The Genesis of Corruption in Zimbabwe

John Bredenkamp Zimbabwe Businessman

The first leader of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980 has passed on. May his soul rest in peace. His legacy has become a contentious topic of discussion amongst Zimbabweans, Africans and the world in general. It is refreshing to see that Africans have resisted the urge to agree with the western narrative that labelled him ‘a ruthless dictator’ His crime was one of omission. Failing to check his colleagues and later his wife who abused state institutions for personal gain.

The Second Republic

We see the same omissions happening twelve months into the second republic now led by Emmerson Mnangagwa. He inherited Robert Mugabe’s bureaucracy and despite spirited pronouncements to reform it, he appears to be facing numerous challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that corruption has over the years entrenched itself in all key institutions and now an accepted norm in Zimbabwe. Nothing is done efficiently without some ‘small’ incentive. Corruption is common practice both government and the private sector and has been so for a number of years. So, how does he fire everyone who man key institutions without disrupting the institutional memory? Can he inspire them to change? It is becoming increasingly clear that the Zimbabwe Anti-corruption Commission (ZACC) is not the solution. What is? Maybe the solution lies in using legislation to repatriate ill-gotten gains. Starting with oneself and one’s family members maybe? Pipe dream.

Hobson’s choice

‘You can have a white horse or a white horse…that’s Hobson’s choice!‘ Meaning you have no choice at all. The only option you have is the one that is being offered to you. There is no doubt Emmerson Mnangagwa means well! The question is how does he destroy what he helped build? The truth is our incumbent is tainted by past collaborations and associations. He also vowed to protect Robert Mugabe after assuming power, dead or alive. He hands are tied. In local parlance ‘akasungwa mbira dzakondo’ He will never eradicate corruption amongst his peers. He may arrest a few big fish as sacrificial lambs, but he will not dismantle the system that enables and fuels corruption. That is the tragedy.

How did Corruption take root?

So, how did corruption take root in Zimbabwe? Why is it embedded in all state institutions including the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC)? What form does it take in the army? Robert Mugabe was right! Sanctions were never to ensure compliance with human rights. Sanctions were and will always be a tool used by western countries to threaten little countries that threaten western interests. In the case of Zimbabwe, the land reform programme and the indigenisation policy was an affront to western interests. The west turned its back on Zimbabwe and used sanctions as a stick to beat us. Zimbabwe decided to look east to survive the sanctions.

Are the sanctions working, yes, to impoverish the average Zimbabwean who is not connected to those who run state institutions and have access to the gravy train? Let us be honest Zimbabwe. Let’s tell it like it is. If we do a lifestyle audit of those who are on the targeted sanctions list. And do another audit on the companies and another on the Zimbabwe banks on the sanctions list, you will find that the people who man these institutions are the richest most comfortable Zimbabweans who can fly business class to South Africa, China, India and Singapore and get state of the art medical treatment when they get sick. In their minds, there is no shame to it. They didn’t put Zimbabwe on sanctions. Why should they suffer? Instead of resting peacefully in the sun in Kutama, Kwa Zvimba, Robert Mugabe passed away peacefully in a top-class hospital in Singapore.

RBZ and Sanctions busting

The imposition of economic sanctions on Zimbabwe created a new environment that made it impossible for Zimbabwe to trade normally with companies in other countries. Any company that buys or sells or trades with Zimbabwean companies or individuals on the sanctions list is targeted and blacklisted by America, Britain and the European Union. It is no secret that most international financial transactions transit through the American financial system. So, the Zimbabwe government devised methods to fly under the radar and find friendly countries willing to risk being blacklisted. Willing to supply medical equipment for example. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was literally handed a creative licence to find ways of keeping the country going. The RBZ formed briefcase companies to finance off-book transactions to keep government programmes funded clandestinely, diamonds, gold, ivory, ZIMRA (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) ZINARA (Zimbabwe National Roads Administration) All income-generating institutions were captured and all income was directed to RBZ operations. Initially, all this was well-meaning and innocent. It was about survival. It was about national interest until everybody started dipping their hands in the till. Not for national interest, but for personal enrichment.

The system had now created loopholes, grey areas as rules of corporate governance were disregarded in order to bust sanctions. The tender system was turned on its head to combat sanctions. Criminals connected to those in power stepped in the gap and made millions. For example, people like Wicknel Chibayo and the ZESA (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) scandal. The ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) stopped depositing fines with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) as is required by law and created its own ticketing system under the former police commissioner Augustine Chihuri. Some of the money allegedly was routinely delivered to the former first lady in cash boxes.

