VICE-President Phelekezela Mphoko, has, like President Robert Mugabe, emerged as a polarising figure since his appointment to the presidium in December 2014.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
In June 2014, Mphoko reportedly met Mugabe to stake his claim to the post, arguing he was more senior in the Zapu hierarchy than Simon Khaya-Moyo.
His claims were roundly rejected by Zapu and others in Zanu PF, but that did not stop him from submitting his Curriculum Vitae for the post.
Khaya-Moyo at the time had emerged as the front-runner to occupy the VP post left vacant after the death of John Nkomo.
According to Mphoko, the VP post was God-given and only Mugabe could stop him from occupying that position.
“There are efforts to try to stop me from contesting for the post of VP. Only the president and first secretary of Zanu PF, President Robert Mugabe, can stop me from contesting. And to me, this is a God-given post, after fighting for Zimbabwe.
“I, therefore, believe very strongly that only an enemy agent of the former Rhodesian government would not wish me, being a freedom fighter, to contest for the vacant VP post,” he said in a statement in October 2014.
Since then, he has continued to stoke controversy.
He once insulted “able-bodied men” for vending and sent tempers flaring when he argued that the Gukurahundi massacres were a plot of the West.
His recent defence of his stay at the Rainbow Towers Hotel since his appointment in 2014 has not only attracted scorn, but has also divided public opinion.
Opposition political parties and civic activists have joined forces to demand that Mphoko should vacate the hotel.
“Our message to VP Mphoko as PDP [People’s Democratic Party] is that thank you very much for sacrificing your time to briefly join the armed struggle before you absconded to Mozambique. In VP Mphoko, we have a VP who has added no value whatsoever to the country but insists on a lavish lifestyle funded by the sweat of the poor. That is unforgivable,” the PDP said in a statement last week.
Protests have also been held at the hotel to force him out.
However, in the midst of the hotel stay controversy, the VP has found sympathy from some ordinary citizens who argue Mphoko should not be singled out as many other Zanu PF officials and ministers were corrupt.
“Why a special interest in Mphoko when Marbel Chinomona [deputy speaker of parliament] has been staying in a hotel since 2013? I mean, why single him out of all Zanu PF leaders? Why didn’t you wait for Mugabe at the airport and started your protest? Why don’t you go to [Emmerson] Mnangagwa’s mansion and demand that he accounts for it?” Nomore Mufaro argued on social media on Tuesday during debate on whether Mphoko should vacate the hotel or not.
Chinomona and other ministers reportedly did not waste time to leave their homes to camp at hotels upon appointment. Sports minister Makhosini Hlongwane is one of them.
Confronted on twitter about his hotel stay, Hlongwane said “there was nothing wrong with that”.
“Yes, I was [staying in a hotel] and there was nothing wrong with that. Once accommodation was found, I was out,” Hlongwane tweeted.
The statements attracted scorn towards protesters targeting Mphoko, and added to the resolve by those sympathising with Mphoko.
Kaizer Mthembo argued: “My point is, there is a lot of extravagant behaviour and open theft done by other leaders. But I have never seen any protest against them…Meanwhile, no protest [over the fact] that $3 million of government resources are abused by a former PM, no protest against missing $15 billion diamonds. Why pick on one guy and insult him?”
Xolani Ndlovu in the Facebook debate added: “Why the attention only on Mphoko? It is such selective blindness that leads others to believe that the motive has tribalist connotations.”
Mphoko has reportedly turned down a number of government houses. He first refused a government house in Harare’s leafy suburb of Highlands which was used as the official residence by the late VP John Nkomo.
He also reportedly refused another mansion in Harare’s affluent suburb of Ballantyne Park worth $3 million, claiming that it was too small.
In his defence, Mphoko last week said there was nothing peculiar about staying at Rainbow Towers Hotel as it came at no cost to taxpayers.
“The day I was appointed VP of this country, I was staying at Meikles Hotel. According to government regulations, I had to move out of Meikles because it is a private hotel. I moved to a government hotel, which is Sheraton [Rainbow Towers]. The government has got shares there.
“People don’t know what they are talking about. The house that the government has bought me is not even worth $3 million. It’s $1 million and something. I live in a government hotel. It’s as good as staying in a government house. It’s as good as [Morgan] Tsvangirai who is staying in a government house. Tsvangirai is staying in a government house which is as good as staying at Sheraton,” he told the State-owned Chronicle newspaper.
Mphoko also alleged political enemies were out to soil his name by denigrating his hotel stay.
Zapu regional spokesperson, Iphuthile Maphosa, told The Standard Mphoko must not be solely targeted for staying at the hotel, but rather the “system is the one that should be condemned”.
“Today Zimbabwe is reaping from seeds that were sown since 1980. We both know Mphoko was not VP then, yet we find them leaving him high and dry for economic crimes that were committed from far back as 1980.
“It’s no secret that Zanu PF, to which VP Mphoko is a member, is a looting machine. It is ‘Lootersville’. They created the looting club themselves, what’s wrong with Mphoko benefitting from the system they created and perpetuated?
“I blame the system that created Mphoko the vice-president for having appointed a full vice-president without putting in place all requirements for him to execute his duties without angering the nation,” said Maphosa.
Promise Mkhwananzi, coordinator of the Tajamuka/Sesijikile pressure group, that held hotel protests at the Rainbow Towers Hotel against Mphoko’s stay argued the organisation was not solely targeting Mphoko and would also demonstrate against other government officials accused of corruption.
“All those who are staying in hotels as parasites are urged to move out before we embarrass them. We understand there is a number of high-ranking government officials who eat senselessly and needlessly, wasting taxpayers’ money. We are compiling the list and we will ensure that they all move to their homes. We will not tolerate hotel parasites,” Mkhwananzi said last week.