President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa addressed the nation on the auspicious occasion of the fifth edition of the African Anti-Corruption Day on July 12, 2021.
BY GEOFFREY NYAROTA
I listened to the president with keen interest in the context of the crescendo of public concern raised over what is now generally regarded as outright failure on the part of the Second Republic to rein in endemic corruption.
But, rather than issue renewed assurances about his administration’s commitment or strategy to uproot corruption from our land, the president proceeded to turn the tables, as it were, on those of his critics who have become relentlessly vocal in their condemnation of his handling of the controversial scourge.
Mnangagwa invoked what he described as the invaluable role of other key stakeholders in the fight against corruption, perceived by many to be getting out of hand.
He singled out the media, civil society and the international organisations as being the other stakeholders, who should play a prominent role in the battle.
“To succeed, the fight against corruption requires a multi-stakeholder approach,” the president stated.
On that note he threw the ball literally back into the court of players other than his own government.
“My government stands committed to the establishment of democratic, transparent, accountable, strong and efficient institutions in our great country,” he said.
“The interests of our people and nation must always come first.”
This is certainly not the first time since Zanu PF assumed power at independence four decades ago that government has enjoined the public to play a significant role in reining in the plague of corruption that has progressively bedevilled state institutions.
Halfway through 1988, as signs of unaccountable opulence manifested themselves among those in positions of leadership within the ruling Zanu PF, rumours of corruption among them circulated.
The fact did not escape public observation that politicians, who had returned from the war of liberation in 1980 with virtually nothing in their pockets now boasted of flashy cars and lavishly appointed mansions.
A Leadership Code adopted by Zanu PF at its 1983 congress in a bid to forestall predatory asset accumulation was, to all intents and purposes, hastily abandoned.
The evidently sumptuous lifestyle of some politicians was attributed to mercenary corruption, going back to the early days of independence.
The infamous Samson Paweni Case hit the headlines when the wealthy businessman was prosecuted for corruptly enriching himself during transportation of drought relief food supplies in 1982.
There was a public outcry, however, that while Paweni was convicted and jailed, an alleged accomplice, Kumbirai Kangai, then Labour and Social Services minister, escaped unscathed.
Stung by growing allegations or accusations of corruption levelled against his lieutenants, former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe, then in his second term of office, challenged his critics in 1988.
As did his successor, Mnangagwa, this month, Mugabe challenged Zimbabwe’s increasingly restless population to desist from making unsubstantiated or spurious allegations of rampant sleaze against cabinet ministers.
His reprimand specifically targeted civil society and journalists as well as demonstrating university students and Zanu PF’s outspoken secretary-general, Edgar “Twoboy” Tekere.
Mugabe demanded that anyone making allegations of corruption must provide indisputable evidence to back their accusations.
Rising to the challenge by the president, The Chronicle, the Bulawayo-based newspaper, of which I was then the editor, published a sensational and incriminating investigation conducted over three months.
It came to be known as the Willowgate Scandal.
It exposed widespread acts of corruption involving several cabinet ministers who purchased new vehicles at factory price from Willowvale Motors, a government-owned vehicle assembly plant, and sold them at colossal profit.
Mugabe was forced to appoint the Sandura Commission to examine the allegations published by the newspaper.
But before judge president Wilson Sandura, now late, summoned the first of the allegedly corrupt ministers to appear before the commission, Mugabe reacted angrily and, far from praising our newspaper for a job well done, he condemned us for being overzealous.
Davison Maruziva, my deputy, and I were summarily dismissed from our positions at the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the gallivanting Tekere was dismissed from his powerful Zanu PF position.
Hundreds of demonstrating University of Zimbabwe students were arrested, while the university itself was closed.
Yet the exposure of the Willowgate Scandal provided in abundance the very indisputable proof or evidence that the president had demanded.
As for the ministers named by The Chronicle and shamed by Mugabe’s own Sandura Commission for their acts of corruption, they were largely exonerated.
The president re-assigned them, some to more profitable appointments.
The people who suffered the most severe punishment were those journalists who heeded the president’s own call to expose corruption.
Placed in juxtaposition, there are several very significant differences in the circumstances surrounding the appeals made by the two presidents to the people of Zimbabwe to join forces with government in the battle to purge the country of rampant corruption.
Back in 1988 cases of corruption were, by and large, still largely confined to the realm of swift travelling but largely unsubstantiated rumour, with no mechanism such as the modern statutory Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) in place to investigate, arrest and help prosecute offenders.
In that context the recent appeal by Mnangagwa would appear to be superfluous to the genuine requirements of the current war against corruption.
Zacc, the state-instituted mechanism for tackling corruption, now stands firmly in place.
As it is, there is already a surfeit of cases of corruption, involving government or council officials that have been investigated and now merely await processing through arrest and prosecution.
In a number of cases, arrests have been made with culprits being released in circumstances that have created in the public mind the impression that alleged offenders have been released for their own protection.
“Arrest and release” has become a common expression on the Zimbabwean social media.
The much reported-on cases of Prisca Mupfumira and Obadiah Moyo, former ministers of Tourism and Health respectively, are repeatedly cited.
That former Energy minister Samuel Undenge was promptly prosecuted, convicted and jailed is dismissed as a typical case of a small kapenta fish being sacrificed to appease the public while the big sharks are left to plunder with total impunity.
The process of arrest and prosecution does not really benefit from the intervention of the other stakeholders cited by Mnangagwa on African Anti-Corruption Day, especially if Zacc and the police execute their respective mandates with efficiency and promptness, as well as without fear or favour.
