LOCAL Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere has threatened to evict Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader Morgan Tsvangirai from a State mansion in Highlands, Harare over the appointment of Harare town clerk, James Mushore, which is being fiercely contested between ZANU-PF mandarins and officials from the country’s main opposition party.
Kasukuwere, who doubles up as ZANU-PF’s national political commissar, had given the MDC-T leader an ultimatum to ensure the dismissal of the former NMBZ Holdings chief executive officer from the Harare City Council (HCC), failure of which he would be chucked out of the property acquired for him during the era of the Government of National Unity (GNU), which ended in 2013.
The Financial Gazette can exclusively reveal that government “inspectors” have visited the property on two occasions to assess the mansion, reinforcing fears of an imminent eviction of the MDC-T leader who served as Prime Minister during the subsistence of the GNU.
The development has prompted a flurry of activities within the opposition party, as MDC-T heavyweights sought to prevent their party leader from being humiliated by Kasukuwere, whom they said has directly communicated with Tsvangirai about Mushore’s appointment.
Tsvangirai was given the mansion, which was mired in controversy after allegations he had bloated costs for the renovation and upgrade of the property in 2012.
The MDC-T leader has lived in the mansion for the past six years, despite calls from opposition party allies that he should move out to avoid being compromised by the ZANU-PF government.
The eviction threat by Kasukuwere is seen within the MDC-T as evidence that with the 2018 general elections beckoning, ZANU-PF may be planning to go for broke to secure re-election.
It is said that high ranking MDC-T officials are unhappy with Tsvangirai’s continued stay in the State mansion but they do not have the guts to confront him.
The former trade unionist, who has a number of personal properties in the capital that he could occupy, has stayed put in the government property, insisting government still owes him substantial amounts in pensions and other perks which he can use to pay for the property.
With the MDC-T leader presently financially crippled, government is aware that Tsvangirai would not be able to raise the cash required to pay for the loan used to buy the property as well as the interest.
The feeling within the MDC-T is that Tsvangirai might not be able to stand up to ZANU-PF as long as he continues to stay in the Highlands mansion at the benevolence of President Robert Mugabe, who has the final say on the issue.
He is already seen prevaricating on the Mushore deadlock, an indication that ZANU-PF is well aware that Tsvangirai could do anything to prolong his stay in the up-market property.
Sources in the MDC-T this week said a day before Kasukuwere suspended Manyenyeni, he had sent communication to Tsvangirai, warning that he would have him evicted from the house unless he forces his councillors to dismiss Mushore.
Following Kasukuwere’s threat, a panicky Tsvangirai called for an emergency caucus meeting, which was held at the party’s headquarters at Harvest House in Harare on Saturday. The meeting was attended by MDC-T secretary general, Douglas Mwonzora; party spokesman, Obert Gutu; shadow minister for local government, Jameson Timba; MDC-T Harare provincial chairman, Erick Murai; and HCC councillors led by acting mayor, Chris Mbanga.
Mbanga was imposed acting mayor by Kasukuwere following the suspension of Manyenyeni. This, apparently, gave a sense of déjà vu: former Harare mayor, Elias Mudzuri, was fired by former local government minister, Ignatius Chombo, in 2004 and was replaced by Sekesai Makwavarara, who later defected from the MDC-T to join ZANU-PF.
Tsvangirai himself did not attend the caucus meeting. He is, however, understood to have instructed the caucus to direct Mbanga that Mushore, who had been reporting for duty, should go on indefinite “voluntary leave” on full salary and benefits.
Sources said Tsvangirai was regularly updated about proceedings over the phone by his lieutenants in the meeting, with MDC-T insiders saying party bigwigs were initially reluctant to accept his directive, and had attempted to convince him that the party’s position that Mushore remained the legitimate Harare town clerk was the correct one at law.
Some party members felt that the former Prime Minister was holding them to ransom for selfish reasons. This is likely to expose the jittery Tsvangirai as a very weak leader easily cowed by ruling party members.
“This created a deadlock which necessitated us to meet again on Sunday to resolve the matter,” said a senior MDC-T official who attended the meeting.
