By Nduduzo Tshuma
Former Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko who returned to Zimbabwe from Botswana yesterday caused a dramatic 45-minute spectacle at the Plumtree Border Post as he tried to evade the media.
Mr Mphoko had been holed up in Botswana since the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) launched Operation Restore Legacy targeting criminal elements around former President Robert Mugabe, who are largely accused of causing instability in both Government and ZANU-PF.
A key member of the G40 cabal, Mr Mphoko left Zimbabwe on an official visit to Japan on November 14, a day before the army launched the operation. He did not return to Zimbabwe but instead flew to Botswana, where he has been a guest of the government.
Highly placed sources said the Botswana government had given him up to December 1 to leave their country and return to Zimbabwe, but the former VP had been reluctant to do so fearing arrest for corruption-related crimes.
The former VP had been living in a State residence in Gaborone and returned home after reaching out to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and getting the necessary assurances that he was free to come back to Zimbabwe.
Clad in a white shirt, Mr Mphoko and his family arrived at the Zimbabwean side of the border at 1:15pm aboard a Zimbabwe Department of Immigration minibus accompanied by Botswana immigration officials.
He was with his wife Laurinda, son, Siqokoqela, and seven other family members.
When they got on the Zimbabwean side’s arrival section, Mr Mphoko, upon spotting a Chronicle photographer, refused to disembark from the minibus, saying to the Zimbabwean immigration officials: “No cameras please, I don’t want cameras here.”
Only Siqokoqela disembarked from the minibus, making some phone calls to a team of drivers that were waiting for them.
The minibus, however, drove to the departure section, where they offloaded their luggage and groceries.
But Mr Mphoko, still trying to evade the news crew, remained in the minibus.
Siqokoqela filled in the immigration papers before handing them back to Zimbabwe immigration officials for processing.
It seems as if the Mphoko family did not have their passports at hand, nor were they stamped, fuelling speculation that they could have been deported.
However, sources at the border said the Botswana immigration officials told their Zimbabwean counterparts that they had been ordered to escort Mr Mphoko and his family.
“What we heard is that the Botswana immigration officials said they got an order from above that they should escort a diplomat back to Zimbabwe and that the diplomat had chosen to leave Botswana on his own volition,” said the source.
After completing the paperwork, the minibus with Mr Mphoko and other family members was driven towards the Botswana side, followed by a convoy of vehicles that had come to collect him.
Midway between the two borders, Mr Mphoko and the rest of the family members disembarked from the minibus and entered into the convoy of cars in an effort to evade the lenses of the pursuing news crew.
His convoy caused a momentary traffic jam as it blocked vehicles coming from the Botswana side.
The drama, however, generated a lot of interest such that by the time Mr Mphoko got into the convoy of cars, a small crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle.
The convoy then whisked Mr Mphoko and his family away at about 2pm, with Siqokoqela driving his vehicle next to the Mercedes-Benz carrying his father in a bid to block the photographer’s view.
Earlier, he had gestured at the photographer ordering him to stop taking pictures.
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Mr George Charamba, on Tuesday said Mr Mphoko had spoken to President Mnangagwa by telephone and asked to return home.
Apart from his role in the previous Government, Mr Mphoko is also into business and is a director of Choppies Zimbabwe — a supermarket chain with branches in most cities and towns in the country.
The company also has vast interests in Botswana.
Mr Mphoko was among members of the G40 group who were expelled from the ruling ZANU-PF party for engaging in activities meant to destabilise the Government.
The party also recalled him from the position of Vice President and Second Secretary over allegations of being divisive, including protecting criminals, preaching hate speech and behaving in a manner inconsistent with the office and decorum of the VP.
He was recalled on the day the party also recalled former President Mugabe from the position of party First Secretary and replaced him with President Mnangagwa, who was also reinstated as a Central Committee member.
Mnangagwa was sworn in as State President last Friday following the resignation of Mugabe on Tuesday.
The party further recommended that Mr Mphoko, former First Lady Mrs Grace Mugabe, fellow members of the G40 cabal; namely Saviour Kasukuwere, Professor Jonathan Moyo, Ignatius Chombo, Patrick Zhuwao, Letina Undenge, Kudzanai Chipanga, Walter Mzembi, Paul Chimedza, Makhosini Hlongwane, Anastancia Ndlovu, Mandi Chimene, Dr Samuel Undenge, Sarah Mahoka, Mpehlabayo Malinga, Xavier Kazizi, Tongai Kasukuwere, Innocent Hamandishe, Nomthandazo Eunice Moyo and Shadreck Mashayamombe be expelled from the party.
Some members of the cabal are either on the run or in self-imposed exile.
Others such as Chombo, Chipanga and Hamandishe have been arraigned before the courts on a slew of charges ranging from fraud, corruption, abuse of public office, causing disaffection among the police force or defence forces as defined in Section 30 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, kidnapping and publishing falsehoods. The Chronicle