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The Wicknell Chivayo story is a textbook definition of corruption – Hopewell Chin’ono

By Hopewell Chin’ono

The Wicknell Chivayo story is a textbook definition of corruption. It is a tragic symphony of national despair and broken dreams. It is amazing that the people at ZESA who paid him between US$5 and US$7million of client’s money are still in their jobs.

Businessman Wicknell Chivayo having dinner with First Lady Grace Mugabe and her son Robert Mugabe Junior in Dubai
Businessman Wicknell Chivayo having dinner with then First Lady Grace Mugabe and her son Robert Mugabe Junior in Dubai

That to me has now become the story, the insult to the taxpayer and ZESA customer who struggles with a difficult economy to keep the lights in their homes on.

There is NO doubt that this does not only involve Wicknell Chivayo, in my view he is on the tail end of the corruption food chain, there are politicians who gained from this fraud.

The ZESA boss testified yesterday that he gave funding to ZANU PF, this was meant to be the security for the fraudsters against arrest or any serious investigations to ascertain who took what and how and where they put the millions looted from ZESA.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa MUST act NOW if his government is going to be taken seriously on its corruption pledges.

His own party has been implicated in the looting of ZESA funds by the ZESA CEO which makes it even more important that he is seen to deal with this rot decisively.

The ZESA affair was largely a G40 commission led by former Energy minister Samuel Undenge and the former President’s wife, Grace Mugabe.

Chivayo like all dimwitted criminals flaunted his proximity to Grace Mugabe and her husband.
This was meant to instill fear in the hearts of all those wanting to challenge the corrupt and fraudulent deals, it was also meant to scare into submission anyone thinking of blocking these deals.

Like all uneducated but criminal minds, it was also meant to give him his five minutes of fame on social media. 

Grace would not have allowed that proximity to be made public if she was not working with Chivayo. She knew how controversial he was and still was happy to see their proximity flaunted on social media.

I know that it is difficult to stop this level of corruption overnight in a country where it has been a way of life for 37 years. However, people like Chivayo are low hanging fruits for the president and his government, they give him an opportunity to show that he is serious about a corruption free state.

There is no doubt that the president is surrounded by people who have become poster boys of corruption whispering campaigns, people like Obert Mpofu and Supa Mandiwanzira.

Obert Mpofu is the minister responsible for the police at the home affairs ministry.

This makes it difficult for the citizens to believe that the government will tackle corruption when the very man expected to put fraudsters behind bars, is himself a signature and embodiment of the corruption rot in this country.

I respect and acknowledge the statutory requirement and the parliamentary oversight role of portfolio committees, but shouldn’t the police also have been investigating this fraud and running a parallel process? After all, the police are the ones trained to do this work professionally.

I find politicians compromised because deals can be cut after hours to resolve their political contradictions “amicably”, that is why the police shouldn’t watch from the sidelines.

Ordinarily, people like Mpofu and Mandiwanzira wouldn’t have been appointed back into cabinet as they carry political and electoral risk for the new president and his government especially when going into a elections.

However, it’s quite clear that the president is balancing political interests and considerations against throwing the book at these tainted figures. This is because of a genuine fear of having his election campaign disrupted.

We have a new administrator in town not a new administration. The president is surrounded by Robert Mugabe’s appointees. 

This is the same problem that President Cyril Ramaphosa faced two days ago.

His “new” cabinet has corrupt remnants of the Jacob Zuma administration, people like the Gupta acolyte Malusi Gigaba, the thoroughly useless and drunk Bathabile Dlamini and the thuggish David Mabuza.

Cyril Ramaphosa was forced to balance ANC competing interests with the prospect of an internal revolt within the ANC.

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He will however be constantly reminded of how he appointed corrupt people into his government.  That is politics but it comes with a huge price in the polling booth.

Both presidents have taken over the reigns of power without electoral mandates, however the prospect of being politically harangued by the opposition over this issue is high and real.

The prospect of internal dissent and having their election campaigns disrupted within their parties would have been also high had they not played this balancing act.

That is the price one pays in politics after getting support from what is perceived to be unsavory characters. However, I don’t see how people like Chivayo can be an electoral risk to the president.

If at all, not arresting them and suspending the ZESA bosses is in itself an electoral liability to both ZANU PF and the president.

Ordinary Zimbabweans are so fed up with corruption. We are said to be losing US$2billion a year to this scourge. Our situation is made worse by the fact that unlike South Africa, we actually don’t have an economy that can sustain this kind of industrial corruption and fraud.

The public sector is the most corrupt of all sectors in Zimbabwe because its shareholder, the citizen, has been left hapless through years of an unaccountable ruinous rule by Robert Mugabe, a dictator who used corruption as part of his political patronage system.

Robert Mugabe knew who was stealing what, where and when and even compiled dossiers on them, he would then use this information to elicit subservience from the perpetrators.

There is an important figure that Emmerson Mnangagwa must always remember of.  Zimbabwe is losing US$5million daily to corruption, a situation which makes any growth impossible.

As much as the president wants to turn the corner, it is difficult to do so with such huge leakages. They are simply unsustainable. The citizen should also be aware of an important fact, corruption is not only a preserve of ZANU PF, it is a Zimbabwean problem.

When you pay a bribe at the airport, you have equally joined the band of politicians stealing from the tax payer.

The most interesting fact that I also came across is that not only one political party has been involved in stealing tax dollars. Just like violence, ZANU PF has been accentuated to the top of the corruption index because of its control of the state apparatus.

Zimbabweans don’t cease to be corrupt because they have joined a different political party from the ruling elites. This has become a national problem which we see more in ZANU PF simply because of its proximity to the state which Mugabe turned into a feeding trough.

There are people in the opposition who have also been involved in state theft but as many western ambassadors have said to me, it was not expedient to expose them because it would have emboldened Mugabe’s hand.

Some were allowed to get away with it in exchange for political submission to Robert Mugabe. Many thefts in western embassies are not reported for that reason and the culprits are simply asked to leave.

Civil society organizations who are supposed to be bringing these things to the fore are also involved in theft of donor funds.

I have heard from many United Nations country directors of how a lot of Zimbabweans employed in this organisation in Harare have been fired this year alone for theft. Unfortunately, because these crimes are not reported, these people resurface elsewhere and carry on with their thefts!

The fact that Wicknell Chivayo, a convicted criminal and fraudster would be handed such an important national project speaks volumes of how our state security agencies have been rendered useless by politics.

So the alleged drivers of state corruption like the Mpofus and Mandiwanzira’s are only an iceberg of a bigger national problem reflecting a rotten and broken system.

If this system is not repaired, removing these tainted ministers will simply mean bringing in a new bunch of corrupters and potentially a new bunch of corruptees for lack of a better word.

So all Zimbabweans running for political office must be put to their defence in regards to corruption.
Political parties and their leaders must know that there must and will be a huge electoral punishment for turning a blind eye to corruption, its drivers and its beneficiaries.

The president on his part can resolve the political contradictions and interests in his party by using law enforcement agencies to root out the people around him whom he knows to be not only corrupt but electoral liabilities to his prospective mandate.

This he can do by providing political will to these law enforcement agencies to move fast. His party will not accuse him of allowing the law to take its course.

Lest we end up with a banana republic situation crystallized by the late Eddison Zvobgo when he described a jail as a place where big criminals keep small criminals.

It says something about our national consciousness and psyche that these criminals are celebrated and allowed to roam free.

Some even get acres of national newspaper space to profile and flaunt their ill-gotten wealth whilst insulting the taxpayer who is carrying the burden of their criminality.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out in March.

He can be contacted on [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope