Mayor defies Mugabe's order to quit Harare

The Mayor of Harare has defied an order from President Robert Mugabe to quit his official residence by midnight last night.

Elias Mudzuri, a leader in the Zimbabwe opposition, was told to leave his mayoral mansion and give up his salary and other perks as the Zimbabwean President increased his efforts to remove a potential political challenger.

But Mr Mudzuri was standing his ground, despite fearing for the worst. "I am not going anywhere," he said. "I don't know what crime I have committed against this heinous regime."

Mr Mugabe has a team of security agents at Mr Mudzuri's offices to ensure he does not gain access. They have detained Mr Mudzuri twice in the past three days after he defied the regime and reported for duty. He has rejected demands to surrender his official Mercedes Benz and stop using city council bodyguards.

Mr Mudzuri defeated a candidate sponsored by President Mugabe in the executive mayoral election in March last year by a wide margin. He quickly launched an anti-corruption crusade that began to unearth massive graft by previous councils loyal to the Mugabe regime.

He closed off a corruption loophole whereby Mr Mugabe's ministers and cronies expropriated large residential and commercial plots of land from the city without paying for their market value. Mr Mugabe's young wife, Grace, had reportedly benefited from the scheme.

In April, Mr Mudzuri was suspended from office. In London last week, he told The Independent he would defy his suspension and report for duty on Monday. He did this, but was arrested. He was released and reported for duty on the Tuesday. He was rearrested and warned that he would face severe consequences if he persisted with his defiance.

Mr Mudzuri said he had been given a copy of a letter signed by Ignatius Chombo, the Local Government and National Housing Minister, giving him 48 hours to leave his mayoral mansion. The letter also said all his benefits were being suspended.

"This is all pure madness," Mr Mudzuri said. "It means they have effectively fired me. The fact that I was elected and not appointed by Mugabe is lost on them." He said that even if his suspension from office had been legitimate, it would not entitle the Mugabe regime to remove him from his official home and suspend his perks.

"A suspension means I am barred from performing my duties while the issues raised against me are finalised," he said last night. "It does not entitle them to do all these things. With this regime, anything is possible, but I will not be cowed. I will stay put."

It seems the real story behind Mr Mugabe's crusade against Mr Mudzuri is not only to protect corrupt cronies. Mr Mugabe also wants to completely destroy a possible challenger to his position.

If the President can secure a conviction against the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is facing two treason charges, Mr Tsvangirai will be disqualified from challenging Mr Mugabe for the presidency.

The widely popular Mr Mudzuri is a clear favourite to succeed Mr Tsvangirai as the main opposition leader. He has hence become a target as part of a wider plot to destroy the Movement for Democratic Change. But in all the efforts to destroy Mr Mudzuri, Mr Mugabe may in fact be making the opposition mayor more popular.

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