Maputo — The interim mayor of the northern Mozambican city of Nampula, Manuel Tocova, on Tuesday denied reports that he has gone into hiding.
Speaking to AIM by phone, Tocova said he left the city on Saturday to deal with family matters, but promised to resume his normal mayoral activities “by Wednesday”.
“It's not true that my whereabouts are unknown”, he said. “I'm in my home area, Itoculo, in Monapo district (160 kilometres northwest of Nampula). I came here to handle family matters. I said goodbye to my friends and colleagues, so I haven't run away from Nampula”.
He said reports that he is a fugitive are untrue and are intended to damage his image. “I don't need to be a long way from my city”, he declared. “I shall soon return. They are spreading lies about me”.
Yet the source for the claim that he has gone into hiding was Tocova himself, in an interview with the independent daily “O Pais”, in which he said he had received death threats. Either “O Pais” invented an interview (which seems unlikely in view of the paper's reputation for honest reporting), or Tocova has changed his mind.
Tocova also claimed that his action in sacking councillors and heads of administrative posts who worked with Mahamudo Amurane, the mayor who was asssassinated on 4 October, and replacing them with people he trusted, was legal. He insisted that it is the team he appointed, and not their predecessors, who should be running the Nampula Municipal Council.
Both Tocova and Amurane were members of the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), but prior to his death Amurane was in a bitter dispute with the MDM leadership. He had promised to run for a second term of office, but not as an MDM candidate.
“What I did was within the law”, Tocova told AIM, “because these are positions of trust. That's how I understand it. The people I sacked were disobeying me. I believe that if it was any other party, none of this would be happening. In the other municipalities, the mayors appoint and dismiss whoever they like”.
But in the other municipalities the mayors were elected for five year terms. Tocova was not elected mayor. He was chairperson of the Municipal Assembly, and became interim mayor automatically when Amurane was murdered. The municipal legislation states that, in the period between the death or resignation of a mayor and a mayoral by-election, the interim mayor may only undertake routine tasks of day-to-day management. This does not include the wholesale replacement of councillors.
The Nampula branch of the public prosecutor's office warned him of this, but Tocova paid no attention and so, a week ago, he was hauled before the Nampula City Court on a charge of disobedience. He pleaded ignorance, claiming that his low level of educational qualifications had prevented him from understanding the municipal legislation. He received the relatively light sentence of three months imprisonment suspended for two years.
But now, by insisting that his behaviour was covered by the law, Tocova seems to have reneged on his statements to the court.
The man appointed by Tocova as Councillor for Institutional Affairs and Cooperation, Adelino Marques, told AIM “the old councillors did not want to collaborate with the Mayor and so, in order to safeguard the interests of the municipal citizens, another team was chosen”.
Last Friday the Nampula Administrative Tribunal issued a ruling telling Tocova to refrain from acts outside his powers. Amurane's team interpreted this as meaning that they had been reinstated, and attempted to return to their offices on Monday.
Marques, however, had quite a different interpretation of the Tribunal's ruling. “They have misunderstood the dispatch from the Administrative Tribunal”, he said. “It is quite legal for us to stay here”.
Assane Raja, a member of Amurane's old team, said the attitude of the Tocova appointees is damaging the municipality, since normal activities are blocked.
“Things can't work like this”, said Raja. “We are observing the law. This group (Tocova's appointees) are even collecting fees and other funds, but we don't know what they're doing with them, since they have no access to the Municipal Council's bank accounts”.