Once upon a time, the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa mounted what it called an anti-corruption blitz. That was immediately after wresting power from Robert Mugabe through a soft coup last November. The verve has dissipated. Predictably, I would say.
By TAWANDA MAJONI
Soon after getting into power, Mnangagwa and his outfit started arresting politicians from Zanu PF and called that an anti-corruption campaign. Through the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, they took in big guys — most of them former Cabinet ministers — like Ignatius Chombo, Walter Mzembi, Makhosini Hlongwane, Walter Chidhakwa and Samuel Undenge.
All these former big shots are out on bail. In fact, Mnangagwa has tried to use Mzembi and Hlongwane as errand boys to link up with Mugabe for some talks that still appear vague and dodgy. That means the two may be given some kind of amnesty even before their trials are through, as a thank you. Now and then, the media reminds us about the blitz when it mentions, disinterestedly, that the bail conditions of the suspects have been changed or their remand has been extended. The campaign had all the trappings of a catch-and-release excursion.
The administration intended to fool us into believing that it was genuine with fighting corruption. It would always be good for the name and image of the Mnangagwa government to fight corruption or give the impression of genuinely fighting graft in public places and elsewhere. That would quickly divert people’s attention from the fact that the military helped remove Mugabe, not because it is concerned about good leadership, but wanted a big chunk of the power cake for itself.
In turn, being seen to be fighting corruption would sanitise the new establishment and the coup. That is vital ahead of the 2018 elections which the modified Zanu PF needs to win. An anti-graft campaign would also put the dispensation in good stead with external investors and the international community.
But many people saw through the lame ruse. All the individuals who were arrested for abuse of office, theft or fraud had one thing in common: They were enemies of the leaders of the new dispensation. That means the new government was using the justice system to settle political scores and make it look like they were fighting a genuine cause.
In any case, quite a number of the cases bear little value, even though the trials may be legitimate. It is awkward to think that the majority of Zimbabweans and other citizens of the world would clap hands for the administration for arresting Hlongwane for possessing a couple of fertiliser bags. Neither is it tickling to arrest Mzembi for donating several television sets to some churches. That would be criminal, of course, but that is not the kind of corruption that people want to hear about.
The new government worked up a lot of hype around externalisers of funds. Many anticipated that we would see people from far and wide getting arrested for taking money out of the country and leaving us high and dry. When the list of the perceived culprits came, even embassies like the grumpy Chinese condemned it as a hurried and fake list.
It didn’t contain names of individuals that the public court has already ruled as guilty. Many companies in there are also crying foul that they were incorrectly blacklisted. And, in any case, there are no signs that our promiscuous lawyers will be getting good money any time soon as prosecution still looks remote.
All this points to a poor simulation of fighting corruption. The point is, there are many big cases out there that need to be probed. Sadly, it looks unlikely that they will be investigated. This is because they are too intricate for the new government, in the sense that it cannot go ahead and initiate prosecution while falling headlong into the mud. This is pretty bad for the government because these big cases are the ones that would have earned it high marks in its fight against graft. Almost all else is crèche play.
Take the Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways) scam, for instance. This is perhaps one of the biggest scandals of the millennium. The Transport minister, Jorum Gumbo, tells us that government, through cabinet, okayed the establishment of ZimAirways at a time Air Zimbabwe, the legitimate state enterprise, was facing severe money problems. Initially, according to him, government sought to find a rescue package for Air Zimbabwe by scouting for reputable partners. However, along the way, the thrust shifted and government thought it prudent to set up a new airline to supplant Air Zimbabwe.
We are told that government entered into negotiations with the Malaysian government for the purchase of four planes. Gumbo tells a tall tale about this. He says that is when they decided to hand over the planes to a private consortium of pilots mainly based in the Diaspora, which established Zimbabwe Airways. Media sniffers at one time told us that Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore, was a key partner in this deal. Alternatively, some still maintain that ZimAirways remains a government project. Others say it is owned by another private company, Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company.
The mystery and clumsiness of this deal are deeper than this, as readers will know in a few weeks.
For now, though, it is pertinent to ask why a whole government would decide to hand over a whole commercial concern to a private company, clearly without following proper procedures. That is what Gumbo has told us. In any case, his own fervent involvement in all this smells fishy. Remember, ZimAirways is housed at Mavis Gumbo’s property.
Mavis is a close relation of Gumbo. This coincidence needs a robust explanation and that, among other things, should be done through an investigation.
But why is the Mnangagwa administration pretending that it is not aware of this scandal? One would have thought that the government would jump to probe this scam because of the alleged involvement of Chikore, a son-in-law to Grace Mugabe who is Mnangagwa’s sworn enemy. Since this did not happen, you need to look at Gumbo with suspicion.
Gumbo is a long-time ally of Mnangagwa. He is most likely mired in this scandal and might have intended to improperly benefit from the deal. Him and a few other big guys.
It is therefore possible that Mnangagwa is anxious to protect his bosom buddy and some other people or interests that we don’t know yet.
Then there is the Dema Diesel Power Plant muck. This plant, as many know now, was numerous years ago awarded without going to tender. That is illegal in Zimbabwe, just as it is anywhere else in the world. This particular scam bears an uncanny resemblance to the ZimAirways one. It involves another son-in-law to Grace. That is Derrick Chikore, a brother of Simba, who is a partner in the criminal project. And it also involves another stakeholder who, on the basis of available anecdotes, is linked to Mnangagwa. That is Kudakwashe Tagwirei, the principal owner of Sakunda Holdings, a fuel company.
It is not far-fetched to link Tagwirei and Sakunda to Mnangagwa. Sakunda principally funded the command agriculture programme. At that time, Mnangagwa was the vice-president directly in charge of the programme. And Mnangagwa’s name featured prominently in a court case pitting Tagwirei against another of the president’s allies, Justice Wadyajena. This case followed a deal gone sour between Wadyajena and Tagwirei. It was clear from court papers that Mnangagwa is closely associated with both.
Tagwirei seems to carry impunity in his step. He was summoned for a hearing by the parliamentary portfolio committee on energy to answer to questions relating to the Dema deal. He failed to pitch up and has not done so up to now. Where is he sourcing this bravado from?
He behaves pretty like Obert Mpofu. Mnangagwa, against all odds, retained Mpofu in his Cabinet after the November military intervention that removed Mugabe. He is the Home Affairs minister. Recently, Mpofu arrogantly refused to respond to questions on the massive leakage of diamonds in Marange between 2009 and 2015 in Parliament, and it seems the hook will not get to him any time soon.
The multi-billion diamond leakage is the other case that the Mnangagwa administration must be dealing with. But chances are wafer-slim it will. This is because, as in other cases, many prominent people would fall with a thud if investigations took place. I am not sure if Mnangagwa was in any way involved in the leakage, but serious studies carried out by reputable institutions like parliament claim that some of his allies were. That includes Mpofu and the military. If these studies are correct, it would be difficult for the new establishment to investigate the leakage as that would involve quite a number of the president’s key allies.
Of course, there are many more big cases that the administration must have already started working around in its purported anti-corruption campaign. What it has done so far is what I have called political gardening before. The real fight is yet to begin.
l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.