How politics elevated Mukaratirwa to Masvingo town clerk

…deputy city engineer rose to a legally non-existent ‘acting town clerk’ post

Moses Ziyambi

The appointment of Edward Mukaratirwa as Masvingo acting town clerk and thereafter as substantive town clerk was partly influenced by politics as the ruling Zanu PF sought to strike a balance between competence and vested interests, EnviroPress has established.

On September 01, 2019, Mukaratirwa took over as acting Town Clerk of Masvingo upon the retirement of Adaolf Gusha who had occupied the office since 2004.

Mukaratirwa, Masvingo’s deputy city engineer since March 2011, was appointed substantive Town Clerk on June 09, 2021.

This was after he emerged first among candidates who were shortlisted for the job after two interview sessions conducted first by council in partnership with a consultant and then by the Local Government Board.

The other shortlisted candidates were Mukaratirwa’s two colleagues in council; Simbarashe Mandishona who is the deputy director of housing and community services, and Dunster Jori, who was then deputy director of finance. A third candidate was Tongogara Rural District Council (RDC) CEO, Brian Rufasha.

The panel that conducted the first interviews at council was convened by Eve Employment Consultancy, which included on the panel then Mutare Town Clerk, Joshua Maligwa, who is now late, and Zvishavane town secretary Tinoda Mukutu.

A controversial character who formerly worked as housing officer in Gweru City Council, Mukutu currently faces criminal charges related to tender fraud in Zvishavane Town Council.

Maligwa was also controversial and politically well-connected. At the time of his death due to Covid-19 in January 2021, he faced several charges of criminal abuse of office and corruption related to the subdivision of land, sale of stands and manipulation of tenders when he served as Rusape town secretary between 2016 and 2017.

Eve Employment Consultancy has provided HR consultancy services to the City of Mutare where the company is based.

Mukaratirwa’s meteoric rise to the position of Masvingo acting town clerk upon the retirement of Gusha raised eyebrows as he was appointed over seniors with similar qualifications or who had more experience with Masvingo City Council.

To further complicate his appointment, Section 137 (2) of the Urban Councils Act states that in the absence of a Town Clerk, his or her duties must be assumed by the chamber secretary.

“Whenever the office of Town Clerk is vacant or the Town Clerk is absent or incapacitated or fails to act, the chamber secretary shall perform the functions conferred or imposed upon the Town Clerk by this Act or any other law or by any resolution of the council,” the subsection reads.

When asked why provisions of this law were not followed upon the retirement of Gusha, Cllr Selina Maridza, who chairs council’s standing committee on Human Resources, distanced herself from the appointment of Mukaratirwa as acting Town Clerk.

She said neither did she sit on the panel that interviewed him for the position of substantive Town Clerk because ‘that job is too big for me to get involved in’.

She then referred all questions to the mayor, Cllr Collen Maboke, a practicing lawyer, who pointed out that Masvingo had no chamber secretary at the material time.

“We did not have a chamber secretary then,” Mayor Maboke said. “We had an acting chamber secretary, Mr. Vitalis Shonhai, and the law is clear on who a chamber secretary is. Faced with that fact, we then looked for the next most qualified person to fill the post. We made our choice which we then submitted to the Local Government Board for ratification, and everything went well,” said Maboke.

He denied widely-held speculations that the appointment was a result of lobbying by the Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Ezra Chadzamira, and Zanu PF secretary for security in the politburo Lovemore Matuke, after they allegedly convinced the Minister of Local Government, July Moyo, that Mukaratirwa was best-placed to safeguard party interests in council.

Contacted for comment, Minister July Moyo said he was not privy to the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Mukaratirwa as acting town clerk.

“You must speak to the mayor,” said Moyo. “He is the right person to ask those questions. I will also have to speak to him so that I understand what happened.”

The trio of Chadzamira, Matuke and Mukaratirwa all hail from Gutu District, which critics say is overly represented in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, being home to two cabinet ministers, two deputy ministers, the provincial affairs minister as well as the Zanu PF chief whip.

Asked for his take on Mukaratirwa’s meteoric rise to the post of acting Town Clerk, legal expert Knowledge Mabvuure, of Chihambakwe and Makonese Law Chambers, said council erred in allowing Gusha to retire in the absence of a substantive chamber secretary.

“What this basically did was to create a lacuna or gap which then gave rise to the irregular appointment of an acting town clerk,” Mabvuure said. “We must be clear that the law is silent on the appointment of an acting Town Clerk, or, rather, there is no provision – in terms of the Act – which provides for the appointment and functions of an acting town clerk.”

He said in the absence of the Town Clerk for whatever reason, the act empowered the chamber secretary to automatically assume the duties of the Town Clerk as chamber secretary, and not as acting Town Clerk, without appointment by anybody.

