Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

All Eyes on the Mujurus

Husband and wife former guerrilla team bid to become Zimbabwe’s First Family.
By Hativagone Mushonga
Soon after independence, Solomon Mujuru is said to have told a group of his fellow Zezuru clansmen at the plush and former whites-only Harare Club, “I didn’t fight the liberation war to end up a poor man.”

Mujuru was at the time a very powerful man. In the 1970s, when Zimbabwe was called Rhodesia and was white-ruled, he had been commander – under the wartime pseudonym of Rex Nhongo - of the Zimbabwe African National Union, ZANU, guerrilla liberation army with bases in Mozambique.

In 1978, he had quelled an internal revolt aimed at toppling ZANU’s political leader, Robert Mugabe, thus making himself indispensable.

When Rhodesia became Zimbabwe at independence in 1980, Prime Minister Mugabe appointed Mujuru head of the national army.

Mujuru resigned his army post in 1990 to devote himself full time to business. Today he is one of Zimbabwe’s wealthiest businessman.

In 2004, his wife Joice, a rank outsider in the fight to succeed Mugabe as state president, beat the shrewd former national intelligence chief, Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, to become Mugabe’s vice president.

To many in ZANU - which became the ZANU-Patriotic Front, or ZANU PF, at independence - Joice Mujuru, deserved the seat as she was one of the most senior members of the revolutionary party, after her husband, the retired army commander. As a woman guerilla fighter, she acquired a legendary reputation and also the nom de guerre Teurai Ropa (Spillblood).

Joice Mujuru had also earned her stripes by having at one time served in the powerful post of defence minister after the death of the previous incumbent, Moven Mahachi, in a car accident in 2001. She was the youngest government minister at the age of 25 when Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980 and has been in government ever since.

If she manages to outwit Mnangagwa - back in the succession race to succeed Mugabe, who turns 83 in February - and goes on to beat the opposition political parties, the Mujurus will become Zimbabwe’s First Family.

Joice Mujuru was born into a peasant family in the Mount Darwin area of northeastern Zimbabwe and dropped out of school in 1974 at the age of 18 to join the liberation struggle. During the war against Ian Smith’s white minority government, she claims to have shot down and destroyed single-handedly a Rhodesian Air Force helicopter with an AK-47 rifle she picked up from a dying guerilla fighter. The veracity of this claim has never been proved.

She rose through the guerrilla ranks to become a commander.

Although Mujuru had a limited education when independence came, she studied while serving as a junior minister in the first Mugabe administration. She has since obtained a degree at a local university.

After being appointed in 2004 one of Zimbabwe’s two vice presidents, the 51-year-old is in a strong position to take over as national leader after the death, retirement or downfall of Mugabe. The other vice president, Joseph Msika, has said he intends quitting politics when Mugabe retires.

However, Joice Mujuru still has to fight the challenge of Mnangagwa, who also

has strong backing among the party heavyweights, provincial leaders and security officials.

Both Mujurus have excellent war credentials. But who are they now and what kind of a First Family will they be for Zimbabwe if Joice Mujuru wins the next presidential election either in 2008, as scheduled, or in 2010 if Mugabe loyalists manage to secure a postponement?

The vice president has the advantage of a powerful and an influential husband, whose wartime name Nhongo is Shona for “billy goat”, fabled in local lore for sexual prowess and hardheadedness. It was Nhongo/Mujuru who implored guerillas, most of whom had never met Mugabe, to accept him as their leader after his predecessor, Herbert Chitepo, was assassinated by opponents in Zambia in 1974.

Despite his resignation from the army and its top post, Solomon Mujuru, remains one of the most powerful men in Zimbabwe - and one of the most feared: he knows the movement’s innermost secrets.

He has been the force behind his wife’s rise to power. He initiated a corruption inquiry into arms, ammunitions and consumer goods deals struck by Mnangagwa with the former Congo regime of Laurent Kabila in exchange for preferential trade in diamonds, cobalt and timber.

The corruption inquiry severely damaged Mnangagwa’s ambition to become head of state. But he overcame the setback, partly because of his powerful intelligence links and not least because corruption is deeply embedded throughout the Mugabe administration.

The Mujurus themselves have been dogged by corruption allegations which threaten their prospects of achieving supreme power.

Joice Mujuru has been sucked into one of Zimbabwe’s biggest economic scandals since independence, the Zisco affair. She has been named in an official report claiming that she and other government ministers were involved in the alleged looting and asset stripping of the state-run Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, Zisco.

Dubbed “Steelgate”, the tentacles of the Zisco affair has spread wider with every passing day.

Zisco is the largest steel plant in Africa outside South Africa. Based at Redcliff, just outside the Zimbabwe Midlands city of Kwekwe, steel production at the troubled plant has collapsed from 14,200 tonnes a month two years ago to less than 1,000 tonnes now. Zimbabwe has been unable to attract the minimum foreign investment of 400 million US dollars needed to rehabilitate the increasingly derelict plant. Meanwhile, numerous methods have been allegedly used by top politicians to loot its remaining assets.

These have included claims that large amounts of foreign exchange have been allocated to top government officials and their associates who said they were doing business on behalf of the company. Further allegations of abuse of company credit cards, bloated management fees and directors’ expenses as well as false claims for air fares, hotel bills, purchases and entertainment are said to have contributed to catastrophic losses.

Mugabe’s official spokesperson, George Charamba, speaking to the state-owned Herald daily newspaper, recently denied any looting of Zisco by government officials.

Two years before Mugabe launched his own notorious and chaotic so-called land reform programme in 2000 – when ZANU PF loyalists armed with axes and pangas invaded white-owned farms across the country, slaughtering cattle, breaking into farmhouses and occasionally killing farmers – Solomon Mujuru became the subject of the first prosecution for illegal seizure of a farm and its assets.

His seizure of Guy Watson-Smith’s 3,500-acre farm south of Harare and his enrichment by selling off farm equipment originally purchased by Watson-Smith at a cost of 80 million dollars was ruled illegal by the Zimbabwe Supreme Court.

Ignoring court decisions it does not like has become one of the trademarks of the Mugabe government. Mujuru is still on the farm while Watson-Smith, now trying to rebuild his family’s life in France, continues forlornly and unsuccessfully to try to sue Mujuru.

The retired general has also been accused recently of illegally seizing the lucrative River Ranch diamond mine in southern Zimbabwe. In a court battle, Mujuru has been accused of “unlawfully and forcibly” taking over the mine.

With such allegations hanging over him and his wife, it is a sad statement on the condition of modern Zimbabwe that Solomon and Joice remain front runners in the bitter struggle to succeed Robert Mugabe and become the nation’s new First Family.

Hativagone Mushonga is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.

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