TRONG>NOMUTSA Chideya has been at the helm at Harare’s Town House for the past five years. Remarkably, he has been on suspension or on forced leave for more than a quarter of that period.
The story of Chideya, a former chief executive of the Zimbabwe Development Bank and town clerk of the small town of Marondera, is unique. He appears determined to stay where he is not wanted and has dug in his heels in his humble office on the ground floor of the city’s HQ.
Successive administrations at Town House have found fault with Chideya and have tried to fire him on allegations of incompetence. He took to court the Solomon Tawengwa-led council and the Chanakira Commission appointed after the dismissal of Tawengwa’s council, and is currently involved in another bitter battle with the opposition MDC council to stay in the job.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week Chideya stood his ground saying he had managed to weather the storm at Town House.
“The job of town clerk is not an easy one,” said Chideya.
“But let me also say that it is a powerful position and because of that there are people trying to shake you all the time. I am only here to do my job and this has nothing to do with being either Zanu PF or MDC,” he said.
Analysts say Chideya has become a political quarry in the fight between Zanu PF and the opposition MDC for control of the capital.
The MDC, which abhors what are seen as intrusive directives from Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, is uneasy with Chideya who is widely viewed as a Zanu PF plant at Town House.
But Chideya said the majority of MDC councillors at Town House were prepared to work with him.
“It is not true that I do not get along with MDC councillors. It is only a handful. In fact at the last council meeting only four out of 27 councillors walked out. I can safely say that I have overcome,” said Chideya.
He said there was no political interference at Town House and councillors should focus on effective service provision.
“Chideya is not the stumbling block at Town House. What has council achieved during the 11 months I was away?” he asked. “We should stop these kid games and ensure that there is effective service delivery.”
He said he had been vindicated in all three instances when the various administrations had tried to remove him from his job.
He said his suspension last year was fraught with irregularities. He said Councillor Jerome O’Brien, for example, was on the committee which suspended him. He said the same councillor was part of the team set up by council to prosecute him on charges of incompetence. Chideya said Councillor O’Brien had sponsored the latest council motion to have him suspended.
He said his clash with Tawengwa was as a result of his initiatives to audit the Department of Works, which was a “no-go area”. He said his clash with the MDC council led by executive mayor Elias Mudzuri was a product of the 1998 dispute over the audit.
“One of the constraints I ran into when I became town clerk was the Department of Works which I gathered was not supposed to be audited,” said Chideya.
“When I ordered an audit, I clashed with Solomon (Tawengwa). Don’t forget also that Mudzuri was a senior official in that department.
“When the mayor (Mudzuri) came into office he had to do something. I was made to pay for my sins of auditing the Department of Works,” he said.
There is evidently no love lost between Chideya and Mudzuri. Chideya said Mudzuri suspended him when he had just lost his child and father within a week.
“I was still mourning the death of my son and my father and Mudzuri chose to hit me when I was already down. I did not expect that kind of cruel behaviour from a fellow black man,” said Chideya.
Will he be able to work with Mudzuri if the executive mayor’s suspension were lifted?
“Mudzuri, when he came into office I accorded him all the respect due to an executive mayor. If he is to come back I should still do the same,” he said.
Chideya said things had fallen apart during his 11-month absence from Town House.
“Things went wrong when I was away. We need a short-term plan to revive the fortunes of the city,” he said.
But his effectiveness in turning the city around may always be haunted by his chequered career at Town House.
Chideya was appointed town clerk in May 1998 when Tawengwa, a Zanu PF politburo member, led the council.
The appointment was not without controversy as the then deputy town clerk Swinfern Mutongwizo, who believed he was the best qualified candidate, contested the appointment. The issue was only resolved after the Local Government Board endorsed Chideya.
Within a few months, in October 1998, Chideya had clashed with Tawengwa who wanted Chideya to be dismissed before he had even completed his probation period. Then Local Government minister John Nkomo directed Tawengwa to reinstate Chideya. In a letter to Nkomo in January 1999, Chideya said: “He (Tawengwa) wants to take advantage of my probation period to settle personal problems.”
Chideya went to court to challenge the decision to suspend him and won a ruling in March 1999. In June of that year Nkomo dismissed Tawengwa and his entire council on allegations of incompetence and corruption. The minister appointed a commission led by career civil servant Elijah Chanakira to run the council. The government also appointed a commission of inquiry led by Malcom Thompson to probe the goings-on at Town House.
After the dismissal of the Tawengwa regime at Town House, and his position seemingly secure, Chideya was cited for inefficiency by the Thompson Report. The commission immediately made moves to dismiss him. It put him on an extended period of probation.
Relations between Chideya and the commissioners remained stormy although Chideya believed that through his service the “the city was ticking”.
In March 2001 the Local Government Board dismissed the commission’s application to fire Chideya.
The holding of elections in Harare, which brought into power an MDC council led by Mudzuri in March last year, created new problems for Chideya. In October last year Mudzuri suspended Chideya and forced him to go on leave.
Chideya has bounced back at Town House after the Local Government Board recommended last month that he be reinstated. His return immediately caused fresh commotion at Town House with councillors divided over his fate.
Chideya is confident that he will clean the streets, deal with refuse collection, ensure sewerage flows in the right direction and provide clean drinking water. That, to a large extent, depends on his ability to forge a working alliance with councillors who believe he is a Trojan horse at Town House.
Chideya is holding on. Perhaps his determination is exemplified by the Rambai Makashinga ringing tone that remains on his cellphone long after the jingle died an unmourned death on radio and television!