“That is my understanding of the law,” Mabvuure said. “A substantive chamber secretary was supposed to be appointed before the Town Clerk retired. But that did not happen, and it resulted in an irregularity.”

An insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said politics had indeed played a significant role in Mukaratirwa’s appointment as acting Town Clerk, a situation which afforded him an opportunity to consolidate his position.

“We are a political institution,” said the source, adding that the post of Town Clerk was filled in this case after careful political maneuvering at the top.

Another source, a known land baron who also spoke on condition of anonymity, corroborated that account, saying Mukaratirwa was parachuted to the top because he was the best foot forward in the quest for a fine balance between politics and competence.

“Even though he was politically correct, Gusha was sent into retirement when he still wanted to continue,” the land baron said, “because he lacked the competence and he no longer had the energy needed to facilitate the rapid adoption of Victoria Ranch into the City of Masvingo commonage.

“On the other hand, Mukaratirwa represented the skilled, young and dynamic leadership needed to solve the Victoria Ranch question once and for all. What was needed was an engineer who understood what is needed to facilitate an infrastructural rollout, but somebody who could also pass the security vetting.

“You may know that Victoria Ranch is now the biggest suburb in Masvingo with 24 000 households, and it has enormous political capital as we head for 2023. It may become a parliamentary constituency on its own after the delimitation exercise so it is critical that it gets tied to the city so that it can have all the services that other suburbs have.”

In Zanu PF, vetting is done by the party’s department of security in the politburo in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

The party’s security department is headed by Matuke, a senator from Gutu who is also the deputy minister of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare. He is also regarded as a party godfather in Masvingo province.

The land baron said Shonhai was overlooked for the post of acting Town Clerk not for the technicalities that council now cites, but largely because he did not possess the necessary qualifications, that is apart from allegedly belonging to the tired outgoing old guard of the Gusha era, with nothing new to offer.

Tawanda Gozo, who was city engineer and Mukaratirwa’s immediate boss, was overlooked because he was allegedly stubborn, and would not easily sign documents pertaining to the new burdensome relationships that land barons wanted to foist between Masvingo City Council and Victoria Ranch.

Victoria Ranch is a creation of Zanu-PF connected land barons; the nouveau riche who, after making millions from selling state land to desperate home-seekers, now frantically tries to rid themselves of responsibility by forcing City of Masvingo to take over and provide services so that the absence of such services can no longer be blamed on them.

Gozo, who joined City of Masvingo in 2004, holds a BSc degree in Civil Engineering from the UZ, but was Mukaratirwa’s junior at university in the mid-1990s.

On January 29, 2021, Mukaratirwa announced the suspension of Gozo from work on a litany of charges related to his allegedly incompetent handling of water supplies in the city. Council announced his dismissal on July 23 pending ratification of the decision by the Local Government Board.

Meanwhile, council has already taken over some of the functions in Victoria Ranch, including the collection of administration fees for stands sold by the land barons.

The Mucheke Trunk Sewer project, which council hopes to complete in 2023, will provide inlets for sewage load from Victoria Ranch. This is expected to provide a lasting solution to the lack of sewage service in the sprawling high density suburb.

According to council documents, Mukaratirwa was the Mucheke Trunk Sewer resident engineer between May 2015 and May 2016 before all work ceased due to lack of funding. 

When asked to respond to allegations that his rise was a result of political gamesmanship, Mukaratirwa laughed off such allegations as unfounded.

“I was acting Town Clerk as a result of a council resolution which was duly ratified by the Local Government Board,” said Mukaratirwa. “I then applied for the job like everybody else, went through the interviews and came out on top. Any talk of the influence of politics is unfounded.”

According to the City of Masvingo website, Mukaratirwa holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) and a BSc (Hons) in Civil Engineering from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).

He worked as district engineer for Vungu RDC between 2001 and 2002 before moving on to Gutu RDC in a similar job. He was appointed Gutu RDC acting CEO in 2006, a position he held until he joined City of Masvingo as deputy city engineer in 2011.

Mukaratirwa’s then internal competitors for the post of town clerk; Mandishona and Jori, are also holders of degrees, albeit in different fields.

Mandishona holds a degree in town planning from UZ and he once worked as Runde RDC CEO incorporating Zvishavane town.

After leaving Runde RDC, Mandishona moved to Marondera Town Council where he worked as assistant town planner until 2011 when he joined City of Masvingo as deputy housing director.

Jori holds a Master of Commmerce degree in Accounting from GZU, and he joined City of Masvingo in 2012, having previously worked as an accountant in Gweru City Council.

He is also a holder of BSc degree in Economics from UZ and an MSc degree in Finance and Investments from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST).