Town clerk: A ‘political’ hot seat in local authorities

by MOSES MATENGA

FORMER top banker, James Mushore, struck gold when he landed the coveted Harare town clerk job in March 2016, but in just 24 hours, he had been booted out.

Mushore, believed to be an ally of the late former MDC leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, received a hostile reception at Town House, where he was rejected by former Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and immediately fired.

He had been hired by the MDC-dominated council to replace purged town clerk Tendai Mahachi, who had been a thorn in the flesh of the councillors for many years.

A protracted fight ensued, leading to then mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, being suspended from office.

The political wars of Mushore represents the fights between the ruling Zanu PF party and the opposition MDC since the beginning of the new millennium.

MDC has won a majority of local urban seats since its inception and has taken control of major cities, including Harare, Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, Gweru, and Kwekwe, ending Zanu PF dominance since independence.

However, observers said the problem with the town clerk’s position, equivalent to a chief executive officer in a company, was more political as Zanu PF and the MDC fight for turf.

Local Government expert Precious Shumba said the conflicts were as a result of “structural conflict” between policymakers and technocrats.

“There has always been structural conflict between policymakers and technocrats in local authorities and there is a history to that,” Shumba said.

“Town clerks have for a long time been viewed as saboteurs, incompetent and corrupt such that they deliberately did not facilitate the implementation of the resolutions by councillors.

“There is a historical relationship between the senior council management and elected councillors. Councillors, especially from the opposition have always held the view that the bureaucrats they found in office served Zanu PF and central government interests.

“As a result of this long-held mistrust, a majority of the decisions and resolutions at local authorities’ level have not been implemented, and the bureaucrats have always cited lack of financial resources, yet in practice they are the ones who should provide the technical guidance to the elected policymakers.”

Shumba, however, said the situation may have changed now, thanks to Minister July Moyo’s more liberal approach.

“A lot of the town clerks and town secretaries used to enjoy the shield of the Local Government minister, but this is changing with July Moyo’s more liberal approach. Now the councillors are finding it easier to reprimand and even suspend errant officials,” he said.

He said due to political pressure in most cases, technocrats were not implementing council resolutions and most of them were used to the chief executive mentality of doing things as they please.

MDC shadow deputy minister for Local Government Clifford Hlatshwayo, said friction was rife but not in all local authorities and bemoaned the involvement of some of the town clerks in local government issues.

Hlatshwayo said some of the town clerks were conflicted and unable to serve the people.

“We have a problem with those who take political party jackets to work,” he said.

“MDC councils are clear in terms of delivering, but their efforts are sometimes frustrated by political interferences with town clerks brought in by Zanu PF to frustrate their efforts.”

He, however, said though rife, it was not happening in all local authorities.

“They shouldn’t involve themselves with politics. Residents want basics, including potable water, good roads among other things and we don’t need politics to have all that,” he said.

Former Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, who was thrown under the bus several times by former Local Government ministers Ignatius Chombo and Kasukuwere over the town clerk issue, said the problem at most town houses was always political.

“We don’t know who is ultimately responsible for the workers and the chief worker at Town House. From a political point of view, you have never seen a town clerk having problems with his councillors rushing to the MDC. They don’t lobby or seek protection from the MDC, who are their employers,” Manyenyeni said.

In 2016, Manyenyeni was at one time suspended and subsequently arrested over his actions against Mahachi and hiring of the town clerk.

Mushore was regarded as sympathetic to the MDC and Kasukuwere did not want him anywhere near the council headquarters.

The protracted fight saw Mahachi being retired and Mushore unemployed, not before he was paid an astronomical severance package.

Mahachi was perceived as Chombo’s blue-eyed boy and allegedly immersed in most scandalous deals involving the former Zanu PF secretary for administration.

The former town clerk was fingered in several reports by councillors as having been an accomplice to Chombo’s shoddy deals.

Mahachi was named in a report by councillors as having illegally dished out land to Chombo and businessman Philip Chiyangwa among others, but he survived attempts by the MDC councillors to push him out.

In Chitungwiza, council is locked up in a fierce clash with town clerk George Makunde, who was recently suspended on allegations of gross incompetence.

Ironically, Makunde is Zanu PF secretary for administration in Mashonaland Central, while the MDC is in charge of the council.

Chitungwiza mayor, Lovemore Maiko, in September suspended Makunde on the grounds of absentism from work, gross insubordination and disobeying instructions.

Makunde had allegedly refused to produce his personal profile to councillors as well as contracts of employment and conditions of service for all senior managers.

In Bulawayo, MDC councillors are also embroiled in nasty clashes with town clerk Christopher Dube, who at some point was almost involved in fisticuffs with deputy mayor Tinashe Kambarami.

Kambarami and another councillor, Silas Chigora, forcibly removed Dube from office, arguing he was suspended over various charges including abuse of office.

But Dube could have none of that as he blasted the duo using unprintable words, describing his employers as nonentities.

Bulawayo mayor Solomon Mguni later lifted the town clerk’s suspension.

In Gweru, town clerk Elizabeth Gwatipedza is on suspension over several allegations, another indication of frosty relations between elected officials and technocrats.

In former Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda’s book, an ideal town clerk should be: “…an individual of unquestionable integrity and should not pander to the whims of either the mayor, councillors, government ministers or political parties.”

Under the circumstances, such a town clerk remains elusive.

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