Harare City Council will have just 25 functioning councillors following the recall of another 11, including the deputy mayor, by MDC-T yesterday.
This takes the number of vacancies to 21, a development that may trigger the temporary appointment of commissioners until by-elections are held.
While a council meeting requires just 17 councillors present to form a quorum, much of the work of the council is done in committees and depending on the distribution of the vacancies, there may be swathes of suburbs without representation until by-elections are held.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is hoping the Covid-19 pandemic will be sufficiently reduced, or other health measures can be put in place, to allow Parliamentary and council by-elections by December.
Normally, outside a public health emergency, these would take place in a matter of weeks after the vacancies.
Under the Urban Councils Act the Minister of Local Government and Public Works can appoint one or more commissioners for a maximum of six months, or until the vacancies are filled in a by-election, when “there are no councillors for a council area or all the councillors for a council area have been suspended or imprisoned or are otherwise unable to exercise all or some of their functions as councillors.”
Where there are some councillors still available to exercise some of their functions, any commission must consult these councillors before making any decisions.
A commission is essentially intended as a holding operation since the commission needs ministerial approval to collect rates and fees or sell council land and in the case of Harare, where there are still sitting councillors, any commission would in effect be checking and validating any decisions reached by that group as part of the consultation process.
There have been legal changes since the last commissions ran the city council, when a minister could remove a council and replace it by a commission.
Under the new law, the commission is just there to keep the city running until a new council is in place. If the Minister of Local Government feels that a council is falling down on the job, then the minister can issue policy directions and take other action to ensure the council is doing its job.
MDC-T has been targeting those MPs, senators and councillors who were its nominees in the MDC-Alliance single list in the last harmonised election.
Those coming from other parties in the alliance cannot be recalled by MDC-T, but that party was the largest component of the MDC-A and had the largest number of nominees.
The 11 latest recalled councillors include deputy mayor Enoch Mupamawonde, Lovemore Makuwerere (Ward 24), Gilbert Hadebe (Ward 39), Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi (Ward 19), Simon Mapanzure (Ward 34), Charles Chidhagu (Ward 30), Keith Charumbira (Ward 8), Steven Dhliwayo (Ward 40), Barnabas Ndira (Ward 21), Chihoma Runyowa (Ward 29) and Charles Nyatsuro (Ward 6).
The first batch of four councillors to be recalled in July are Denford Ngadziore (Ward 16), Girisoti Mandere (Ward 44), Jaison Kautsa (Ward 37), Tonderai Chakeredza (Ward 31).
Six councillors recalled in August are former mayor Hebert Gomba (Ward 27), Hammy Madzingira (Ward 10), Kudzai Kadzombe (Ward 41), Gaudencia Marere (Ward 32), Costa Mande (Ward 24), Happymore Gotora (Ward 7).
A communique from Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo, addressed to the office of the Harare town clerk, informed council about the latest recalls.
“I wish to inform you that l am in receipt of a letter from the Movement of Democratic Change (T) stating that the following councillors have been expelled from that party,” reads the letter.
The letter further declared wards 24, 39, 19, 34, 30, 8, 40, 21, 29, 6 and 35 are now vacant, in terms of the Constitution. Minister Moyo said in terms of section 121 of the Electoral Act, council should inform the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of the vacant seats.
Sources from the MDC-T said the recalls were part of the ongoing intra-party fights for the control of the party.
“The councillors are said to have humiliated Dr Khupe last week during the mayoral election in which they voted a Peoples’ Democratic Party candidate, Jacob Mafume, for the top civic job in the city. This was against the wishes of Dr Khupe and company who wanted Luckson Mukunguma to be the mayor,” said the source.
Harare City Council has been sitting on a major set of corruption allegations involving the sale of council land and the rezoning of public open space before that land is then sold, sometimes under contested circumstances.
The creation of new housing stands for alleged personal gain, plus alleged cover ups and allegations of favouritism in manipulation of housing waiting lists or agreements of sale without prior advertising have seen senior officials, up to Town Clerk Eng Hosiah Chisango, and some councillors, including ex-mayor Gomba, arrested and taken to court.
While the powers of a commission are limited in time and extent, there are many who support the appointment to help sort out major problems.