By Tawanda Majoni
Acie Lumumba, a young and controversial but brilliant Zimbabwean politician has just torched a storm in Zimbabwe.
On Monday, he produced a virally dramatic video in which he named several people who he alleged to be the main sharks behind the debilitating foreign currency black market that is among the biggest drivers of the current giddy price hikes and commodity shortages.
The video expose came just after Lumumba had purportedly been appointed to lead a shady Finance ministry communications taskforce. This development generated immediate and widespread anger and rebuke owing to the history of the politician—also famed for literally giving feared ex-president Robert Mugabe the middle finger, for his dictatorial politics—as a possible fraudster, porn star and habitual liar.
Lumumba named one Queen Bee as the head shark in scooping up forex from the formal market and offloading it onto the swelling black market. By Queen Bee, it turned out, he was referring to Kudakwashe Tagwirei, a well-connected fuel mogul with the major shareholding in Sakunda Holdings, Zimbabwe’s biggest gas distributor. Sakunda enjoys a big stake in the Dema Diesel Power Plant which is reported to have without following required tender procedures.
The video ripples quickly danced fast and wide. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor, John Mangudya, immediately moved in to suspend four of his directors who were implicated by Lumumba.
These are Mirirai Chiremba (Financial Intelligence), Norman Mataruka (Bank Supervision), Gresham Muradzikwa (Head of Security) and Azvinandawa Saburi (Financial Markets).
In suspending them indefinitely pending investigations, Mangudya claimed that he was doing it “for the sake of transparency and good corporate governance”, and recognised Lumumba as the direct instigator of his decision. Curiously though, Mangudya last week—on at least two occasions—publicly stated that the black market was being driven by known influential people.
The same pronouncement was repeated by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. That was before Mthuli Ncube, the Finance minister, “appointed” Lumumba to head his communications taskforce, which was later revealed to be awaiting rationalisation by the Civil Service Commission. This could indicate that Mangudya and Mnangagwa had prior knowledge of what was coming.
In any case, it will always be awkward and self-incriminating for Mangudya to insinuate that he is acting on the basis of Lumumba’s revelations. The red flags have always been there and lots of questions have over the years been asked about how forex dealers are getting huge sums of money without the RBZ knowing it, if it all did not. That could only happen if Mangudya was plain dumb and just not fit for the job.
More drama is likely to follow in coming days. There are high chances that the four RBZ directors will be arrested and taken to court. It is also possible—though not obvious—that Tagwirei and numerous other individuals who belong to the forex cartel will be taken in. There is likely to be a downscale in forex black market activities while parallel money rates and prices might relatively stable. Zimbabweans will, definitely, welcome this.
The big question, though, is on whether or not the action that the government has taken through Mangudya shows a genuine and bona fide desire to combat corruption and solve the current financial crisis. Sadly, it is possible that this is not the case. On the contrary, the RBZ scandal seemingly torched by Lumumba could be a manifestation of the political power struggles in Zanu PF and the executive side of government and hardly has anything to do with redressing current economic woes.
That means that the outing of the Queen Bee and RBZ directors may be a convenient façade for Zanu PF politicians and their allies who are fighting for political turf and realise that they can do this by pretending to be solving the prevailing financial crisis.
To understand this better right at the onset, there is need to put Lumumba’s role in perspective. As has already been averred, it is not as though top government officials, Mnangagwa, Mangudya and Ncube in particular, did not know who was behind the black market. There are indications that they already knew the people involved, as shown by their public statements prior to Lumumba’s video.
The manner in which Lumumba was “appointed” to the taskforce lends weight to this. There are strict procedures to follow when hiring labour in the civil service, and these were obviously not followed.
Neither can you set up a new unit in a ministry without consulting the Civil Service Commission and getting its approval. It was only after Lumumba shared his video in the public domain that the ministry stepped in to disown him and announce that the so-called communications taskforce was work in progress.
It is highly unlikely that Lumumba was ever appointed to any taskforce. He was a hired ratchet boy who some politicians just wanted to use to do the dirty work for them and went back home a few dollars richer.
This is because, apparently, Mnangagwa, Ncube and Mangudya were reluctant to be seen to be directly leading the process of exposing their counterparts in government in the context of ongoing power contestations. This is where Lumumba, a celebrated loose cannon, would come in handy.
This makes sense if readers appreciate the fact that, indeed, there are signs of a festering factional war in Zanu PF and government that seems to be pitting Mnangagwa against his deputy, Constantine Chiwenga. Officially, this has been dismissed as propaganda to push the two apart, but the tendency to believe the two as bitter political rivals persists.
Chiwenga, as the army commander, led a military-assisted takeover of power from Mugabe last November and paved way for Mnangagwa to assume the interim presidency ahead of the July 30 elections that gave the latter a fresh mandate to rule till the next polls in 2023. There is no obvious history of political affinity between the two, but they seem to have become visibly close after the 2013 elections.
Some have considered this as a political marriage of convenience that was made even tighter by the fact that Mugabe, his wife Grace and an erstwhile Zanu PF faction known as Generation 40 (G40) targeted the two as common rivals in the race to succeed the ageing ex-president. No sooner had the new dispensation taken over than talk of emerging rivalry between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga surfaced, with the deputy being seen as holding presidential ambitions and reckoning he was the ultimate power having led the coup.
