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Harare awaits decision on suspended Mahachi

Comment & Analysis
SUSPENDED Harare Town Clerk, Tendai Mahachi has found the going tough at Town House since his arrival in 2006 despite surviving several attempts to boot him out.

SUSPENDED Harare Town Clerk, Tendai Mahachi has found the going tough at Town House since his arrival in 2006 despite surviving several attempts to boot him out. By Moses Matenga

Last week, Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni suspended Mahachi, shocking everyone at a monthly full council meeting, including his usually trusted lieutenants, councillors and even the Town Clerk himself.

This was Manyenyeni’s second attempt at suspending Mahachi in his stint as mayor, with the first one having been blocked by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo last year.

All seemed to be going well for Mahachi at the meeting just over a week ago as he was praised for acting swiftly on paying workers’ salaries, fixing street lighting, and the computerisation of council district offices, among other issues.

But as he was still soaking the praise and basking in glory, Manyenyeni pulled the trigger.

Mahachi believes a personal feud may have triggered the suspension, as he claimed the mayor had not followed procedure in suspending him. He warned ominously he would meet Manyenyeni “elsewhere” on the matter.

There have been mixed reactions following Mahachi’s suspension, with residents saying it was worth celebrating. They said the Town Clerk had not added value at Town House and instead, had run it down and was linked to a chain of scandals in the nine years he has been at the helm.

“At the HRT [Harare Residents’ Trust], this comes as sweet news because we have been lobbying the council and government for the permanent ouster of 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 residents’ association said in a statement.

“You cannot protect incompetence forever.”

Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA) chairman Simbarashe Moyo was cautious, warning that Mahachi would bounce back.

“I don’t doubt that he [Manyenyeni] has the powers. The same way we don’t doubt that Chombo will bring [Mahachi] back,” Moyo said.

“The mayor can be summoned and Mahachi can be back like what happened last time. I don’t think he has been effectively suspended judging by what happened the last time.”

He added: “What is real is Chombo is Mahachi’s boss, not the mayor. The mayor has the powers, but Chombo is known for disregarding the Urban Councils Act.”

But who is Mahachi, whose name has become synonymous with infighting at Town House?

Mahachi, a holder of a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in the United States, came into the public eye in 2005, after he was appointed chief executive officer of Air Zimbabwe, taking over from Rambai Chingwena.

He was to leave the airline a year later after failing to turn around its fortunes and started his life at Town House.

Initially, he was a strategist before taking over as Town Clerk from the late Nomutsa Chideya, whose stay at Town House was also turbulent given his frosty relations with MDC councillors, who felt he was a Zanu PF Trojan Horse.

Like Mahachi, Chideya had to fight suspensions and would remain at Town House despite determination by the city fathers to see his back.

Mahachi’s appointment was instantly criticised with then local government secretary for the MDC party Trudy Stevenson equating it to rubbing more dirt into the wound of Harare residents already “suppurating from the reappointment of Sekesai Makwavarara and her expanded commission for another six months”.

“Mahachi’s track record is hardly impressive, despite his academic qualifications,” she said then.

“He was suspended and then fired as CEO of Air Zimbabwe in 2005, only a year after his appointment, while his ability as City of Harare strategist is all around us — potholes, garbage, broken street and traffic lights, water shortages and general deterioration of our capital city’s infrastructure, environment and bank balance.”

Mahachi was in charge when service delivery deteriorated further in 2007, culminating in the 2008 cholera outbreak that left thousands dead.

In 2009, MDC-T councillors did not want Mahachi’s contract to be renewed, but faced political pressure that forced them to retain him until he saw the last day of the five-year term of office for councillors who were under the leadership of former mayor Muchadeyi Masunda.

In 2010, led by former councillor, Warship Dumba, the councillors instituted a probe on land use and allocation and Mahachi’s name, together with that of Chombo and businessman Phillip Chiyangwa, featured prominently in the report. Efforts to have them prosecuted hit a snag and Mahachi miraculously survived.

Last year, Mahachi was yet again found in the eye of a storm after he was accused of forging his year of birth, ostensibly to escape the retrenchment exercise targeting those above 60.

Documents seen by our sister paper NewsDay then showed that Mahachi was born on November 15 1956 and would be turning 58 in November this year and, therefore, was not eligible for early retirement.

But a copy of the Town Clerk’s passport — number CN851406 — showed that he was born on November 15 1950, meaning he turned 64 last November.

Investigations also showed that staff at Town House celebrated Mahachi’s 62nd birthday two years ago.

In the same year, Mahachi was found again at the centre of a loan scandal, where his council bought 50 top-of-the-range vehicles worth over $2 million using part of the $144 million Chinese loan facility meant for the refurbishment of the Morton Jaffray water works.

Mahachi was suspended by Manyenyeni last year, but the suspension only lasted a few hours after Chombo reversed it, leaving Manyenyeni with egg on his face.

He was suspended after he had denied the mayor access to the salary schedule that showed he was earning more than $37 000, while his management team of 18 was gobbling more than $500 000 in salaries and allowances.

The issue raised serious concerns amid calls by residents and stakeholders for him to go, but he again survived.

The vendors issue may have caused his suspension after it emerged he was taking orders from Zanu PF, while ignoring the MDC-T position on the matter.

His fate now lies with the Local Government Board after the ministry forwarded the mayor’s letter to them for consideration.

Until then, it remains to be seen if the mayor can successfully kick Mahachi out of the council.