A system was created were income-generating institutions were allowed to retain certain percentages every month to keep their operations running. These retained funds were abused. All parastatals and government institutions were in it. Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Zimbabwe National Road Authority (ZINARA), Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) ZIMRA and of course, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was the mother ship. The RBZ became central to running off-book operations in the name of sanctions-busting. It smuggled and is still smuggling gold and diamonds to the black market. It buys directly from small scale miners (Makorokoza) and diverts the money to the black market. The same with informal money changers (machange money) it is done through Kingpins (now commonly referred to as cartels) who have direct access to the RBZ, the presidium and close relatives. It was later rumoured to be done by the former first lady in the name of Robert Mugabe. When the new dispensation took over in November 2017, the kingpins were already part of the system. They were already billionaires.

Hobson’s choice – damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Hobson’s choice, can they arrest each other knowing that they were doing it together, knowing why they did it, why they must continue to do it to get around sanctions. The army in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) was unable to feed its troops because of the sanctions. In came John Bredenkamp, Nick Van Hoogstraten, all the dirty Rhodies (Rhodesians) with the rule book on how to bust sanctions. ‘Let us assist you to feed the army we know how to bust sanctions. Money was deposited in banks in the British Isles. Those sent to do so on behalf of government started pocketing for themselves. They are now rich. But cartel big white got back into the system. Now we have cartel fuel, cartel government tenders, cartel OPC (Office of the President and Cabinet). Douglas Mapfumo, Former Principal Director State Residences in the Office of the President and Cabinet on remand for abuse of office is a typical example of Cartel OPC.  Cartel NSSA (National Social Security Authority) used to fund the government and party programmes. Cartel ZIMDEF (Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund) many remember the allegations against Professor Jonathan Moyo that he used ZIMDEF funds to buy bicycles and fund his party programmes. Cartel PSC (Public Services Commission) ghost workers system of rewarding those who support and campaign for the party.

Parastatals and government departments (ZIMRA, ZINARA, JSC, ZRP et al) are cash cows coordinated from the office of the president (OPC) and lubricated by the Reserve bank. (RBZ) As long as sanctions remain in place this systematic corruption can never be rooted out. Hobson’s choice, it’s a necessary evil.

Everyone is dirty (Hapana mutswene)

The reality is each and every bigwig is tainted. (Hapana asina kuba) The Army looted diamonds in Chiadzwa, the Zimbabwe Republic Police through former police commissioner Augustine Chihuri stole fine money. Individuals in the Judiciary stole money for court fees, the list is endless. The former first lady Grace Mugabe working with former Local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, it is alleged they fronted a cartel that poisoned national parks en-masse for ivory.

So, the question that arises is, who is clean amongst them all? Once we accept that all are dirty, it begs the question, the ones being arrested, what is their crime. (Varikusungwa ndivo vadii)

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Challenge

The tricky question for Mnangagwa’s government will be how to restore key state institutions to their original Constitutional functions without destroying them. How does he gracefully neutralise key allies, relatives and comrades who fuel the capture of these institutions? Ungasare uchitonga wega here? The other critical question for Mnangagwa will be if you remove the rotten eggs who do you replace them with, what, whom, by which date. 2023 is around the corner. Will this be strategically wise. The danger is that the rotten eggs will coalesce and remove him.

The bigwigs relegated to shake shake house (Zanu PF Party headquarters) are a restless lot. They have nothing to do. Rumour has it they have been holding meetings master minding spanners in the works. Mphoko, the former Vice President of Zimbabwe is rumoured to holding meetings on how to topple incumbent. It is rumoured Mupfumira, former tourism minister attended those G40 meetings. Are they both not in the dock now?

Is the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) the solution?

ZACC will never give us the way forward. We need a policy on criminal prosecutions in place to prevent the selective application of anti-corruption legislation. What sort of policy? Either we use time periods. 2000 to 2005. 2006 to 2010. 2011 to 2017. 2018 onwards. Or maybe we use the estimated monetary value of the prejudice to the taxpayer. 100 000 and less. 500 000 and less. One million and less. 5 million. 10 million and so on. Then our policy can be. Let’s start with those who corruptly acquired assets after the new dispensation and move downwards. Or vice versa.

