Zimbabwean police on Thursday arrested eight Harare city councilors after municipal officials issued a report alleging Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and prominent businessman Philip Chiyangwa engaged in irregular purchases of city land in recent years.
The police summoned the members of the Harare City Council investigations committee after Chiyangwa filed a complaint alleging he had been defamed.
The report said Chiyangwa, with the assistance of senior officials in the commission which governed the city until after 2008 local elections, bought council land on the cheap through irregular procedures, and that Chombo corruptly acquired land for personal use.
After the Standard and The Sunday Times newspapers published reports on the alleged corrupt land deals, police detained journalists Stanley Gama, Jennifer Dube, Feluna Nleya and Vincent Kahiya and demanded they identify the source who leaked the council report to them. Sources said the city councilors were also being questioned by the police along those lines.
VOA Studio 7 correspondent Irwin Chifera reported from Harare on the burgeoning controversy.
The justice system has yet to determine whether Local Government Minister Chombo and businessman Philip Chiyangwa, both members of the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, corruptly obtained land from the Harare City Council, or if, as Chiyangwa contends, he defamed him in the report they issued.
But observers say the response of police in the case was troubling and raised serious issues of governance given that the police arrested public officials alleging graft rather than referring the matter to state prosecutors to determine if city land was improperly transferred.
VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira sought the views of National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku and activist Julius Mutyambizi-Dewa in London.
Madhuku, a lawyer and University of Zimbabwe Law School instructor, says the arrest of the city councilors shows the current political framework does not allow local officials to perform their duties properly.