Harare Town House Aerial View

A Mayoral executive system is a system of municipal government which allows for the exercise of executive authority through an executive mayor in whom the executive leadership of the municipality is vested and who is assisted by a mayoral committee.

Since independence, we have had ceremonial mayors and then later, executive mayors. The government thought the executive mayors interfered with the work and authority of the actual chief executive, the town clerks. Where a company has an executive chairman, there cannot be another chief executive as there will be conflict between the two centres of authority running the same company.

The system of executive mayors was then abolished and cities and towns reverted back to the former system of ceremonial mayors with the Town Clerks having undiluted authority as chief executives.[1]

Background

Previously executive mayors headed municipal councils. These were directly elected by local people in local government elections. The system of executive mayors came into operation in 1997 by an amendment to the Urban Councils Act. In 2008 the system of executive mayors was abolished. Mayors are now elected by the elected councilors. A person who is elected as mayor does not have to be a person who is himself or herself an elected councilor. This is because section 103 provides that the person who is elected as mayor can be a councilor or other person. The term other person is not defined. Thus in 2008 the person elected as mayor of Harare was not a person who had stood for election as a councilor.[2]

What does the Constitution of Zimbabwe say regarding Executive Mayors

The Constitution of Zimbabwe recognises two types of local government – urban and rural local authorities –which existed in Zimbabwe prior to its adoption. Urban local authorities enjoy greater autonomy and status than rural local authorities both in law and practice. Within the urban and rural forms of local government, several categories of local authorities can be established. Currently, there are three legally recognised categories of urban local authorities, namely: municipal councils (including cities), town councils and local boards – ranked in terms of powers, finance and discretion. All rural local authorities are of the same status – implying that they have equal powers and responsibilities.

It is with regard to urban local authorities, particularly city and municipal councils, that there is provision for the role of a mayor, while in town councils, local boards and rural local authorities, the office of the chairperson is the equivalent. The institution of the office of mayor is recognised in section 277(2) of the Constitution, highlighting its significance in Zimbabwe. The Constitution permits the establishment of executive mayors, ceremonial mayors, or both. Executive mayors must be directly elected by the citizens of the relevant communities. Currently, mayors are ceremonial and are elected by councilors from the members of a council. While the legislative regime suggests that mayors do not have executive powers, in practice, especially in big cities, such as Harare and Bulawayo, they play a significant role and are quite influential.

The Tolerance of Mayors but for Patrick Kombayi (1980-1989)

From 1980 to 1989, city and municipal councils in Zimbabwe were presided over by ceremonial mayors who had very limited powers. Executive powers were shared between the Minister and the Town Clerk in whose appointment national government is involved. As a consequence, the Minister could determine policy priorities in the administration of cities and towns and control their day-to-day activities. A major downside of this system was that it limited the role and influence of mayors, creating a leadership vacuum that national government was happy to fill.

Naturally, the Zanu PF led government managed to acquire the allegiance of mayors even in those urban councils controlled by the opposition – the Zimbabwe African People's Union-Patriotic Front (PF-ZAPU). The exception was Patrick Kombayi, mayor of the City of Gweru, who was dismissed under controversial circumstances soon after independence. The mayor, who was a ZANU-PF member, was dismissed by the Minister on allegations of gross mismanagement of council funds. On the contrary, it is argued by some that Kombayi’s dismissal was nothing other than a political gimmick orchestrated by then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe himself. In response, the whole council resigned in solidarity with the mayor, which suggests that the dismissal was widely disapproved of.

Tolerance of Mayors under De Facto One-party rule (1990-1999)

The period between 1990 and 1999 saw a shift in government’s decentralisation policy in Zimbabwe. There was a move towards democratising and empowering local government, with one of the most significant changes being the 1996 amendment to the Urban Councils Act, which provided for directly elected executive mayors. Since independence, political competition was mainly between Zanu PF and ZAPU. In 1987, the two parties entered into an agreement that saw them merging into a single party – ZANU-PF. Dubbed the Unity Accord, this agreement signalled the birth of a de facto one-party State. In the subsequent elections, opposition to ZANU-PF became so weak that in 1995, 55 out of 120 members of parliament were elected unopposed.

