By A Correspondent- Police stormed Harare City Council chambers to stop the city fathers from passing a resolution that would have seen suspended executives returning to work as fears of government interference in the operations of the local authority mount.
The dramatic swoop on October 26 saw 21 councillors and journalists being arrested during a full council meeting and they were taken to Harare Central Police Station.
Some senior government officials on social media were quick to link the arrests to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s anticorruption fight, but fresh details show that it was Harare Provincial Affairs minister Oliver Chidawu flexing his muscles.
Chidawu is said to have received information that council would adopt a report by its human resources committee paving the way for suspended directors to return to work.
The 25 officials include human capital director Matthew Marara, town clerk Hosea Chisango and director of housing and community services Admore Nhekairo.
Unbeknown to Chidawu and the police, councillors had agreed to put the report aside. This followed a meeting between MDC-T councillors and the minister.
The raid happened when councillors were rounding up the business of the day.
“There was a meeting recently with the minister and he was angry about the (human resources committee) report,” said a councillor, who requested to remain anonymous.
“We withdrew that report and these people came with a view that we wanted to bring back ‘thieves’ to council.”
Chidawu is said to have read the riot act to the MDC-T councillors during the meeting that preceded the police raid.
The councillors are said to have been told that the move to reinstate the suspended officials was driven by the fear that the local authority might incur losses arising from labour disputes.
“The report stated that those with bail conditions that would allow them back at work could be left to come back to work,” said another councillor.
Chidawu, sources said, was also told that council was still paying a former finance director, who was fired last year because his case was yet to be finalised by the Local Government Board.
Harare deputy mayor Luckson Mukunguma, who was chairing the full council meeting, was spared the embarrassment of being dragged to the police station after he temporarily left the chamber before the police pounced.
Mukunguma went to the police station on his own and was asked by the police to announce to his colleagues that they had been released without any charges being laid against them.
He confirmed to The Standard that police wanted to arrest them over the report by the human resources committee.
“They wanted to arrest us for a crime they thought we were going to commit,” Mukunguma said.
The journalists were released following the intervention of Misa Zimbabwe lawyer Chris Mhike.
“The police did not disclose any reason for the detention that the journalists had to endure for about three hours,” Mhike told Misa Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa’s government says it is working to weed out corruption in local authorities and has so far only targeted councils controlled by the opposition MDC Alliance.-standard