INDUSTRY and International Trade minister Obert Mpofu backtracked on his remarks before a parliamentary portfolio committee that influential officials we
re involved in the Ziscosteel looting saga after an emergency meeting with Vice-President Joice Mujuru.
Sources said Mujuru summoned Mpofu to a meeting while he was giving evidence to the parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs, Industry and International Trade on September 20. When he came back to conclude the hearing on September 27, Mpofu was a changed person.
He claimed he had initially been “quoted out of context” by people with “agendas” and who were up to “mischief”.
Mpofu initially told the committee that influential people were milking Zisco while the government-owned company was bleeding.
“There were people making money out of Zisco while Zisco was actually bleeding. There was even at some stage, a team that was sent by the Ministry of Finance to go and investigate Zisco and there is a thick file which, if you see it, you will be shocked,” Mpofu said on September 20.
“The people that are complaining about these things are actually culprits and some of them are colleagues of mine in parliament.”
But Mpofu changed his tune after meeting with Mujuru.
“I’m not aware of any particular minister — it is very annoying — or senior person or MP or anybody (who is involved in Zisco),” he said. “Even the report was not commissioned by me. It was done a long time ago. I have not even got that report.”
The report in question was the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (NECI) document on Zisco.
At his first appearance Mpofu said he had spoken to Anti-Corruption minister Paul Mangwana to delay making the report public because government was still negotiating with investors who wanted to come to Zisco. This was after Zisco’s US$400 million deal with Global Steel Holdings Ltd had collapsed. The parliamentary committee was investigating that collapse.
A close check on Mpofu’s remarks means that he had stopped Mangwana from releasing a report which — by his own admission — he had not seen.
The portfolio committee has initiated a process in parliament for Mpofu to be charged with perjury for allegedly lying under oath during the Zisco hearings.
Speaker of Parliament John Nkomo is due to rule on whether or not Mpofu should be charged when parliament resumes on November 28.
Sources said President Robert Mugabe was likely to let Mpofu sink as he did not really matter in the broad scheme of Zanu PF politics. If found guilty, Mpofu could be fined or jailed for a period of up to two years or both.
The issue has now assumed a political dimension because Mpofu is seen as an ally of Mujuru, and is widely perceived as fighting for regional influence with Nkomo and senior Matabeleland politicians.
The Mujuru/Mpofu saga started after a clerk appeared at the portfolio committee hearing on September 20 to deliver an urgent message to committee chairman Enock Porusingazi that Mpofu was wanted straight away by Mujuru. Without wasting time, the sources said, Mpofu dashed out in the middle of the hearing to see the vice-president.
Although it is not known for certain what they discussed, sources said they focused on the Zisco issue and Mujuru warned Mpofu to steer clear of the matter, seen in the corridors of power as a political minefield.
The sources also said Mpofu, who at the time had not seen the NECI report, was told to keep his distance from the Zisco issue because the document implicated politicians — including it now turns out — Mujuru herself.
There is speculation that Mujuru promised to support Mpofu to become vice-president if she managed to succeed Mugabe. Mpofu is seen as a key Mujuru ally from Matabeleland region where he worked vigorously to ensure she became vice-president during the Zanu PF congress in 2004.
This was at the height of the Tsholotsho political episode in which a ruling party faction led by politburo member Emmerson Mnangagwa was accused of trying to oust Mugabe from the helm.
Mnangagwa’s camp was locked in a power struggle with a faction led by retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru for the post of vice-president.
Mpofu played a major role in exposing the “Tsholotsho coup plot”, which the Mnangagwa group has described as a fabricated story.
The Zisco scandal appears to have become the latest front in the fierce Mugabe succession battle. Mujuru and her allies such as former Zanu PF MP Tirivanhu Mudariki have been named in the NECI report, while some of those linked to the Mnangagwa camp like Indigenisation minister Samuel Mumbengegwi and his Higher Education counterpart Stan Mudenge have also been mentioned.
Mugabe recently said there were “witches” hovering around the political exit doors waiting to take over from him. He has also previously accused Zanu PF presidential aspirants of approaching witchdoctors to get supernatural powers in the hope of securing the presidency.