Jacob Mafume, the mayor of Zimbabwe’s capital was arrested in November and released on bail on 8 December by a High Court judge. His arrest comes just months after his predecessor was also incarcerated.
Mafume was released on Tuesday following a $Z30,000 ($333) bail. His arrest comes in a space of a few months after the former mayor Herbert Gomba was arrested on alleged charges of corruption.
The two incidents have raised eyebrows among experts who say opposition party-led council officials are incompetent.
But not so, says the opposition.
It alleges that the Zimbabwean government is using its law enforcement agents to clamp down on council officials led by the MDC Alliance on allegations of corruption.
Mufume was reportedly denied bail by a Harare magistrate following his arrest in late November, on grounds that he would intimidate witnesses and conceal evidence. He was meant to stay in custody until 14 December.
Allegations of corruption emerged in March this year that Mafume had allocated two houses to his sister and his law firm’s secretary, each worth Z$219,938 ($2,444), in Westlea, a suburb west of Harare, according to court papers.
Under normal circumstances, they would have gone through a lengthy process of adding their names to a home seekers’ waiting list until it was their turn. But court papers state their names were not on that list.
Mafume is now the second Harare mayor to be arrested this year after his predecessor Gomba was arrested in July for criminal abuse of office and but later released on bail by a High Court judge, although barred from continuing his mayoral duties.
Political persecution of opposition party council led officials
“The MDC Alliance is deeply concerned by the politicised nature of the arrests of our councillors and mayors including the recent persecution of mayor Mafume,” Fadzayi Mahere, the MDC Alliance secretary for communications, tells The Africa Report.
“The allegations against him are baseless.”
Mahere claims the people who were allocated the land had made their applications back in 2010 and all the paperwork was available.
The ruling party Zanu-PF has been eying the Harare mayoral seat with no success since 2002.
“It is largely political because the regime is using selective application of the law against opposition politicians,” says Alex Magaisa, a UK-based Zimbabwean academic and lecturer of law at the University of Kent.
Magaisa adds that Zanu PF’s main objective is to obliterate the opposition party.
But presidential spokesperson George Charamba tells The Africa Report that the government’s policy of zero tolerance on corruption was not targeted at only opposition party officials.
“Mafume’s matter is before the court, let us wait and see whether it is politically motivated or not,” he adds.
“The bottom line here is that of corruption and whether the alleged perpetrators indeed committed the crime. The whole idea is that there is corruption that is taking place within the City of Harare and that is indisputable,” says Alexander Rusero, a political analyst.
Rusero adds that corruption by any name is retrogressive and those who indulge in it should face justice.
“In this case it is corruption involving the mayor and so be it. A little justice done somewhere in the dark corners of Zimbabwe is better than no justice at all regardless of whether such kind of justice is political or not,” he says.
Allegations of corruption by city councils amid poor service delivery
In many suburbs across Harare, taps can run dry up to three months leaving residents to fetch water themselves from the few community boreholes and open wells in wetlands.
Burst sewers can be seen in many of the high density suburbs, ultimately increasing chances of an outbreak of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera.
City of Harare officials and those in other MDC Alliance controlled cities around the country, are suspected in engaging in corrupt activities including poor water management, along with fraud and illegal residential and commercial allocations.
“The reality is that most councillors in urban local authorities have been compromised through unprocedural land allocations and staff recruitment. There is massive corruption by councillors in Harare, Chitungwiza and other urban local authorities,” says Precious Shumba, the Harare Residents’ Trust director.
Interference by the central government
But MDC politicians in the City of Harare do not have full control, stresses Rusero.
“Zimbabwe is not fully devolved. The Mayor does not have the power to hire and fire staff. There is a dual structure which was put in place by Zanu-PF. Since 2002, the opposition politicians have not been fully in charge,” he adds.
“There are town clerks who are fully in charge. They have the power in terms of running a city. Their appointments have a direct influence from the minister. So, there is a mayor from the MDC Alliance and a local government minister from Zanu-PF. It is unsustainable.”
Mahere adds that local authorities continue to be hamstrung by interference from the central government making them dysfunctional and impeding their capacity on service delivery.
Zanu-PF win in 2023 elections?
The MDC Alliance led council officials throughout Zimbabwe are increasingly seen as incompetent when running cities.
“The City Council is weak in key areas of their respective mandate, human resources, at both policy and management levels,” says Shumba. He adds: “A majority of the councillors are inexperienced.”
Since the MDC Alliance took over councils in 2002, it has performed just as poorly as Zanu-PF says Rusero.
“Officials in the MDC Alliance led council are ordinary people who are illiterate and incompetent. They are just charismatic leaders. Yet these are the people running the councils,” he says.
Despite the lack of accountability and incompetence in MDC Alliance, it is not going to be a clean win for Zanu-PF come the 2023 elections, says Rusero.
“The euphoria that people had in 2018 after supporting the coup that removed Mugabe in 2017 has since gone. People are now thinking Mugabe’s regime was better than the current regime. Zanu-PF has its own problems and the MDC Alliance has its own problems as well,” he adds.
“The confusion in the MDC Alliance leaves a lot to be desired. It seems they have given up, that they are a permanent opposition with no desire to win.”