When ZBC’s Tarzen Mandizvidza interviewed President Robert Mugabe to mark his 93rd birthday last week, he was humongous in his platitudes.
corruptionwatch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
He described the president as a “seasoned campaigner against corruption”. But Lord have mercy! The interview died the moment the most powerful man on the land started mumbling a response to the criticism that his government was just frying small rotten fish and leaving the big ones to continue with corruption.
Mugabe offered an odd view of corruption [and its professed absence] among his lieutenants. He seemed to see nothing wrong with frying the small corrupt fish only. In his own words, it was a way of nipping corruption in the bud because, if left unattended, the small fish would also grow into big fish. Never mind the fact that the small fish are the vendors, village heads illegally selling small pieces of land in rural Seke and low-life party officials. These hardly grow bigger than what they already are, so there is little nipping to talk about.
But the small fish are a small problem. The big problem arises when the president starts sounding as if his big, elite lieutenants are not rotten. Weirdly, he is convinced that claims of corruption among the big fish are nothing more than rumours milled in dark political factories. This is what he said: “Have you ever asked them [those who make claims of corruption] who the big fish are and what corruption they accuse them of?…Even I just hear the rumours of corruption.”
That is not all. This man who Mandizvidza paraded as a legendary anti-corruption crusader even claimed that no-one was coming forth with sufficient information to activate investigations. Bring forth the evidence and we will investigate, that was his bizarre promise. That promise is hugely wrong, of course. Whistleblowers and informants play their part and the rest is left to the judiciary, the courts and the law enforcement agency to investigate and prosecute. To call on informants to bring all the evidence before prosecution can be done is asking for too much and, at worst, is a hypocritical request. I know of many cases where arrests and investigations started with little or no evidence, particularly where the politically incorrect are involved.
Mugabe’s remarks muddy and distort the whole discourse on elite public sector corruption. They contain brazen contradictions right from the start. While Mandizvidza salutes Mugabe as a celebrated crusader against corruption, the man he decorates as a crusader seems so anxious to dismiss the reality of corruption. His overarching message in the latest interview is that his lieutenants are clean, on the basis that no evidence has ever been brought against them, and only rumours of graft exist.
Never mind the fallacy, but a question then arises as to what the president has been crusading against. You can’t crusade against corruption that doesn’t exist. Taken otherwise, it would imply that he has been crusading against the small fish. That fails to make him a seasoned campaigner against graft because small things don’t make legends.
The contradictions get messier and more confusing when you recall that Mugabe has, in fact, acknowledged high level public sector corruption in the past. In early September last year, for instance, he confronted Saviour Kasukuwere, the local government minister and Zanu PF national organiser, and accused him of illegally selling residential stands to Walter Magaya, the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministry leader, and others. Kasukuwere claimed he was innocent but Mugabe insisted that he was guilty as charged. He spoke with heavy authority and sounded like one who had impeccable evidence that Kasukuwere had, indeed, sold off the land that was meant to benefit ruling party youths.
Now, a full president of a country can’t throw away tact just like that, publicly accusing his own minister and a vital member of his party of things of which he has no evidence. You would have to break my skull to convince me that Mugabe spoke off rumour. But even if he did, that still says a lot about the statesman’s fight against corruption. People who say things off the cuff cannot qualify as legendary crusaders against corruption.
Dossiers of how Kasukuwere and several key members of a Zanu PF faction called G40 irregularly sold the land in question started flying around after Mugabe confronted the minister. They appeared to make some sense. In fact, it seems the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) hounds started sniffing for Kasukuwere and others, even though nothing sound came out of it.
But then, there are numerous other cases of elite public sector corruption that he has admitted to in the past.
These include the 1988 Willowgate scandal in which public officials, among them senior ministers, abused a subsidised vehicle scheme by reselling cars at inflated prices. Lest we forget, Mugabe ordered the Sandura Commission to investigate the scandal. He subsequently pardoned the culprits, making a big circus of the commission’s work. Again, this implies some schizophrenia on the part of the president.
A year ago, while fielding questions on his 92nd birthday, Mugabe admitted that at least $15 billion had leaked from Marange between 2009 and 2015. The figure could be speculative, but the fact remains that the president admitted to diamond corruption. Indirectly, he was admitting that government officials were partly to blame because the leakages happened as they, at least, watched. There is no other way to look at it.
Way back in June 2013, the parliamentary portfolio committee on mining revealed that one of his ministers, Obert Mpofu, could have abused diamond licensing and mining systems. He could only do so in cahoots with high-powered proxies of course. The committee was led by Edward Chindori-Chininga, a prominent member of his party who later died in an accident. The report was tabled in parliament and thus should have made a good basis for evidence in a court. The fact is, Mpofu remains untouched. Maybe the president was expecting evidence in a truckload.
My strong guess is that, as has happened in other cases, Kasukuwere was not arrested and investigated because of the politics of power in Zanu PF. Mugabe cannot afford to have the minister sent to jail because he plays a crucial role in the party. He belongs to a faction that is part of a bigger scheme to enable him to remain in power. G40 is useful to counterbalance the Lacoste faction. Mugabe’s drawn out rule has fed for a long time from the systemic divisions with Zanu PF. The arrest and possible imprisonment of Kasukuwere would likely disturb the G40 faction and leave Lacoste stronger. That implies a serious threat to Mugabe’s hold on power as Lacoste is said to be gunning for his departure before the 2018 general elections.
The Kasukuwere example indicates one strong case of Mugabe’s contradictions and inconsistencies when it comes to the fight against high-level corruption. He forgets that there is corruption when it suits him. And remembers there is corruption when it also suits him. This selectivity is meant to bolster his political self-preservation.
Corrupt lieutenants are very useful when one wants to keep power. You just keep their files in a big vault somewhere. When they start growing big headed, you pull them out and wave them straight in their faces. That is enough to remind them that they will be history if their heads keep growing. And because they don’t want to end up in the morgue, they will always do your bidding.
Tawanda Majoni is the national co-ordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation promoting access to information on public and private sector governance, transparency and accountability and can be contacted on email@example.com