Another source said: “They spent the whole day on Sunday trying to persuade him (Tsvangirai) to accept that the party was keen on defying and standing up to Kasukuwere but he would not listen, and at the end of the meeting, Mbanga was tasked to go and relay the message to Mushore.”
According to sources, Mbanga on Monday called Mushore to his office in the company of councillor Herbert Gomba and two other unidentified councillors and officially requested Mushore to go on voluntary leave.
Mushore, sources said, asked Mbanga to explain if the decision to send him on leave was a council decision or an MDC-T decision.
“He openly told Mbanga that if it was a party decision, then he would not oblige since he was not a party employee; if it was a council decision, he would want it communicated to him in writing and he would comply,” a source close to proceedings said.
Mbanga, who had not expected Mushore’s reaction, was reportedly taken aback by the former banker’s demands and asked Mushore to call Tsvangirai himself if he needed any further clarification, clearly exposing the MDC-T leader as the source of the directive.
Mbanga is also said to have declined to commit himself to any written communication.
Mushore then called Timba, but the former minister failed to give a satisfactory answer.
Timba was not available for comment.
Gutu confirmed the caucus meetings this week but said the official party position remained that Mushore was the legitimate HCC town clerk.
“I can confirm that the caucuses did take place and the official party position is that James Mushore’s appointment as the town clerk of the city of Harare was done in a lawful and above board manner,” he said.
He, however, appeared to cautiously skirt issues related directly with Tsvangirai.
“What I have told you is the official party position. Anything else different from this is really something I cannot substantially comment upon,” he said.
Tsvangirai’s spokesman, Luke Tamborinyoka, ignored questions sent to him on the issue.
Mbanga, who is understood to have travelled to Bulawayo for the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, was not answering calls to his mobile phone. Councillors are entitled to hefty allowances for such travels.
He also did not respond to messages sent to his mobile number.
However, sources said Kasukuwere had developed a very cordial relationship with Mbanga.
They allege that on the night of mayor Bernard Manyenyeni’s suspension, the two had dinner at a local restaurant where Kasukuwere reportedly asked him to act on Mushore.
Mbanga would assume the mayoral office the following day, April 22, and immediately ordered Mushore out of town house, triggering an outcry from colleagues who called him a sell-out.
Kasukuwere denied meeting Mbanga for dinner when contacted by phone on Tuesday.
“That’s sub judice comrade. Dinner with Mbanga, why and where?” he asked.
He declined to entertain further questions.
The Financial Gazette understands that some MDC-T executive members were beginning to question Mbanga’s loyalty. There was a possibility that they could move a motion in the National Executive Council for disciplinary action against him.
Mushore was appointed last month after a rigorous selection process involving reputable consultancy firms as well as councillors and stakeholders.
Harare had been without a town clerk since the sacking of Tendai Mahachi in June last year.
But the appointment of the former banker to the US$10 000 per month job triggered a political storm, with Kasukuwere demanding the reversal of the process on account of the fact that the Local Government Board had not been consulted in terms of the Urban Councils Act.
Council, dominated by members of the MDC-T, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, had made the appointment based on provisions of the new Constitution which gives them the independence to make executive appointments without interference from government or any of its organs.
An embittered Kasukuwere had then moved to suspend Manyenyeni, after council defied his directive to sack Mushore.
Manyenyeni is challenging the suspension at the High Court; he is also challenging the Urban Councils Act, which he says is clearly ultra vires the Constitution.
High Court Judge, Justice Mary Dube, reserved judgement when she heard the case in her chambers on Tuesday.
Contacted for comment this week, Mushore said the impasse at Town House was due to the lack of clarity as to which laws to follow: Whether it is the Urban Council’s Act which gives sweeping powers to the Minister or the Constitution which devolves powers to the local authorities to manage their own affairs.
“I have an opinion as does the next man. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Given the position I think that it is up to the judiciary to guide us as to which laws have supremacy. In the meantime, I have a contract with City of Harare which obliges me to tender my services at Town House. I will continue to do just that in fulfilment of my obligations,” he said.