PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) summarily fired 12 councillors last month, including the deputy mayor of Harare and the mayor of Gweru, over graft charges, in what critics say is probably the first salvo in the aftermath of a damning report about his party's diminishing political fortunes.
The dismissal of the 12 councillors last week came on the backcloth of the release of a survey by the United States-based think-tank, Freedom House, which revealed that the MDC-T's support in Zimbabwe has been eclipsed by that of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF.
While Tsvangirai's spin-doctors have tried to rubbish the survey, claiming it was fundamentally flawed; insiders said the MDC-T leader was taking the Freedom House report seriously, saying he had his eyes firmly on the forthcoming presidential election where he is likely to face his nemesis, President Mugabe.
So he must be seen acting against corruption firstly targeting grassroots structures, that is councillors charged with running urban municipality in which the MDC-T draws much of its support.
Other party insiders, however, say the move to fire councillors was part of attempts to clean the MDC-T's image ahead of polls President Mugabe wants held this year, but they deny that the action against the city fathers was a direct response to the damning survey.
A number of MDC-T officials have been implicated in corrupt activities since the consummation of the power-sharing pact, particularly in the MDC-T dominated councils and in the coalition government.
As part of efforts to spruce up its image, the MDC-T national executive for the first time released the names of the 12 axed councillors last week. The report was received from the party's national deputy secretary-general, Tapiwa Mashakada who chaired the commission that audited the state of 10 MDC-led councils.
The commission was set up in March this year.
From Harare, those dismissed are; Emmanuel Chiroto, the deputy mayor and councillor for Ward 42, Peter Marange for Ward 49, Phumulani Musagwiza for Ward 22 and Xavier Vengesai of Ward 28.
The firing of Chiroto, who lost his wife during the bloody March 2008 harmonised elections at the hands of ZANU-PF militia, comes after several media reports linking him to the accumulation of residential stands in Harare.
His opponents alleged that he was building himself a 23-roomed mansion in Mount Pleasant, far away from his humble constituency in impoverished Hatcliffe.
Chiroto has denied the allegations in a recent interview with The Financial Gazette. Instead, he said the house he built had six bedrooms, two lounges, a kitchen, a bar area and two play rooms. Asked how he funded the building of the house, Chiroto claimed he has businesses in his rural area and he had also worked as a sales officer at Harare Hospital before going into private business.
He also said he at one time went to the United Kingdom where he worked while raising money for his businesses.
In Gweru, there is Tedius Chimombe of Ward 9 and mayor of the city, Clemence Kwaru of Ward 17 and Holly Dzuda of Ward 2. Bindura has Ivory Matanhire of Ward 4, Vengai Mudadi of Ward 8, and Rickson Kaseke of Ward 11. Chimo-mbe was alleged to have purchased a stand in the midlands capital in the banished Zimbabwe dollars, charges he refuted. In Zvishavane, there is Alois Zhou and Kwekwe has Johannes Ngozo of Ward 11.
"After deliberating on the audit, the leadership unanimously resolved to dismiss the councillors after they were found guilty of corruption," said Mashakada.
He said the action taken by the MDC leadership would be intensified across the country to "reclaim Zimbabwe's self-respect; a climate of accountability; and push for zero tolerance on corruption and all evils."
But analysts doubted if the labour-backed party was serious about its fight against graft saying it could be politicking ahead of make-or-break polls. They said it could also be a case of too little too late after the red flag about corruption in MDC-T councils was long raised.
Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Johannesburg, South Africa, said the MDC-T had reacted rather too late to corruption issues where their officials have been fingered.
"However, our understanding is that they went through a long process of investigation and verification," he said.
Maisiri said PM Tsvangirai's leadership style has gone through some phases, from his original stature as a "no-nonsense" labour union leader who was identified with people's issues to one of the key principals in the government of national unity (GNU).The period of the GNU has, however, transformed him into a diplomacy-savvy government official.
"Although this is what conforms to his new role in government, his supporters on the ground are, however, still clamouring with the fighting Morgan Tsvangirai who championed their cause in those days. So he has a tough act to balance," he said.
Psychology Maziwisa, a political analyst, believes the MDC-T's firing of the 12 councillors was a self-serving one and came a little too late.
He said the party has had ample time to deal with dishonest behaviour within its ranks, but it chose to ignore it until it became too obvious that it was no longer politically tenable to ignore it.
"There is now a strong feeling that the culture of corruption in the party is more widespread than the nation is being made to believe. It will take much more than just firing a couple of councillors for the party to restore its reputation," said Maziwisa.
Blessing Vava, another political analyst, concurred with Maziwisa, posing a question: "Does it mean councillors were the only perpetrators? Certainly not," he answered himself.
"There have cases involving senior party officials being named in corrupt activities but nothing was done to those culprits," said Vava.
This was in reference to Elton Mangoma, the Minister of Energy and Power Development who was implicated in some shady deals although the charges could not stick.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti and PM Tsvangirai have on several occasions been mentioned on allegations of double-dipping involving the purchase of the premier's Highlands residence.
The party, however, strongly believes the allegations were part of a calculated smear campaign by its foes in ZANU-PF.
Be that as it may, critics of the MDC-T say there is no smoke without fire.
"Several other MPs have been implicated in the abuse of Constituency Development Funds, converting the funds to their personal use. Some legislators were implicated in abusing seed and fertiliser meant for their communities.
"So the firing of the councillors shows desperation and the panic mood in the MDC-T more so coming after the Freedom House survey and now they sort to use a big broom to clean the dirt that will certainly have an impact in the next elections especially in the urban areas," added Vava.