In 1996, the government conferred executive powers on mayors, changing the power structure in urban local government. Whereas ceremonial mayors stayed clear of the management of a city, executive mayors were involved in its day-to-day running. Under the ceremonial mayoral system, major council decisions took the form of full council resolutions. Conversely, in the executive mayoral system, local authorities did not have to wait for a full council resolution to make important decisions. Working through the executive committee, which was chaired by the mayor, the council could make major decisions ahead of full council sittings. The executive committee consisted of the mayor and all chairpersons of council committees. Contrary to their ceremonial counterparts who were mere signatories, convenors of council meetings and guests of honours at council events, executive mayors had an elevated level of influence and control because of their executive powers. With this new range of influence and control over cities and municipal councils with huge budgets, large staff establishments and a wide array of functions, the mayoral position became a competing centre of power. The power and strategic importance of the position was perhaps vividly demonstrated in the appointment, rise and fall of Solomon Tawengwa, mayor of the City of Harare.

The rise of opposition mayors (2000-2008)

The application of central government supervision in a widespread and blatant manner came to the fore in 2000. The sparks that ignited the inferno were the 2000 and 2002 local government elections held across the country and in Harare, respectively. For the first time in the electoral history of post-independence Zimbabwe, all urban wards and city councils were won by mayors and councillors representing the new opposition MDC. In Harare, Elias Mudzuri of MDC defeated Amos Midzi of ZANU-PF to become the first elected executive mayor of the capital city representing an opposition political party.

However, as soon as Mudzuri settled into his influential position, a bruising power struggle commenced with Minister Ignatius Chombo. At its centre was the question of national government allocating to executive mayors more powers than necessary which were now open to abuse. The role of national government was confined largely to the management of the macro-environment whilst the opposition aligned executive mayors took effective control of matters at the local government level. This was not to be, as the Minister continued to follow the old practice in which he influenced the affairs of the city through various mechanisms, such as ministerial directives.[3]

The national government’s compliance with due process of law was also questioned with respect to the suspension and dismissal of other mayors aligned to the MDC. This was evident in the decision by the Minister to forcibly evict Misheck Kagurabadza, as the executive mayor of the City of Mutare, in 2005. Kagurabadza, like Mudzuri,, was accused of corruption and abuse of mayoral powers. None of the accusations were substantiated or investigated by an independent body as provided by law. Kagurabadza was not given an opportunity to defend himself in court. Soon after the removal of Kagurabadza, the Minister further dismissed all the elected councillors of the City of Mutare and replaced them with a five member Commission headed by Kenneth Saruchera.

In Chitungwiza, the Minister sacked Executive Mayor Gilbert Shoko (also of the MDC), and a pro-ZANU-PF politician who was appointed to take over in 2006. In Chegutu, another MDC affiliated mayor, Francis Dhlakama, was similarly dismissed. The template for the dismissals of Shoko and Dhlakama was almost identical to that used in the dismissals of the mayors of Harare and Mutare. The practice of appointing non-elected people, in place of democratically elected officials, to administer councils, which was challenged in the courts several times,91 raises questions about ordinary citizens wielding influence over local politics. The same apply to the fact that the decisions of the Minister on suspension and dismissal were arbitrary and not subject to oversight by either Parliament or the courts. It would appear that the Minister was emboldened in deciding who was to be suspended and dismissed. Although mayors Abel Chayamiti and Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube of the cities of Masvingo and Bulawayo, respectively, were not dismissed, they were harassed.

The MDC seized control of Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Gweru, Masvingo, Gwanda and Kariba in municipal elections after 2000. Zanu PF then created the posts of governors for Harare and Bulawayo in a bid to neutralise the powers of executive mayors.[4]



References

  1. [1], The Herald, Published: 3 April, 2013, Accessed: 18 December, 2020
  2. [2], Zimbabwe Legal Information Institute, Accessed: 18 December, 2020
  3. Tinashe Carlton Chigwata, Sylvester Marumahoko and Alois Madhekeni, [3], Law, Democracy & Development, Accessed: 18 December, 2020
  4. [4], Zimbabwe Independent, Published: 7 September, 2007, Accessed: 18 December, 2020