Back in 1988 while the press undertook a thorough investigation of the Willowgate Scandal and the Sandura Commission established that five of the ministers who appeared before it had made huge fortunes from corruption and then committed perjury by lying while under oath before the commission, Mugabe used his dubious prerogative in what effectively became the first case of “catch and release”.
The new Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava, who became the first to be prosecuted for perjury, being convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison, became an immediate beneficiary of presidential pardon.
“Who among us has not lied?” the president inquired at a hastily called press conference with what appeared to be sincerity.
“Yesterday you were with your girlfriend and you told your wife that you were with the president. Should you get nine months for that?”
The whole scandalous affair died on that rather illogical note. This became a clear demonstration of the lack of sincerity or commitment on the part of Mugabe to the eradication of corruption from Zimbabwe.
The incidence of acts of corruption has escalated since then in both frequency and magnitude.
Poor minister Maurice Nyagumbo, who committed suicide rather than live with the shame of Willowgate, must be constantly turning in his grave at Heroes Acre at the mention of the breath-taking amounts cited in connection with some of the cases of corruption during Mnangagwa’s Second Republic.
While Mnangagwa has at his disposal an array of powerful weapons to rely on as he ostensibly seeks to combat corruption, what remains to be fully demonstrated is his government’s total commitment.
The Loice Matanda-Moyo Zacc is led by the widow of a former Cabinet minister who was close to Mnangagwa.
In fact, she was head-hunted by the president himself before the rest of the commissioners were appointed.
Questions have been raised about this particular appointment.
While Zacc has approached the task in hand with zest and stamina, while scoring some commendable successes, especially in the area of investigation, there is a lingering perception that so far the real sharks of corruption are still swimming freely and accumulating, while positioning themselves slightly ahead of the Zacc net.
In the final analysis, the level of commitment on the part of Mnangagwa to uprooting corruption as the 2023 elections fast approach will be determined on the basis of how Zacc handles the comprehensively documented allegations of corruption against certain extremely wealthy individuals who are close to him.
Even as the president waxed lyrical as he ploughed through his Anti-Corruption Day testimony on July 12, his fellow Zimbabweans were struggling to come to terms with the 12 startling revelations that had just been published about his sidekick and advisor, the controversial and larger- than-life tycoon, Kudakwashe Tagwirei.
The Sentry, a United States-based investigative outfit, released “Shadows and Shell Games: Uncovering an Offshore Business Empire in Zimbabwe”, a well-documented, extraordinarily long and shocking report on the allegedly corrupt business activities of Tagwirei.
The Sentry is a Washington DC-based not-for-profit investigative and policy organisation that claims to follow the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers.
“By disrupting the cost benefit calculations of those who hijack governments for self-enrichment, we seek to counter the main drivers of conflict and create new leverage for peace, human rights and good governance,” The Sentry declares on its website.
“Tagwirei, who has been followed by allegations of corruption and cronyism for years,” the Sentry Report reveals, “has been using complex corporate structures and seemingly preferential government treatment to build his business empire and enormous wealth.”
The report details how Tagwirei has effectively concealed his control over this empire through an elaborate foreign network, hiding his wealth and ownership through offshore financial structures.
“The tycoon now presides over a sprawling network of more than 40 companies spanning the oil, mining, banking, logistics, transportation, and import/export sectors.”
This was sweet music in the ears of discerning Zimbabweans. But, rather astonishingly, to date there has been no response to these serious allegations of State capture from the Office of the President.
Neither has Tagwirei himself spoken. A devout Seventh-Day Adventist Church member, he is not a man of too many words normally.
But then, whatever the business mogul lacks in volubility, he more than compensates for.in sheer power.
When his father, Phineas Tagwirei, died in 2018 government virtually ground to a halt on the day of his burial in Shurugwi.
Top-ranking officials, from the president down, as well as private sector captains sped in their V8s and twincabs to Mulauzi Village under Chief Nhema, where the burial of Tagwirei’s father took place.
The mother of Kudakwashe Tagwirei’s mother, Karry, was a daughter of the Mnangagwa family.
Another case of alleged massive corruption that must create a king-size headache for the president is that of then Home Affairs minister, Obert Mpofu.
A long and well-documented report on the massive business empire built on proceeds from alleged corruption was crafted and placed by me in the public domain in 2018.
While Mpofu never challenged the article, Mnangagwa quietly shunted the minister, who is publicly rated to be one of the wealthiest citizens of Zimbabwe, from the ministry and parked him at Zanu PF party headquarters.
These two wealthy citizens are most certainly not the only Zimbabweans, whose conspicuous and flamboyant lifestyles of luxury cars and mountain-top mansions will not withstand even a cursory lifestyle audit.
There are other players, politicians, government officials and businessmen, as well as men of the cloth, especially the young generation of self-styled so-called prophets.
In his end of year message, Mnangagwa said government would not relent in its pursuit of the proceeds of crime, with ill-gotten wealth being forfeited to the state.
So far there has been no sensational forfeiture.
He also said efforts were underway to extradite all fugitives from justice who are hiding in foreign jurisdictions.
He had in mind, no doubt, individuals such as former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Nathaniel Moyo.
Also awaiting the threatened repatriation are former Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister, the affable Walter Mzembi, and the former police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri.
The once fiercely powerful top cop now seems to feel safer reportedly in Malawi than in his Shawasha Hills mansion back in Harare.
Geoffrey Nyarota is an award-winning investigative journalist and founding editor-in-chief of The Daily News. He can be contacted by email on: firstname.lastname@example.org (Next week: “How the MDC-T lost a safe constituency to Zanu PF.”)