GWERU — Daggers have been drawn between the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC–T) national executive committee and incoming councillors from the party over the selection of the mayor for the so-called “city of progress”.
The MDC-T’s national executive intends to second trade unionist Charles Chikozho for the position but the incoming councillors are opposed to interference by the party’s leadership in the selection of mayors.
Most councillors are backing Hamutendi Kombayi, son to the late MDC-T senator Patrick Kombayi.
The late Kombayi was the first black mayor for the city in 1980.
The latest schisms between the councillors and the party’s leadership are seen worsening factionalism in Gweru, dating back to about five years ago.
Ahead of the 2008 general elections, two distinct factions emerged in the MDC-T’s Gweru leadership. The late Kombayi led one of the factions while Gweru Urban Member of Parliament elect Sesel Zvidzai heads the other camp.
Following Kombayi’s death in 2009, Mkoba House of Assembly elect Amos Chibaya is said to have emerged as the new leader of the faction but his son is now aligned to the Zvidzai camp.
The two camps are already at each other’s throats with Chibaya said to have used his influence in the party to push for Chikozho for the position of mayor.
Following elections held at a caucus meeting last week, Kombayi was said to have landed the post of deputy mayor.
Chibaya together with former Kwekwe Central legislator, Blessing Chebundo, are alleged to have told the incoming councillors that they were supposed to vote for Chikozho as Gweru mayor.
They produced a letter purportedly written by the party’s secretary general, Tendai Biti to back their claim.
Chibaya is alleged to have threatened the councillors that failure to abide by the party’s directive would result in them being recalled from council by the party.
Chibaya said the selection criteria for incoming mayors was finalised during the party’s national executive meeting held on August 16.
He said the position was that one should have served the party consistently for more than five years among other conditions and defended Chikozho saying he was one of the founding members of the party.
“This is a party directive coming from the national executive council and party members should respect it. If they do not want that or do not want the party to whip them into line then they are free to leave the party and form their own political party,” said Chibaya.
“The national executive committee noted that young mayors who were at the helm of local authorities cost the party in the recent election and that it was resolved that any mayor who assumes office should be over 40 years old and should have served the party for at least five years. I do not know why these councillors are making so much noise (about it). In fact, Chikozho is one of the founding members of the MDC-T.”
MDC-T spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora confirmed that the party had drawn guidelines to direct the selection of mayors before referring further questions to Chebundo who is the party’s secretary for local government.
While Chebundo echoed Chibaya’s sentiments, councillors in Gweru are arguing that the criteria was drawn up a long time ago when the general understanding in the party was that there were going to be executive mayors who were required by the new Constitution to be 40 years and above.
The councillors vowed to defy council and vote for a candidate of their choice.
Contacted for comment, Kombayi said he has since engaged the party leadership to rescind its decision to nominate him as mayor in the interests of the residents.
“It is true that I am interested in the post but I cannot go against a party directive therefore I have engaged the party leadership to make exceptions especially on my case because I have the support of residents,” said Kombayi.
“As a party, I believe that at times it is better to rise above party interests for the sake of the people and as such I am confident that the party will rescind their decision.”
If the councillors press ahead with the move it will be the second time Gweru councillors would have defied the party in the selection of the mayor.
In 2009, following the death of the mayor, Farai Mufunde, councillors elected outgoing mayor, Tedious Chimombe as mayor which was against the party’s directive.
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