed to organise women in ward 6 into social clubs where they meet once a month. As you might know that both Nkunzi Beer Garden and Bellevue Recreational Club have been dilapidated,
I wrote a letter to Council asking them to help us with renovations at both places using the Retention Fund. The Ministry of Sports officials have also visited Bellevue Recreational Club at my invitation. They were so happy to see the facility. There are tennis courts, football grounds and so forth that need resuscitation. In that project, the objective is to ensure that youth instead of milling around, they can be occupied with something.The Ministry of Sports people promised to assist in reviving the club.
MT: What about your three percent retention fund, have you accessed it?
TN: We have not accessed it although the process has since begun. What I am happy about is that Council staffers came to the ward and we told them what we want to do with the money. The release of the money is something that is in the process.
MT: So what do you want to do with that money?
TN: We have a list of priorities. In Newtown West, there is an area which was left by a developer without a single street light and residents have been in darkness for years. If tower lights at least could be mounted during my term of office, I will be very happy.
MT: How is your relationship with CAT members?
TN: We have a very good working relationship.
MT: Did you inherit these CAT members from the previous councillor or you started your own?
TN: The previous councillor never did a handover, take over; therefore I did not know the people that he had worked with. However, one of the members told me along the way that he had worked with the previous councillor.
MT: How is working with residents aiding your work as a councillor?
TN: This makes us conquer as a community. Remember I said we took over Bellevue Recreational Club. If I was alone without residents, I would not have succeeded in that. We were working as a team and therefore we managed to take back that facility.
MT: Are residents in your ward forthcoming with issues affecting them in the community and how have you tacked these?
TN: Yes they do and whenever they come as individuals I write their concerns down and then later take them to Council if need be. However, say for example if someone is facing a challenge in the payment of Council bills with their water supply having been disconnected, I write them letters to take to Council. Some concerns such as litter problems usually require that they be addressed in meetings.
MT: Are you able to take any of the residents’ concerns to Chamber or relevant department heads?
TN: Residents’ concerns differ in that some require immediate attention, meaning to say I have to approach the relevant department upon receiving them. If it has to do with health, I will have to approach the Health Department and if it is to do with engineering such as burst pipes and so forth, I cannot wait for a meeting, but I will just approach that department. If it is something that calls for a discussion, I can take it to the relevant committee.
There was once a challenge whereby Newton West residents could not bear the smell which was coming out from chicken feathers being burnt by Big Brother. Residents had to complain to me and in such a scenario you don’t wait for a meeting to address the challenge. I had to act immediately. I phoned the environmental officer for this place who immediately went and reprimanded them.
MT: When you take something to the full Council meeting, do you think residents in the public gallery recognise your performance as a good leader and representative?
TN: Yes, they will see that they are well-represented. I think that as councillors we are doing very well.However, some issues raised will be general concerns cutting across all the wards. Residents may not necessarily be able to judge me according to my performance in Council. If a concern has been raised by one councillor, I do not have to repeat it as well.
MT: Thank you so much councillor for your time
TN: You are welcome Tshuma.