A spelling error on a recall letter turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Lovejoy Chitengu, who was elected as the new mayor of Harare on Tuesday.
Chitengu, whose surname was misspelt as Chitegu on the letter, escaped being ousted along with his predecessor Ian Makone and eight other councillors.
He then won a landslide victory (35 votes to seven) over Zanu PF’s Temany Utete in the mayoral election.
CCC’s Rosemary Muronda won the deputy mayor post with 38 votes to Zanu PF’s Susan Chuma’s seven votes.
The recall letter, dated November 13, was sent to council by the Ministry of Local Government at the request of Sengezo Tshabangu, who claims to represent the Citizens Coalition of Change (CCC).
CCC party president Nelson Chamisa has denounced Tshabangu as an impostor and accused him of being backed by the ruling party Zanu PF to destabilize the opposition movement.
Tshabangu insists he is acting on principle.
The recalls are currently the subject of a court action with High Court judge Justice Tawanda Chitapi on November 15 issuing an interim interdict stopping Tshabangu from recalling the opposition party’s legislators and councillors until the matter has been finalised.
Zanu PF councillors had challenged the validity of the special council meeting on Tuesday that elected Chitengu, saying there were anomalies in the invitation and that one signature had been duplicated.
Blessing Duma, the acting chair of the meeting, dismissed the challenge, saying there were 23 valid signatures against the required six, which allowed the meeting to proceed.
He also said the council had notified the Ministry of Local Government that Chitengu’s surname was missing an “n” and asked for clarity if he had been affected by the recall. Council is still waiting for communication from the ministry, Duma said.
“If someone cannot vote because of a missing letter then someone who has a missing letter cannot be recalled,” Duma said, adding that the council had received the letter on Friday and responded the same day.
In his acceptance speech, Chitengu thanked the residents for voting for him as the councillor and expressed his sadness over the recall of his colleagues.
“I would like to thank the residents for voting for me as the councillor, it is not easy to find the right words to express both my sadness and relief that this chamber has taken the unusual step to replace the two people who we know should be occupying these positions. Councillor Makone and others are such hard workers whose tenure has been cut short by these recalls,” he said.
Chitengu said the decision to elect a new mayor, so soon after the recall, was a need for council to move with speed in light of service delivery made more difficult by the cholera pandemic.
“Whatever happens to any of us, this council is committed to improving service delivery. I want to assure the residents that whether by vote or court this chamber awaits the return of our recalled colleagues,” he said.
He also said that Makone and the other recalled councilors had advised that they would remain available to give advice to councilors. “I look forward to their return either through the court or the ballot,” he added.