Or we can use a third way. A reconciliatory way which acknowledges that this scourge arose through attempted sanctions-busting. This approach acknowledges that most state institutions were roped into off-book practices to bust sanctions. Which in essence is truthful in that it acknowledges that most people participated either directly or indirectly in corrupt practices. Or simply surrender two-thirds of corruptly acquired property or cash by such time and get immunity from prosecution. President Emmerson Mnangagwa tried this with his list of naming and shaming. He did not succeed. He tried getting civil servants to declare their interests in business ventures. He did not succeed. So, maybe an amnesty? Immunity from prosecution? Carrot and stick. If there are no sacred cows, all ZACC has to do is check from number one downwards what assets or bank balance everyone has. Then serve them with High Court orders to explain how they acquired such wealth or failing they lose it. Those who fail to explain can lose as well as being prosecuted. This approach may bring closure faster than the piecemeal approach which may take years and yield little benefit to the ordinary taxpayer.

Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Amendment Bill (2019)

The Bill proposed by the government giving the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) powers to seek an explanation from those who flaunt wealth without the means of acquiring it is a welcome development in the right direction. I, however, argue that more needs to be done. The legislation must be used to recover and repatriate assets acquired through abuse of taxpayer’s money instead of merely arresting accused persons for alleged corruption. Throwing them behind bars is merely a burden on the taxpayer in our already overcrowded prisons. We can forfeit such unexplained wealth to the state. Put it back in our coffers, hopefully, pay our debts and grow our economy. International norms of criminal justice and jurisprudence are moving away from retributive justice. Justice is now rehabilitative. We now have the legislation in place. Let’s use it not only to fight corruption but to instil a culture in our citizenry. A deterrent culture. If you indulge in corrupt primitive accumulation of wealth, know that your children will not be allowed to enjoy it. Simply as.

Political and Electoral Reforms

On political and electoral reforms, the harsh reality is that the party with the majority in parliament will push those reforms that benefit their policies and support their government. That is a democracy. The tyranny of the majority. The opposition should accept the proposal of being officially appointed, recognised and appropriately remunerated in parliament, Westminster style. That way they can effectively hold the government to account and check its excesses. The issue of legitimacy is now water under the bridge. The Constitutional Court already pronounced itself. Rehashing the issue undermines the highest court in the land. It is not going to happen. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), The African Union (AU) Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) domestic regional bodies endorsed the 2018 elections. There will be no Government of National Unity (GNU), no Transitional Authority, no back-door entry to the table. 2018 is not 2008. Let’s move on. The opposition should focus on their role in parliament and force the pace of reforms. They should influence the legislative agenda to cause a debate on the necessary changes. The Government of National Unity (GNU) did not result in a robust electoral law reform agenda. What was its purpose? Whose interests did it serve? Certainly not the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Way Forward for Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy. Strengthening the institutions set up by the constitution will strengthen our democracy. How? Accountability. How do we hold institutions to account? In parliament, not on the streets. Not on social media and not in the Court of public opinion. As Zimbabweans, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that Europe, America and Britain are our saviours. We need to stop outsourcing the solutions to our problems to outsiders. Let’s tell each the truth as Zimbabweans, to build Zimbabwe for ourselves. Our future generations. It’s a year since our last election. The next election is looming. Are we going to make noise until it’s upon us? The date is entrenched in the Constitution. Only an earthquake can stop an election. The question that should exercise is, are we prepared to do what is necessary to break the cycle of going into an election on a perceived uneven playing field. What should we be doing to make the playing field fair? Protests and demonstrations can only take us so far.

Dr Martin Luther King had a dream. He followed the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi. Passive resistance. Civil disobedience. Whilst each country is unique and we accept that this is a different era, violence is not the answer. Leaders must preach peace. Peaceful resolutions must be advocated for. Peaceful and reconciliatory language must be used. Lead by example, from the front. If Nelson Mandela could forgive 27 years on Robben Island. If our own hero Robert Gabriel Mugabe could embrace his tortures and our oppressors in 1980 and extend the hand of reconciliation. If these icons could embrace the spirit of togetherness, of patriotism, who are we to deliberately cause chaos and mayhem to fan the flames of poverty in our great nation just to gain power or to continue the primitive accumulation of wealth.

Fellow Zimbabweans, let us wake up. Our land is a land of milk and honey. We have land. May our icon Robert Gabriel Mugabe rest in peace in the bosom of our ancestors and in the arms of our maker. We have minerals. We have vast human resources. What we lack is PATRIOTISM. We can and must resuscitate the economy. It’s the only way to regain our dignity and pride. It’s the only way to control our destiny. Let us be strong. Just a little bit longer. Let us bury our icon Robert Gabriel Mugabe and remember the good lessons that he taught us. Yes, he made mistakes. He was human. But he taught us to fight. To be principled. Let us fight for our country. United we stand. We are the house of stone! Zimbabwe.

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