ZIMBABWE’S Vice President, or VeePee (VP), as she is often called, Mrs Joice Mujuru, is in an extremely unenviable position at the moment. I doubt she has slept well at night for the last three months. For how can she, since she is between the devil and the deep blue sea. She is a nail sticking out that’s being hammered down – in Japanese we sayderu kugi wa utareru. Her situation is akin to that of a child on a ladder up an apple tree, almost close enough to pick the last juicy-looking apple; yet stretching her hand to reach the apple would surely cause the ladder to tip over. This analogy is so apt, as the position of president in Zimbabwe, despite being constitutional, has over the years been designed to be a poisoned chalice for many, except Mugabe himself. It is for this reason that Mugabe himself is an albatross around that otherwise promising southern African country’s neck.
Several weeks ago, I travelled from Zimbabwe by road to Zambia, researching on regional logistics between Zimbabwe, Zambia and the DRC – (NB.* The one-stop border post and the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia was designed and financed by the Japanese government). On my way to the Zambian copper belt by road, I passed through the town of Chinhoyi in Zimbabwe, where the president of Zimbabwe’s wife had a major event. Online reports later revealed that she had denounced Mrs Mujuru for being corrupt and power hungry at this event. I am certain that Mrs. Mugabe, a woman who would rank very highly on the corruption index herself, is more concerned about the vice president’s hunger for power and the consequences thereafter than her corrupt tendencies. It’s a typical case of a pot calling the cattle black. But nonetheless, I will take a look at why the Vice President of Zimbabwe has herself to blame. If the Vice President was clean, none of the dirt being thrown at her by her erstwhile friends would stick.
The rough hand of Karma
Every dog has its day. If Mr. Strive Masiyiwa was a petty man, he would be rubbing his hands with glee at what’s happening to Mrs. Mujuru at present. Zimbabwe’s largest mobile company today, and perhaps its largest direct and indirect employer would not be existent had Mrs. Mujuru gotten away with her cruel intentions back in the 90s. Mr. Masiyiwa, at least according to him, had gone to court to assert his pursuit to run a mobile phone company. After losing the challenge to a Supreme Court appeal against PTC, a state-owned telecoms company (now Telone/Netone), Mr Masiyiwa later received a call from one Mr. Edison Zvobgo.
|‘There is a clause in the constitution, which specifically says that every Zimbabwean, “shall have the right to impart information, without hindrance.”…. I was there, when it was adopted. Discuss it with your lawyers; I think it could be helpful with your case. It’s not over, if you have the courage to go to the Constitutional Court.’, says Mr Masiyiwa of this call from Mr Zvobgo.
Mr. Masiyiwa and his team won the constitutional challenge to the state-owned PTC’s telecoms monopoly. But that was not to be the end of their fight to change the world by simply running a business freely as a citizen of Zimbabwe. Yet the person who was to become a severe stumbling block to this progress was none other than Mrs Joice Mujuru, who was the minister in charge of telecommunications. Soon after Mr Masiyiwa’s victory in court, she crafted a law that “would ban anyone from setting up and operating a cell phone network even though the monopoly had been removed by the Courts. Violation of this proposed law would mean a jail sentence”, in a deliberate and calculated act of disempowerment.
Having won sympathisers due to his fighting spirit, Mr Masiyiwa received a draft of the pending legislation from Mr Gary Magadzire five days before it was announced. With this piece of intelligence in hand, the entrepreneur went on to set up a telecoms network within four days, to outrun Joice Mujuru’s legislation, and to assert what he terms “grandfather rights”. For a year after the passing of this legislation, Mr Masiyiwa was regularly harassed. After approaching the court for the umpteenth time,
“In December 1996, the Constitutional Court, ordered the Minister of Telecoms to end the PTC monopoly for a second time. They gave her six weeks to run a tender process and select an operator, or simply allow Econet to start operating. Whilst many people, expected her to let us operate since we already had a system, and had been fighting for nearly 5 years, I knew through my network of sympathisers that a massive conspiracy, was being hatched, to try and thwart us, once and for all”, says Masiyiwa.
Mrs Mujuru went on to set up a technical committee that was to publish a tender in a record two weeks.
“Exactly 4 weeks later, on 28th February 1997, the Minister announced that another company had won the tender, and was immediately issued the license. They announced that we had come fourth, out of five bidders, even though we had a working system, on the ground! The following day, the Minister announced that they had complied fully with the order of the court and she also directed that I be arrested for illegal possession of telecommunications equipment”, says Masiyiwa.
And the day after, newspaper headlines read, “Masiyiwa’s dream crumbles”!!!
