HARARE (Reuters) - The Zimbabwean government has suspended the mayor of Harare accusing him of insubordination, escalating a struggle for control of the capital which has been run by the opposition since 2002.
President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF has consistently lost elections in Harare to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since 2000, but has asserted itself by firing mayors using a disputed law that allows a cabinet minister to wield the axe on elected councillors.
Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere sent a suspension letter to mayor Bernard Manyenyeni on Wednesday, accusing him of appointing the city council's top executive, known as the town clerk, despite government objections.
"You will be brought before a competent authority to answer the allegations above," Kasukuwere said in the letter.
Control of Zimbabwe's major cities, which are all run by the MDC, would allow ZANU-PF to influence lucrative tenders and contracts for development projects, and appoint its own people to senior positions as part of the ruling party's patronage system.
Mugabe, 92, is Africa's oldest leader and has been in charge for 36 years. He has indicated that he intends to stay in power for life.
Manyenyeni's suspension follows that of the mayor of the third largest city Gweru last year, which the High Court later overturned. The court ruled that a government minister no longer had such powers under a new constitution passed in 2013.
Manyenyeni confirmed his suspension but declined further comment.
MDC shadow minister for local government Jameson Timba said a mayor could only be disciplined by an independent tribunal established by parliament. Such a tribunal is yet to be set up.
"Under these circumstances, Kasukuwere has acted unlawfully. We have launched an urgent application in the High Court to have this purported decision to suspend the mayor set aside," Timba told Reuters.
Kasukuwere was not immediately reachable for comment.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Raissa Kasolowsky)