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Legal Fight Looming Over Legality Of Commission Governing Harare

The lawyer for suspended Harare city clerk Nomutsa Chideya has filed an appeal in high court to declare that the municipal commission put in place by the government of Zimbabwe in 2004 to supersede the elected city council is illegal.

But lawyer Happius Zhou, representing commission chief Sekesai Makwavarara, said Zimbabwean law empowers Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo to re-appoint a commission “once he is satisfied that no elections are being conducted.”

On Thursday, high court Judge Lawrence Kamocha summoned Makwavarara to his court seeking an assurance she would respect a court ruling barring her from making changes to Chideya’s compensation while litigation continued over his status.

Zhou said Makwavarara could not attend the hearing Friday, and Kamocha declared that said she must appear Monday with a full explanation of why she failed to attend.

Makwavara has stood up a parliamentary committee probing her commission on four occasions, appearing recently only after being threatened with a contempt finding.

Lawyer Sternford Moyo, representing Chideya, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Chombo must let Harare residents elect their mayor.

Harare has been without an elected mayor since April 2004, when Chombo fired the elected mayor, Elias Mudzuri, an opposition politician, than fired 19 councilors of the Movement for Democratic Change. Mudzuri had been suspended in April 2003 and a commission was set at that time to investigate his conduct in office.

A November 2003 high court ruling declared that the commission had been improperly formed and that the evidence it gathered could not be used to fire Mudzuri. Under the law, an election was supposed to be held within 90 days of when a mayor vacates the office. Instead, Chombo appointed Makwavarara, then deputy mayor, who abandoned the opposition to became mayor as a member of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The remaining MDC councilors, who stayed on the council after the firing of Mudzuri and his 19 colleagues, resigned in protest. On December 9, 2004, Chombo appointed an eight-member commission, led by Makwavarara, to run the city. Since then the commission has been re-appointed a number of times on expiry of its term.

More reports from VOA's studio 7 for Zimbabwe...