Zimbabweans may also recall that Mr Masiyiwa got support for his fight from a powerful quarter in the form of a Mr Joshua Nkomo at the time. When he queried why the “young man” was being persecuted, Mrs. Mujuru, who was to be VP over a decade later called him senile. Needless to mention that Mrs. Mujuru’s cronies were the brains behind the company that was quickly cobbled together to crumble Econet’s progress.
Speaking in support of corruption
Last month, women cabinet ministers in Japan abruptly resigned after they were caught up in a storm of improperly distributing paper fans to political supporters, and improper conduct with campaign funds. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima had to quit their cabinet posts for campaign spending violations.
Yet in a different part of the world, speaking to the party’s provincial women’s conference in February 2014, Mrs. Mujuru shocked the world when she rapped corrupt salary exposures in the public media, calling it “the work of subversive elements trying to destroy Zanu PF and its government from within”. These are extremely strange utterances from someone who is a heartbeat away from the presidency of Zimbabwe, seeing as she also acts as the president of Zimbabwe in Mr. Mugabe’s absence. The only reason she is still in her job is that Mr. Mugabe himself tolerates corruption. This is why corruption has become second nature to many Zimbabweans. Mrs. Mujuru should have resigned shortly after making those utterances.
War Victims Compensation Fund Looting
The genesis of Zimbabwe’s problems today is multi-faceted. But the economic mess can be traced back to a day generally known as Black Friday, in November 1997 when the local currency crushed by over 70% to the United States Dollar, which was a record crash at the time. From then on, life in Zimbabwe was never the same. I was to visit Zimbabwe in 1998 for the first time as a young graduate student, travelling by road to Karoi, where my uncle, a Fujitsu engineer was leading a project to digitalise PTC’s exchanges.
The government of Zimbabwe after independence set up a fund to compensate war veterans who had suffered disabilities during the war of independence. It had been well-documented that much of that fund was looted, not by genuine war veterans who had suffered disabilities, but by senior party nationalists and their relatives. Using questionable criteria to assess the level of disability, given that compensation was dependent on a disability percentage, many of them were assessed to questionable levels of disability.
Many of the political elite in Zimbabwe creamed the state of funds this way. These included Mr Augustine Chihuri (20 percent disability), Mr Perence Shiri (50 percent disability), Ms Oppah Muchinguri (65 percent disability) and Mr Reward Marufu (99 percent disability). Mrs. Mujuru could not be left out of the looting frenzy as she claimed 55 percent disability and collected a cool Z$389,472 valued in excess of US$40,000 at the time. In total, the compensation fund lost more than Z$112 billion or an equivalent of $450 million from the looting frenzy.
The Ziscosteel Debacle and Mr Obert Mpofu
Ziscosteel, now called NewZim Steel, after it was stripped of its value and the carcass recently sold off to Essar of India for a song is now a pale shadow of its former self. At its peak, it was the largest integrated steelworks in Africa north of the Limpopo, but was, over the years, sucked dry by Zanu PF vampire squids.
In 2009, Zimbabwe’s National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (NECI) carried out investigations to figure out what had happened to the steel plant. Their investigations revealed that Mugabe’s ministers had looted the company dry. And guess who part of this coterie of looters was? It was none other than Mrs. Joice Mujuru. Other names included Samuel Mumbengegwi, Olivia Muchena, Stembiso Nyoni, the late Stan Mudenge and Patrick Chinamasa.
In the same year (2009), Mr Obert Mpofu was the Minister of Industry. He admitted in Parliament that Ziscosteel had been looted, milked and sucked dry by senior government officials. Mpofu had appeared before a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Industry and International Trade that was investigating the collapse of a $400 million deal to capitalise Ziscosteel by Global Steel Holdings, another Indian company.
While Mpofu was giving evidence at the parliamentary committee hearing on September 20 2009, a clerk appeared and delivered an urgent message to committee chairman, Mr. Enock Porusingazi, to the effect that Mr. Mpofu was wanted straight away by Vice President Joice Mujuru. Mr Mpofu immediately left the hearing and went to meet Mrs. Mujuru who told him to shut up.
By the time he came back to the hearing, he was denying that he knew anything about the looting frenzy at the steel company. This led to the Zimbabwean parliament starting impeachment proceedings against him. He was fined $40,000. Perhaps to recoup his “loss” in paying the fine, or for thanking him for keeping his mouth shut, Mr. Mpofu was “promoted” to the mines ministry after which he became fabulously wealthy, and now owns a bank among other assets.
