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

Mugabe Blasts Crooked Ministers

The president accuses ZANU-PF leaders of corruption, but critics say he himself is responsible.
By Kudzai Mabhiza
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has unexpectedly read the riot act to top ZANU-PF officials, some of whom hope to succeed him, lambasting them as corrupt and unfit to fill his shoes.



“People want to acquire wealth through self-aggrandisement," Mugabe told a recent meeting of his party's central committee. "These cases are increasing in number. What has become of us? You are not being fair… Some of you are being crooks even in leadership positions.”



He expressed concern that the calibre of the people vying for the party's and the country's top posts is so low that they will tear the country apart in the process and plunder its wealth with utter disregard for its people’s needs.



Critics, however, described Mugabe's tirade as hypocritical, saying it is the president himself, through his policy of political patronage and rewarding the elite with gifts of farms taken from white owners, who has stoked the corruption that pervades the party and government.



“Hopefully the president has come to realise that he is the one to blame for failing to stamp out endemic corruption in the corridors of power," said one local analyst who did not want to be named. "It is Mugabe's duty to ensure that whoever takes over from him will not loot state coffers with impunity, but will try to salvage the country from the mess he created.”



As early as 1988, the and then ZANU-PF secretary-general, firebrand nationalist Edgar Tekere warned Mugabe that corruption in high places was gnawing away at Zimbabwe's economic fabric. The president ignored the warning and fired Tekere the following year from both party and government, saying he had failed to substantiate allegations of massive corruption by top ministers.



But many people said at the time that Mugabe was protecting cronies whom he used in his tribal power-balancing act between the main ethnic factions of the wider Shona nation.



Faced with the prospect of leaving power by the end of this decade, 82-year-old Mugabe now seems to have begun worrying that there is no one among his chosen elite who has clean hands.



His tough speech seemed to be directed at specific senior ZANU-PF officials vying for the top posts, who he thinks lack sufficient integrity to run the country should he die while in power. But so deeply is graft embedded in the system that critics say it will be impossible to find a "clean" person anywhere in the ZANU-PF hierarchy.



Government corruption became obvious 18 years ago, when investigative reporters uncovered the so-called "Willowgate" scandal, in which several ministers were proved to have acquired Mazda cars at knockdown prices from the Willowvale assembly plant in Harare and then resold them for handsome profits.



In the Nineties and into the new century, corruption at top level came to dwarf Willowgate. As farms were confiscated from white owners, ministers acquired multiple landholdings. There has been widespread abuse of a VIP housing scheme, with relatives and friends of ministers and top military officers and civil servants issued with luxury homes at low prices.



Top ZANU-PF politicians and their relatives have been accused of plundering the 40 million dollar War Victims Compensation Fund, meant to provide disability payments to former guerrilla fighters in Zimbabwe's liberation war of the Seventies. "New farmers" allocated scarce fuel at heavily subsidies prices have been reselling it on the black market with huge profit margins. Elsewhere, there has been mass looting of minerals and commercial farm equipment.



But it seems unlikely that any senior people will ever face justice while Mugabe remains in power.



The solution so far seems to have been to make a scapegoat of the new deputy information minister, Bright Matonga, who was arrested in late July on charges of soliciting 85,000 US dollars in bribes from companies tendering to supply buses to the state-owned Zimbabwe United Passenger Company. Matonga was the firm’s chief executive before joining the government.



Commenting on Mugabe's surprise anti-corruption speech, in which he also ordered ministers to be faithful to their wives, the independent weekly Financial Gazette said in an editorial, "Most cynical Zimbabweans retorted ‘too little, too late’, because corruption has been left for too long to permeate every facet of public life. The stony-faced silence that greeted the head of state's podium-thumping indignation was a dead giveaway. Even his [Mugabe's] most sycophantic and vociferous supporters knew it was pointless to threaten to close the stable door long after the horse has bolted."



Kudzai Mabhiza is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.