Recent events at Town House have reminded residents of the deep divide between Harare’s MDC-T council and the overseeing Ministry of Local Government led by Saviour Kasukuwere of Zanu PF. There have been recurring spats between the two sides since 2002 when MDC-T won control at Town House. MDC-T currently holds 41 out of 46 council seats. The bickering is said to be stalling council activities, and could have a negative effect on service delivery.
The ongoing fallout is over council’s appointment of James Mushore as Town Clerk, which was rescinded by Kasukuwere who cited the flouting of procedures laid out in Section 132 (1) of the Urban Councils Act – specifically that council may not appoint a town clerk without consulting the Local Government Board.
Kasukuwere’s intervention sparked immediate outrage. The Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA) together with the Chitungwiza Residents’ Association (CHITREST) launched an appeal at the high court challenging the constitutionality of Kasukuwere’s actions. Tied to this was a demand to have to have five sections of the Urban Councils Act struck down in order to align the legislation with the Constitution which describes a devolution of power. Their case is still to be heard.
In spite of Kasukuwere’s rejection, Mushore turned up for work. Kasukuwere hit back once more, and this time it was Mayor Manyenyeni’s job on the line for overseeing Mushore’s appointment and initiation. “I wish to inform you that in terms of Section 114 (1)(d)(ii) of the Urban Councils Act you are hereby suspended from carrying out the functions of the office of Mayor and councillor,” read part of a letter sent to the mayor by the minister on 20 April.
On 21 April, Manyenyeni through Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) filed an urgent application at the High Court seeking an order to set aside the suspension. His lawyers argued that in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, removal of mayors, councillors and chairpersons can only be done by an independent tribunal in terms of an Act of Parliament. The application did little to resolve the current crisis, as judgement was reserved.
At the time of going to press, former Deputy Mayor Chris Mbanga had been appointed Acting Mayor of Harare. In a phone interview with Harare News Mbanga said that although he was not at liberty to make statements on the matter while it was at court, he was eager for it to be resolved. “Council is almost at a standstill while this matter is pending, and service delivery is suffering,” said Mbanga.
MP for Harare West Jessie Majome has been particularly vocal on the matter, launching a petition titled “Hands off Harare Petition” imploring the Local Government ministry to allow ratepayers and residents to exercise their powers as guaranteed by Section 264 of the constitution. Majome plans to deliver the petition to Kasukuwere. She had collected 306 signatures at the time of going to press.
Residents are impatient for the conflict to be resolved. Nyasha Maponda from Mbare said, “I hope that the courts will deal with the applications as soon as possible because the current conflicts are detrimental to development of the City.” Maponda added that she wishes that the constitution will rule the day.
A history of conflict
Conflict between Council and the Ministry of Local Government is nothing new. Central government has clashed with every Mayor since the opposition won control of the council. This is Manyenyeni’s second bout – the first being very early in his tenure with then Minister of Local Government Dr Ignatius Chombo. It was similarly over the post of Town Clerk, which was occupied at the time by Tendai Mahachi who stood accused of gross mismanagement for an exorbitant salary.
One of the most notable conflicts was that of Harare’s first Executive Mayor, Elias Mudzuri, who was dismissed by Chombo in 2004. After the fallout, Mudzuri was replaced by a government-appointed commission led by Deputy Mayor Sekesai Makwavarara which ran council for two years, in violation of the law. It led to a widespread boycott of rate payments.
Clashes between Chombo and Manyenyeni’s predecessor Muchadeyi Masunda were also a feature of that mayoral term, though Masunda managed to see out his tenure from 2008 to 2013.
The Ministry of Local Government has always used the Urban Councils Act to wield control of councils throughout the country. Opposition councillors regard this as political interference.
In light of the ‘new’ constitution, the current spat will put the Ministry to the test as the Zanu-led government’s sincerity towards the document will be revealed.
The coveted office
The conflicts past and present over the appointment of the Town Clerk signify its importance and prestige. Mahachi was reportedly receiving $37,642 a month in salary and benefits, and although this figure will be significantly reduced the position is still very well paid. Perhaps more important is the administrative power of the office: oversight of a $343 million budget, administration of thousands of employees, and responsibility for the operations and property of council. For an honest and diligent occupant the position offers the chance to improve the capital’s service delivery, however for a corrupt town clerk there are countless opportunities for self-enrichment, cronyism, and nepotism.
Image: Currently suspended Mayor Manyenyeni