End of Mahachi-era?
ON Tuesday last week, Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, dropped a bombshell. The city’s town clerk, Tendai Mahachi, was stunned. The entire council stood shocked. Dozens of journalists scrambled out to send out the surprise news.
Manyenyeni’s unilateral decision to send the long serving town clerk on forced leave to pave way for “many issues that council is seized with that can be best addressed in his absence”, has sent tongues wagging: Is this the final exit of the city’s 64-year-old controversial town clerk?
Mahachi is turning 65 years in November, the new globally recommended retirement age. He has served the Harare City Council since 2004 when he joined Town House as its turnaround strategist.
During Tuesday’s full council meeting, where the announcement was made, Manyenyeni was flanked, to his right, by an astounded chamber secretary, Josephine Ncube — who will act in Mahachi’s capacity — and to the left by an even more bewildered and visibly shaken Mahachi.
There were no customary high table handshakes as everyone solemnly filed out of the chamber at the end of the meeting and the “no hard feelings inherent” that the mayor denied existed, was evidently thick in the air.
A swarm of scribes immediately stormed Manyenyeni to seek clarity.
In the hallway leading to his office, the mayor hand-delivered the letter of indefinite suspension to Mahachi.
Each man walked away — to their offices, Mahachi humbly, Manyenyeni importantly.
And the location of their offices meant they gave each other backs immediately and this could well have been the last time the two men shared presence in the marble corridors of this grandiose establishment where the affairs of Zimbabwe’s capital are handled — though some would prefer to say, mishandled.
Could this finally be the end of Mahachi’s reign over a city with an estimated three million residents, most of who think he ransomed them?
Many think this time around Mahachi could indeed be on his way out; although many others are not forgetting the one person that has stood by Mahachi’s side, through thick and thin, and who has successfully blocked anyone lurching in Mahachi’s direction — even Parliament.
That person is former local government minister, Ignatius Chombo.
And Manyenyeni knows it very well.
Former Harare mayor, Muchadeyi Masunda came and tried to get rid of Mahachi and failed after Chombo got in the way.
Manyenyeni has tried it before, and failed.
Last year, Manyenyeni suspended Mahachi following revelations that he and his top executives had accorded themselves obscene salaries but only hours later, Chombo reversed the decision.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government summoned Mahachi to give explanations, and like one standing on the proverbial solid ground, the town clerk pitched up with a pay slip which showed he earned the moribund Zimbabwean dollar.
And when Chombo was accused by the same committee of covering up for Mahachi, he said the mayor had been overzealous and involved himself in turf issues and overstepped his boundaries in the process.
The action by Chombo raised tempers and a barrage of criticism from residents and civic groups who felt his action was tantamount to more than just protecting Mahachi.
The rage against Chombo was showcased in the form of demonstrations, court applications, outbursts on social media by stakeholders and even hunger strikes by distraught residents as they demanded answers.
But Mahachi remained at Town House.
A stone-faced Mahachi declared that Manyenyeni’s decision was bizarre and senseless.
He vowed to take the issue “somewhere”. Meanwhile, he is defiantly reporting to work.
In forcing Mahachi to go on leave, Manyenyeni said council would want to address issues to do with the succession plan, the obscene salaries which have caused the local authority to work without a budget, outstanding workers salaries and issues to do with service delivery.
That Mahachi has stayed on at Town House, despite plausible pretexts for his dismissal, is an issue that has been topical in recent years but the last few months have been horrific for him, which gives many people hope that this time, just maybe, the chickens could be coming to home to roost.
Last year he was embroiled in a forgery storm after being accused of tinkering with his date of birth to extend his tenure of office and escape the job cuts targeting those above the age of 60.
Before that, he was on the firing line after reports that he and fellow senior staff misused a loan facility meant for water rehabilitation.
In February this year, residents associations piled pressure on him to quit on the basis that he had dismally failed in service delivery; and the following month, residents stormed a full council meeting at Town House demanding his ouster after his administration proposed the introduction of prepaid water metres.
At the end of May, council gave him a 60 day ultimatum to clear the employee salaries backlog, failure of which he would be axed.
And interestingly, that deadline (June 30) became the very day that Manyenyeni sent him on forced leave.
The mayor seemed to have discovered that suspending him would have immediately attracted Chombo’s overplaying hand and so he subtly went the forced leave way, to circumvent Chombo.
But whether or not Mahachi will bounce back, it was celebration time for residents’ associations who have been at war with the embattled Mahachi.
Some even called for his sacking altogether.
“This comes as sweet news because we have been lobbying the council and government for the permanent ouster of Dr Mahachi from Town House owing to straight cases of abuse of office and authority, and manipulation of council systems, including abuse of the water account,” the Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director, Precious Shumba said, congratulating the mayor for the bold move.
Combined Harare Residents Association chairman, Simbarashe Moyo said: “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time and it has come. We hope the man doesn’t go back to Town House again and that the minister will distance himself from this if he truly respects the self governance principle of local authorities.”
The next few days will thus be interesting. With his pillar, Chombo now reassigned to another ministry, it would be interesting to note what inclination the new Local Government Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, will have on the issue.