A case that was internationally reported also shows that Mrs. Mujuru is a gold dealer too. In 2009, Firstar Europe, a commodity trading firm reported that she tried to sell them $90 million worth of gold, which had a purported origin of the DRC. According to widespread media reports, she tried to sell the gold, via her Spanish son-in-law. Mrs. Mujuru’s daughter, Nyasha, is married to a Spanish man called Del Campo.
When Firstar Europe refused to take her gold, the Mrs. Mujuru, perhaps overestimating her power, is reported to have threatened Firstar with consequences if they did not reverse their decision to refuse buying the gold. You can almost imagine her, trying flex her muscles on the phone like a mafia don saying, “Do you know who I am?”
When the former General summoned the former Governor
Mrs. Mujuru’s late husband, a former military general was according to reports a revered fighter who fought hard for Zimbabwe’s independence. Reports say he was folksy, but also widely feared in his party and referred to as a kingmaker. Before his demise, he is reported to have fallen out with Mr. Mugabe, as he got more and more aligned to the pro-democratic movement. Nevertheless, from various accounts, he was a simpleton with no intellectual depth, who frequently acted like a gangster, and sometimes like a yakuzaoperative.
His controversial business interests were often fronted by high-flying young briefcase-type snake-oil salesmen. He was involved in controversial business transactions everywhere, including in the diamond trade. For years, the late general was embroiled in a well reported court fight with the Farquhar family over the ownership of River Ranch Diamond Mine – in a case that at some point sucked in the UNDP. Mr. Mujuru and his wife also dealt in Marange diamonds and were widely reported to have carved themselves a mining claim in the area which they operated for a while. It is not clear what their role was in the killing of several diamond panners by the military in the diamond field in 2007.
The most riveting story I ever heard about Mr. Mujuru from a diplomatic contact was an account about the late general’s harsh encounter with former Reserve Bank governor, Mr Gideon Gono. Mr Mujuru, according to reports, was actively involved in the dealing of foreign currency which was illegal at the time. Mr Gono had prepared intelligence reports for President Mugabe about Mr Mujuru’s streetwise forex trades. To deal one up against Mr. Mujuru, Mr. Gono carried out what he called Sunrise, a project that was meant to change notes in circulation to beat the currency dealers.
Mr Mujuru is said to have summoned Gideon Gono, in anger, to his farm outside Harare, where he would die in a mysterious fire a few years later. Mr Gono, who went to the farm in the company of his then fitness trainer, Mr Temba Mliswa, was treated like a toddler. Mr Mujuru is said to have pulled out a gun, and with the gun in hand, handed Mr Gono a mobile phone, ordering him to phone Mr Mugabe to tell him that the general was about to kill him. Gono is said to have pleaded and apologized on bended knees, weeping like a child.
As I follow online the blitzkrieg against Mrs. Mujuru by her erstwhile friends in her party, I have noticed that she has gained some sympathies from many people who comment on these stories. It is human nature for people to sympathise with a perceived victim. But lest the pauperized people of Zimbabwe forget – Mrs. Joice Mujuru has for years been one of their tormentors. She has been one of them through and through.
In fact, as Mr. Mugabe’s deputy for the last ten years, she has been part of the team that presided over the rapid decline of the living conditions of the ordinary people. She has been part of the leadership incompetence since she joined the government at independence. She was a government leader when urban dwellers houses were destroyed in the infamous “operation drive out trash” in 2006, a callous act described by the UN as, “carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with disquieting indifference to human suffering”. She has all along been part of the team and machinery that deprived people of their vote over the last decade, as the report which Mr. Thabo Mbeki was hiding in South Africa has just shown.
She is one of them. She has been part of the problem. She has been one of the corrupt elements in the government. She has been part of the human rights violators. She had no symphathy for the long suffering Zimbabweans. She has been a co-conspirator against the civil liberties and prosperity of the people of Zimbabwe. She has been there when others have been harassed and brutalized. She lived nicely when Zimbabwean families were confused by the paradox of being billionaires without food on their tables. She lived well when Zimbabwean people had to go through the embarrassment of spending days and nights in fuel queues.
Mrs Joice Mujuru has been an active participant in corruption. She has been very much a player in the disempowerment game that has disadvantaged the Zimbabwean people. She has been there overseeing the brutalization of the opposition. Now that she is on the other side of the river, should she not be left to get a taste of the medicine she dispensed with her former friends? That way, she will understand how the ordinary people have lived, and perhaps she will speak out against corruption and injustices.
As Martin Niemöller, the German pastor wrote …
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Except that Mrs. Mujuru was not a silent observer, she was a participant.
Ken Yamamoto is a researcher on Africa at an institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. He is presently fascinated by the sad drama going on in Zimbabwe. You can contact Ken on firstname.lastname@example.org