IT is very hard to imagine the 1980s when President Robert Mugabe was revered as a global icon of exemplary leadership on the continent to the extent of being knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
By Herbert Moyo
After assuming the leadership of what former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere termed the “Jewel of Africa,” Mugabe seemed determined to fight corruption that in 1984 he adopted the Soviet-style leadership code requiring party officials to declare their assets and desist from engaging in private business.
When corruption reared its ugly head in 1988 after senior government officials were implicated in the Willowvale scandal in which cabinet ministers used their status to acquire vehicles at knock-down prices before re-selling them for substantial profits, he quickly acted, bringing pressure to bear on errant ministers who consequently resigned.
Enos Nkala, Callistus Ndlovu, Frederick Shava, Dzingai Mutumbuka and Maurice Nyagumbo were axed from cabinet, but the stigma associated with corruption in those heady days was such that the firebrand Nyagumbo, who had spent more than a decade in prison fighting the colonial regime, buckled under and allegedly committed suicide.
And thus even though Mugabe had soiled his record by sanctioning the Gukurahundi operation in which over 20 000 civilians were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in a campaign ostensibly to weed out dissidents, he still had the gravitas and international standing to be awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership.
That was in 1987, ironically the same year he instigated constitutional amendments to transform himself from Prime Minister to the powerful executive presidency he still clings on to date.
That was probably the tonic for the inauguration of a ‘new Mugabe’ who allowed corruption to unravel in the 1990s.
Politicians looted the VIP housing scheme in 1995 and claimed massive disability pay-outs from the War Victims’ Compensation Fund in 1997 before grabbing multiple farms during the controversial fast-track land reform programme that started in 2000.
Since then corruption has gone viral with Mugabe only paying lip service to fighting the scourge.
Not surprisingly, Zimbabwe is currently ranked number 150 out of 175 on the 2015 Transparency International Index for corruption. And as noted this week by political scientist and academic Eldred Masunungure, “corruption has become systemic that virtually every government department and personnel have been affected.”
Mugabe is certainly aware of the corruption all around him, but he has not taken action and no one has been prosecuted.
Analysts, including prominent lawyer and politician David Coltart, point out it is not about the absence of laws, but rather the lack of political will that is stopping Mugabe from fighting corruption.
“The problem of corruption has never been the shortage of laws to deal with the scourge; the laws have been used to prosecute the small fish, but never the ministers,” he said.
There has been glaring cases when Mugabe could have acted. One such case was when evidence was provided during the messy divorce case of Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo and his wife Marian in 2010.
She exposed the minister’s vast wealth, which included businesses, luxurious cars, farms, homes and residential stands in Harare’s leafy suburbs of Mt Pleasant, Alexandra Park, Greendale, Borrowdale and several other properties around the country.
Instead of acting, Mugabe rewarded Chombo with an appointment to the Home Affairs ministry, the very ministry that should have investigated him.
Similarly, Mugabe never sacked or suspended anyone after being informed in 2014 by Core Mining director Lovemore Kurotwi that then Mines minister Obert Mpofu had allegedly demanded a US$10 million bribe last year to facilitate a mining venture.
This was despite High Court judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu saying Mpofu’s name was being “dragged through the mud”.
“The allegations might also be true,” said Bhunu, adding, “I am inclined to call the minister and the minister should come and clear his name.”
If anything Mugabe’s see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil attitude towards corruption in high places has best been captured in the boisterous manner in which his spokesperson George Charamba has been vocal in castigating Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) as “glory-seeking” for attempting to do their work.
Charamba is still to explain how he and other board members of PSMAS authorised huge payments of US$500 000 salary and allowances package a month to former chief executive Cuthbert Dube at a time ordinary subscribers were denied treatment because the debt ridden health insurer was failing to pay service providers.
Charamba was paid US$228 278 between 2009 and 2013 in board fees and allowances — a huge fortune for a civil servant.
Consequently, under Mugabe’s watch, Zimbabwe now has some super-rich ministers and party officials who have never had any other job except their modest-paying government portfolios, which begs the question: how did they acquire their vast wealth?
The impunity has extended to convicted criminals li e Wicknell Chivayo who is now perversely being celebrated as a modern-day Robin Hood after splashing some of the money to bail out the perennially broke national soccer team.
Chivayo, a convicted fraudster, was awarded a US$200 million contract to construct a solar power plant in Gwanda despite regulations prohibiting the awarding of tenders to convicted criminals. He was also unprocedurally awarded an advance payment of US$5 million for the project in the absence of the bank guarantee to protect public funds.
As Masunungure observed, Mugabe’s system of patronage politics is partly to blame for the rise in corruption.
“Ultimately the buck stops with the President but he has a real dilemma because if he does not act it’s his image and reputation that suffers while on the other hand any action will not only destroy Zanu PF but Mugabe as well,” Masunungure said. “Corruption is a cancer that has been allowed to fester for far too long and spread to an extent where it can only be treated at the cost of the existence of Zanu PF and Mugabe himself.”
Coltart concurred with Masunungure, adding that “ministers are immune from prosecution because Zanu PF is a cabal of corrupt politicians.”
And so despite the perennial reports produced by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri as well as media reports indicating corruption in high places, Mugabe has continued to turn a blind eye because he probably knows the structure of his rule is oiled and sustained through patronage and corruption.