Several indicators fortify the perception of rivalry between the two. After the militarised take-over last November, there were reports that Chiwenga made several decisions without consulting his supposed boss. These included the firing of numerous police chiefs reported to have been sympathetic to Mugabe, Grace and G40. The expulsions were later reversed. Neither Chiwenga nor Mnangagwa denied the allegation.
Other reports alleged that Chiwenga imposed his own people in the cabinet that was set up after the November take-over, resulting in an over-appointment of ministers. Similar reports came up in the run-up to this year’s elections when it was alleged that Chiwenga had reversed the appointment of Victor Matemadanda as the Zanu PF political commissar and imposed Engelbert Rugeje, a former army general, in that position instead. Disgruntled but influential Zanu PF members were among those that made this allegation.
Speculation around the perceived rivalry went a gear up after a mysterious explosion at White City Stadium in Bulawayo where the presidium had led a campaign rally before the elections. Mnangagwa claimed that he knew the person behind the attempted assassination and would name him or her after the polls. He has remained mum about it, three months down the line. On the other hand, the absence of Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxillia, at the rally where Chiwenga’s wife was among those injured and hospitalised is said to have fuelled competing speculation as to who were the real targets of the attempted assassination. Whatever the speculation, the White City explosion left skeptics with the conclusion that the incident was an inside job whose main aim was to eliminate either Mnangagwa or Chiwenga in the battle for political supremacy in the run-up to the elections.
When soldiers were on August 1 deployed to help the police manage riots that broke out as election results were being announced, Chiwenga’s critics quickly accused him of being the possible brains behind the shootings that killed at least six people and said he might have done that without consulting Mnangagwa. A commission of inquiry is currently probing the tragic incident.
It is instructive to note that the utterances by Mnangagwa, Ncube and Mangudya that highly placed individuals were involved in the forex black market were made while Chiwenga was recuperating from an illness whose nature has not yet been fully explained. This was also the time when Lumumba was apparently hired to out the architects of the forex racket. During this time, Chiwenga was not attending government business. If it is true that Chiwenga had an overbearing presence in government business, his absence could have provided a perfect opportunity for his rivals to act.
But that would make sense if Chiwenga was in at least one way linked to the high profile foreign currency dealers. Some media reports seem to suggest as much, having in the past alleged, without providing infallible evidence, that Chiwenga had business interests in Sakunda. If that is true, chances are therefore high that the Vice President could have acted in collusion with Tagwirei. Again, all would depend on the veracity of Tagwirei, as the owner of Sakunda, being the leader or leading proxy of the foreign currency racket.
There is an interesting coincidence in all this. Last Friday, a few days before revelations of the alleged money racketeering were made by Lumumba and at the same time Mnangagwa, Ncube and Mangudya were talking about exposing the racketeers, a church-led congregation went to Chiwenga’s rural home in Wedza, reportedly to pray for him. He was appearing in public for the first time since being taken seriously ill, spoke for some time on several issues and was said to have made great strides in recovering. President Mnangagwa did not attend the thanksgiving ceremony, nor did most of his cabinet ministers.
Those that attended included Perrance Shiri, Chiwenga’s former subordinate in the army before the removal of Mugabe. Also present were Sydney Sekeramayi, the former Defence minister who Mugabe planned to take over from him instead of Mnangagwa, and David Parirenyatwa who Mnangagwa recently removed from cabinet where he was in charge of the Health portfolio.
Zanu PF members loyal to Mnangagwa accused the two of having poisoned the current president late last year at the instigation of Mugabe. George Charamba, the presidential spokesperson, was there too. He recently refuted a widely circulating claim that he had been removed as secretary of Information and Publicity for being too close to Chiwenga. Unconfirmed reports say Tagwirei was there too.
There is, therefore, a stubborn tag that suggests that the high key figures who were part of the congregation in Wedza are Chiwenga faithfuls. If true, there is a possibility that the church session was used as disguise for the Chiwenga camp to plot a counter move against their boss’ internal detractors.
Chiwenga largely talked in what appeared like riddles as there was no particularity in his utterances. He reminded congregants of last year’s military takeover from Mugabe and said no-one in Zimbabwe was more superior to others. He rhetorically asked: “Who do you think you are?” This leaves people wondering who actually he was referring to. In fact, the biggest hint that the RBZ exposes could be politically-motivated came from him, when, without clarifying, he said some people were exploiting the current economic crisis for their own political gain but warned that they would not succeed.
The interpretation of statements made by prominent leaders is easily shaped by context. There is a sense in which Chiwenga might have been indirectly referring to the likes of Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the opposition who the ruling party has already accused of working to sabotage the economy in the post-election phase. This, however, looks unlikely, considering that Chiwenga did not talk of the source of the prevailing economic crisis, but opportunists taking advantage of the already obtaining situation.
Coming as the plot to expose the forex racket was gathering momentum, it is possible that Chiwenga could have been referring to the people gunning to expose the racketeers. This draws inspiration from the fact that Chiwenga indeed described his offenders, who he did not name, as overzealous.
This is not an unfamiliar conversation, is it? It seems Zanu PF just cannot live without factionalism. And it does not mean that, just because certain individuals have been fingered in this scandal, they are the only ones. It would not be surprising, in fact, to discover that the very people behind the Acie-leaks are also guilty.